Money

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

Atlantic Media pub runs unpaid work critiquing unpaid work.

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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.