In Raw Deal: How the “Uber Economy” and Runaway Capitalism are Screwing American Workers, Steven Hill attempts to outline and address the economic issues of wage stagnation, reduced full-time employment in favor of gig-type jobs, and economic hopelessness.
This book was well-written but does not take the time to analyze Steven Hill’s own presuppositions that he bases his entire argument on.
- The American middle class exists because of the social contract between the democrats under FDR in the New Deal.
- The current gig economy exists because of an Ayn Rand type of commitment to “runaway capitalism” within American politics and technological circles.
If you disagree with either of these presuppositions (I happen to disagree with both), then the book’s logic can be hard to follow.
When you add in the fact that we are currently living through the best economy in the last 50 years, the book seems to be outdated as well as biased.
But, I believe that this book’s critiques of rampant selfishness in the upper classes of American society is accurate and something that people will return to in the following decades as the inevitable slow down of this roaring economy happens.
Although I disagree with much of the tone he takes towards both the problems and potential solutions, Steven Hill did uncover several important issues regarding the new economy under shifting technologies and global politics.
Labor vs Technology
Hill and other economists call it the Economic Singularity; the point at which automation and machine technology completely replaces significant sections of the human workforce.
He discusses how the drivers for Facebook’s campus in Menlo Park were working for a company called Loop Transportation. They had to show up at work at 5:30 AM and did not get off until 8:45 PM. Because of labor laws Loop set up a split shift where the drivers had 6 hours off in the middle of the day. The only problem was these workers could not afford to leave during that time and it was against their contract policy to find any other gigs.
So here you have nearly minimum wage labor being employed driving employees from the city to the techno factory.
In the past, labor unions existed to give laborers the ability to negotiate with authority against the capital owners, because the capitalists could not operate without them. Now, the laborers serve in labor positions on technological campuses but they are not employed by the main corporation.
This is where modern labor unions are needed in this day and age. And the (initial) good news from Raw Deal was the fact that this group of people did unionize with the Teamsters Union.
Although I believe that right to work is a generally good idea, I also think that voluntary labor unions are the strongest redress poorer laborers have against not the economy but the strict demands of selfish people running corporations.
A Thing of the Past
Steven Hill talks about the former CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick, who said that he wants to use Uber to make car ownership a thing of the past.
I remember reading a quote from Jeff Bezos that said he thought the Kindle would end physical books. But in 2019, physical books still outsold ebooks. Whenever you want to promote your product or service, you attempt to tell people about how you are the new thing. But, it’s just a sales gimmick. Yes, there is the potential of driverless transportation on the road. But that technology’s availability does not mean that we will see people stop buying cars and switch to apps that hail an Uber owned car from a parking lot full of automatons.
Even if, for safety reasons, Congress made it illegal to drive a car in most situations, forcing people to use driverless cars, individuals would still buy their own method of transportation, unless they happen to live in one of 10 American metropolises where the population density means you can get everywhere you need to go by using someone else’s form of transportation. And, if you are in one of those cities, just use the bus. It’s cheaper.
For the rest of us stuck in the hinterlands of America, automobile ownership will continue, just like physical books are still around and a multi-billion dollar industry.
The Raw Deal proposes “A New Social Contract for the New Economy.” It is an interesting take on how the systems of the New Deal could possibly be applied to modern issues in economics. Without going into more depth to critique each point he makes, I think that this is the best review I can give you for the book: FDR for the 21st Century.