Money

Quartz Blasts Freelance Economy, Blames Evil Corporations, Doesn't Pay Writer

Atlantic Media pub runs unpaid work critiquing unpaid work.

|

dubnars/Flickr

In the irony-too-good-not-to-share category, I bring you this piece published today by Quartz: "You want full-time work with benefits? What are you, 100 years old?" It's written as a satire of the "New American Economy" (as Quartz has tagged it), and offers up things like this:

Security? Benefits? Dude, those are things your grandparents wanted from work. You're not a total lame-o, like your grandparents, are you? Don't be lame, man. Crowdsource. Be part of a crowd. That sources. Profitability. For other people.*

*Corporations

[…] Here's a tip for anyone who is just starting out: I recommend that you work for free for a while to prove to future employers that your work is good. A sure-fire way to convince people to pay you for your work is to produce high quality work, over and over, without being paid. That's commitment.

Writer Steven Harrell goes on to mock the idea that flexibility and self-determination are fair tradeoffs for a lack of a long-list of employment protections and guarantees. But I've been a full-time freelancer before, and during those several years the benefits of self-employment did outweigh any negatives. I've known a lot of other people for whom this has also been true. Not everyone wants or needs the exact same kind of work arrangement at all points in their lives. 

I wrote about these issues in much more detail in last summer's millennial issue ("Rise of the Hipster Capitalists"). But sorry to stall on the punchline here, which is: Quartz—a business news website owned by Atlantic Media—republished this article without paying the author, after finding it in the comments of a post on Medium (where most writers also write for free). 

So… LOL. For the record, Harrell appreciates the irony. 

Reason has previously pointed out publications and other groups that advocate for higher minimum wage while offering unpaid internships or new jobs paying below the minimum advocated. Most recently, Los Angeles unions have been seeking an exemption from a minimum wage hike they helped push through. 

But to address Harrell's commentary a moment more: I think he misses by conflating freelance/flexible work arrangements (held by one-third of Americans now), "the sharing economy" (which I generally take to mean things like Uber and AirBnB), and the tendency of the modern publishing world and other creative industries to expect people to work for "exposure." While the latter can be exploitative, the first two are simply systems that give people options for earning a living, neither intrinsically good or bad. They represent a reaction to the "old economy" and the recession, sure, but also to new technology and ideas about work-life balance, as well as old-fashioned drives toward entrepreneurship and self-ownership. Besides, a full-time job is hardly a guarantee of long-term economic security or career stability, and millennials have watched our elders get burned by believing otherwise. 

I'm not sure a "freelance economy" or "peer-to-peer economy" or whatever you want to call it is sustainable or the best way forward, but past paradigms of financial security certainly aren't, and we need to look beyond solutions that try to funnel everyone back into them.   

Advertisement

NEXT: Barack Obama vs. the Supreme Court

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I will consider this peeve on topic since the post is meta-journalism:

    I think he misses by conflating freelance/flexible work arrangements (held by one-third of Americans now), “the sharing economy” (which I generally take to mean things like Uber and AirBnB), and the tendency of the modern publishing world and other creative industries to expect people to work for “exposure.” While the latter can be exploitative, the first two are simply systems that give people options for earning a living, neither intrinsically good or bad.

    In a list of three things, the last one is the last?not the latter, which is a comparative rather than a superlative and for use to refer to the second item in a list of only two things.

    Love, Nikki

    1. You are the worst of any two things.

      1. You mean…the worse! AHHHH

        1. Explaining jokes makes you more worser.

          1. If I don’t keep my game up, someone might take my tiara.

            1. Don’t threaten, Nikki. You’ll get us all killed.

    2. I believe that your analysis here results in meta-meta journalism. And therefore the one you are reading is meta-meta-meta journalism. We need to be very careful here…

      1. Somewhere there is a rip in the fabric of time-space.

        1. Yep, and Patrick Stewart is having Christmas dinner with Whoopi Goldberg

    3. That was the worst.

    4. If I conflate all three items, is it still a list?

      Can I sue every record label in history for producing albums of greatest hits with more than one song?

      1. No way! They’re all tied, obvs.

    5. “In a list of three things, the last one is the last?not the latter, which is a comparative rather than a superlative and for use to refer to the second item in a list of only two things.”

      I think I’m in love.

      And I’ll be in my bunk.

  2. How about instead of a “new” economy or an “old” economy or a “sharing” economy, we try a “saving” economy?

    1. Hoarder! Wrecker!

    2. Because where’s the government’s cut in that?

    3. We can’t allow you to do that. Your future time orientation is racist.

  3. Interesting that folks who might typically decry “corporations” seem to like freelancing and “unstable” work arrangements at least as much. Who do they think can offer the kind of job security they want?

    This is why so many people note that progressives are in fact very conservative. They are nervous. They want to be safe and stable. Mutualism does not make them feel safe. The kinds of money-making activities that would be available in libertopia don’t make them feel safe. Makes it that much harder to answer, “how would you fix XYZ?”

    1. Who do they think can offer the kind of job security they want?

      The state?

      1. Shit, ya got me.

    2. Interesting that folks who might typically decry “corporations” seem to like freelancing and “unstable” work arrangements at least as much.

      Risk aversion is a very liberal trait. The interesting thing is, too much risk aversion actually leads to absolutely terrible outcomes. This can be easily explained or exemplified to anyone who isn’t so panicked about what would happen if things weren’t guaranteed to them by the state that they can’t listen to, he hem, reason.

      1. To be fair, risk-aversion is a pretty human trait.

        1. It’s also a very relative thing.

        2. “To be fair, risk-aversion is a pretty human trait.”

          Then why do people enjoy things like Skydiving, Rock Climbing, Skiing etc. so much?

          Hurtling your body through space at death-is-certainly-an-option-speeds for no other reason than, “WHOO HOO FUCK YEAH!!” is an odd way of expressing ‘risk aversion’

          1. Those people are outliers, which is why those activities are notable.

    3. OT: Nikki I wanted to mention that you are awesome. Seeing the laxness posts in the other thread warmed my soul. A deep and affirmative interwebZz head nod to you

      1. +1 Asta Sollilja

  4. OT: Kevin Drum…is still Kevin Drum.

    http://www.motherjones.com/kev…..mostly-men

    1. Someone should publish an essay speculating why Progressives are mostly White.

      1. or why their presidential candidates are.

    2. Jeet Heer investigates a burning question today: why are most libertarians men? He offers several plausible explanations, but I think he misses the real one, perhaps because it’s pretty unflattering to libertarians.
      So here’s the quick answer: Hardcore libertarianism is a fantasy.

      Few women share this fantasy. I don’t know why, and I don’t really want to play amateur sociologist and guess.

      Shorter Drum: Why are libertarians men? I don’t know, and I won’t speculate, but I’ll damn well get a column out of this anyway.

      1. Hardcore libertarianism is a fantasy.

        As opposed to socialism, which is still totally workable.

        1. Socialism is totally workable if you don’t put an unintelligent warmonger in charge.

          1. So it’s workable without socialists? Makes sense.

          2. So all they need is the right TOP MEN in charge, and their philosophy will work?

      2. Fuck that guy. The article is worthless opinion of people he and his readers clearly understand.
        From the comments: “Libertarians want everything for free.” Dude, I’m sorry, what? Iss that not the exact opposite? or am I glimpsing the rationale of a progressive where stuff from the government is “free” and because “we” advocate for less taxes, we therefore still want all the free shit but don’t want to pay. ermagerd! My head fucking hurts.

        1. “[…]From the comments: “Libertarians want everything for free.” Dude, I’m sorry, what?[…]”

          EVERY damn troll that shows up here, and some that stay, seem to have read some introduction to a book on libertarianism years ago and believe they know far more about it than most of us here who have really done research.
          So they show up, usually with some inane, socratic question designed to expose the ONE FLAW which THEY ALONE see in libertarianism!
          And then get huffy when someone tells them where to put it…

        2. “Libertarians want everything for free.”

          PROJEKSHUN.

          i’m not ruling out moron, either.

      3. They believe they’ve been held back by rules and regulations designed to help the weak, and in a libertarian culture their talents would be obvious and they’d naturally rise to positions of power and influence.

        Isn’t that pure projection? They think that once their progressive movement has grabbed power that they will be in charge of everything. They never think for a second that he govt might actually send them to the camps.

      4. Most women don’t fantasize about being super independent. Most (not all) fantasize about a handsome billionaire with a 9″ shlong falling head over heels with them. Independence is not a huge part of the basic female middle-class fantasy.

    3. “They believe they’ve been held back by rules and regulations designed to help the weak…”

      I resent the rules and regulations because I feel the rules are designed to hurt the weak. I feel weak because of the fucking rules and regulations. The rules and regulations actually make me weak. I have to work harder just to mitigate the effects that rules and regulations have on my business.

      1. Says the straight white guy…

    4. We can never have a discussion about cutting back government even the slightest because libertarianism = anarchy.

    5. They believe they’ve been held back by rules and regulations designed to help the weak, and in a libertarian culture their talents would be obvious and they’d naturally rise to positions of power and influence…Few women share this fantasy.

      Errr…yeah. I guess ol’ Keviin never heard of a little thing called “feminism”.

    6. It’s hilarious when “progressives” purport to know all about libertarians and libertarianism. They think they’re fucking experts because they read the first three chapters of Atlas Shrugged. They wouldn’t be caught dead talking to a living breathing libertarian, and they sure as shit won’t read Mises or Rothbard.

  5. Your lunch time derp

    This article from the AM links about the house the police smashed up has a gem at the end:

    Lech said his homeowner’s insurance company has warned him there is a small chance his policy won’t cover the damage because of a clause for “incompetent goverment” action.

    http://denver.cbslocal.com/201…..ilys-life/

    1. *Checks policy*

    2. One’s tempted to say that makes sense, because Greenwood Village police really should pick up the full tab for repairs. But I know that municipalities fight damage compensation, claiming the usual bullshit about how their job is to protect those heroes in blue and make sure they go home safe at the end of the night, not protect private property while they’re being all heroic and doing whatever’s necessary and possible to save the world from Walmart shoplifters. From the article, it sounds like the Greenwood Village PD is taking the same nauseating tack.

  6. I have held full-time, career-type jobs at two Fortune 10 companies, a Fortune 50 company, and one smaller company. About ten years ago, I went freelance.

    Freelance is much, much better. I can work when I want. I can turn down business. I don’t have to commute or attend staff meetings.

    The only disadvantage — and it is a big and expensive disadvantage — is ObamaCare.

    The manditory minimum ObamaCare coverage costs me about 50% more than I was paying before the ACA mandate. From what I’ve read recently, it’s going to cost even more in the near future.

  7. Why does everyone want toilet paper?

    1. Especially when you have perfectly good Bolivars!

    2. Obviously they’re eating too much.

  8. “the sharing economy” (which I generally take to mean things like Uber and AirBnB)

    *sigh*

    I’m not sure if the taxicab cartels see Uber as ‘sharing’ anything.

    But on a slightly more serious front, I’m not sure how this term ‘sharing economy’ came to be. In the case of Uber, their idea was really quite brilliant: Create a transportation company with a national presence without having to invest a dime on a fleet of vehicles, let alone full-time employees.

    I don’t know exactly what the arrangement is between driver and Uber corporate, but based on my general impressions (and a flyer I got in the mail enticing me to become a driver) it seems like Uber is the uber-capitalist enterprise. In many ways, it’s more capitalistic than many mainstream ventures today.

    And I’ll be the first to admit that capitalistic might not even be the best word. Most ‘free-market’?

    It’s a system of loose, interpersonal and voluntary relationships brokered by off-the-shelf technology which streamlines the transaction between both company and driver, and driver and customer.

    I guess maybe millennials or whomever decided that ‘free market’ sounded a bit too much like those crackpots and their cesspool of commenters on reason, so we had to make it feel like… like Scandanavian good socialism while engaging in the free-est of the free market concepts.

    1. The most important part of Newspeak is redefining to mean something other than what most people understand them to mean. When you let your opponent define the terms, you’ve already lost the argument.

      1. * redefining terms

        I must have left my edit button in my other pants.

    2. The “sharing” economy was never anything but a capitalist enterprise.

      It is designed to put people’s dormant/personal capital assets (rooms in their home, their car, etc.) to work earning money. The internet allows these assets to find temporary paying users very easily, without having to set up a business, pay for advertising, etc.

      I don’t know why anyone would have ever thought the sharing economy wasn’t capitalist.

      1. I’d also define it as people doing whatever they damn well please with their property without as much as a ‘by your leave’ from the state. I rather like that.

        Which, of course, we can’t have, because something something whorehouse something children something rape.

        1. Don’t forget Somalia.

    3. The one disappointing thing is that Uber is now trying to freeze out other start ups in some cities.

      1. If course… I gotta git mine befo’ you gotta git yo’s.

      2. “Uber is stickin’ it to the man!” “Yay!”

        And now they’re crony parasites using the state to lock out competition.” “Boooooo”

        But, they”re still stickin’ it to the man!” “Yay?”

    4. What idiots call the “sharing economy” is actually even more subversively free-market than that, Paul. Everything about Uber is specifically designed to avoid the roadblocks and bullshit that the government puts up. Them not having to invest or set up a fleet of vehicles completely avoids all the registration, insurance, regulations, red tape, and cartelization problems. It essentially outsources dealing with those things to the drivers, but on the driver level, those things are manageable because as individuals they avoid a ton of the red tape that affects businesses.

      Think about all these “sharing economy” ideas. AirBnB directly sidesteps all the hotel bullshit. And that’s by design. Uber sidesteps the taxi cartels. By design. And so on.

      The “sharing economy” is literally the new ideas that have been created to avoid the stifling rules of the government that so many people claim to want and need. It’s amazing cognitive dissonance.

      1. Your mom is a sharing economy.

        1. “Based on that story, I’m fairly certain those Santas were running a train on your mother for money.”

    5. Good point. Uber is not just a capitalist business, it’s a much-derided service business. It doesn’t make a damn thing. It’s a Coasean service that makes money by reducing transaction costs between willing drivers and riders.

  9. Not everyone wants or needs the exact same kind of work arrangement at all points in their lives.

    This is the sort of depraved, misguided individualism which ISIS will exploit to enslave us under the Caliphate!

    1. The terrorists hate us for our freelancing.

  10. “[…]Writer Steven Harrell goes on to mock the idea that flexibility and self-determination are fair tradeoffs for a lack of a long-list of employment protections and guarantees.[…]”

    I’ll bet he even knows what brand of deodorant is the “right” one!

  11. The ironic thing is that these people swear up and down that they love democracy but it’s the fact that the internet has effectively democratized the economy by opening it up to anyone with internet connection that is driving them crazy.

    Whereas before you had to go through the government or a large corporation or a labor cartel to enter many industries, today you do not. And because they are control freaks this scares the shit out of them.

    Really, their ideal form of government and economy is basically Fascist Italy, where a strong centralized government makes the rules and sees to it that labor and business stay in line. And the trains run on time. Got to have trains.

  12. Is anyone getting the impression that our up-and-coming crop of young folk yearn for both the hipster, high-flying, fast-moving world of the new internet economy what with all its apps and hashtags and newsy-esque blogposting, but backed by a stodgy system of employment safety nets, union memberships and guaranteed pensions?

    1. Someone should ask some millenials what they think.

    2. Hey man, millenial polling has shown that they’re totally leaning libertarian…

      …only they just want it to come with a huge government that gives them lots of free shit and protects their feelings from being hurt.

      See? Makes sense.

      (*hat tip = stolen from comment @ pontiff headgear)

      1. They want pot legalized so it can be taxed heavily to pay for universal health care.

        1. (Which is what I heard all the time when I lived in a college town for most of my 20s. I started to really hate hippies)

      2. We don’t talk about that post at Pontiff Headgear since 7:01 last night.

    3. They are 100% have your cake and eat it too.

  13. They all want cake.

    1. Well we’re all outta cake! We didn’t know there’d be such a rush!

  14. Still not as humorous as hard core commie Stieg Larsson die without a clear will and watching his commie girlfriend go apeshit trying to get her hands on the money…

    http://www.theguardian.com/boo…..abrielsson

    1. Wow, even an intensely slanted article can’t make this bitch sympathetic.

    2. And she blames the family. Really, she can’t see how this is her husbands fault, considering he was the one who didn’t have a will. There’s drawbacks to staying off the grid and this is one of them.

  15. I don’t think anyone born 100 years ago wouldn’t change places with someone born 30 years ago in a heartbeat. This idiot does realize that if you were born 100 years ago then you would have spent many of your prime working years in the teeth of the Great Depression, right?

    In fact, you would have spent your early 20’s unemployed and riding the rails as a hobo before getting drafted at the age of 26 and spending your 29th birthday getting shot at on D-Day. Truly, they were enlightened times.

    1. I dunno, it’s highly contextual. My father (now dead) was born almost exactly 100 years ago, spent some of his early working years in the teeth of the Great Depression and was dodging Nazi flak & 20mm rounds blasting out of ME-109s until one got the better of him, and he spent the rest of the war in Stalag Luft I. He didn’t look back on his life as a tale of woe and despair. I think he considered his life to be fruitful and productive. In fact, if he were alive today, he’d be giving trigger warnings and safe spaces a heavy dose of eye-rolling, and would probably think the entire country was going down the tubes.

      1. That doesn’t change the fact that people today are far richer and more privileged than people born 100 years ago. You can argue the country is worse due to idiotic cultural revolutions (though I don’t even buy that, since the idiocy of trigger warnings is hardly worse than the evil of Jim Crow), but there’s no possible argument you can make that people today are worse off ECONOMICALLY than people born 100 years ago, which is what the article is discussing.

        1. I’m not countering that we’re more wealthy today by orders of magnitude. We are and that might be part of the problem. I might be getting to nuanced in my point– I’m happy we have this much wealth- especially for my family. As a country, I quietly wonder if it’s making us worse off in that it’s creating an environment where institutional theft of that wealth is actually considered good policy.

  16. The really funny thing is that this writer’s specific beef – that it sucks trying to make a living as a freelance writer – predates the “sharing economy” by several decades if not centuries.

    There will always be a vast imbalance between the number of people who “wanna be a writer” and the people who will make a living at it.

    Except for the most talented people, there is nothing that distinguishes one person who decided that they “wanna be a writer” from the next 50 guys in line. That means that compensation will be low, many people will be exploited, and few people will earn a full-time wage.

    Vast numbers of people have creative dreams. There are only a few jobs available. That means that struggling writers will get stiffed on freelance assignments, struggling artists will starve, struggling actresses will get fucked by sleazy producers. Oh well. Convince 95% of the people who want to be part of the creative class to get the hell out, and maybe this can be adjusted. If not, not.

    If anything, the sharing economy has made it possible for the unneeded 95% to at least scrape up a few bucks self-publishing or making YouTube videos or selling shit on Etsy. Before, those people would have all made $0. I know, because I’m one of them. I don’t complain “Wah, where is my full-time income for my shitty writing!” because I know the real alternative was always $0.

    1. The really funny thing is that this writer’s specific beef – that it sucks trying to make a living as a freelance writer – predates the “sharing economy” by several decades if not centuries.

      Methinks we should take our author back to the real old timey days when the idea of writing for profit was considered to be the ruin of letters.

  17. If you work for free for more than a short while, then sorry, you’re a total sucker.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.