Saturday, March 21, 2020

Damon Silvers on Coronavirus and the Gig Economy

Damon Silvers, my classmate at the Harvard Law School a long time ago (we were 1Ls in 1992), and now Special Counsel to the AFL-CIO and professor, has a thought provoking piece up on the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose blog (via the Medium). Here is an excerpt:

In the United States, platform workers are generally not eligible for unemployment insurance. And so, what the coronavirus pandemic exposes is that: rather than gig economy jobs feeling modern, these workers are much more like dock workers or a farm labourer in the 19th century, if they are too sick to work, they don’t get paid.


Perhaps nothing is more telling in this regard than the contrast between how Uber is treating workers they admit are their employees and how they are treating their drivers. Uber employees have paid sick days and are being told to work from home. While, drivers are offered unspecified financial support if they are actually sick but are clearly expected to keep driving until they get sick.


Throughout the San Francisco Bay, the centre of the greatest accumulation of technology-related wealth and expertise in the history of the world, hundreds of thousands of people are suddenly living in a kind of Dickensian fear, the fear of no work and nothing to fall back on as the economy contracts around them.


Last week, as it became clear that we were not going to contain the coronavirus in a handful of locations in the United States, something else became clear as well. That we had designed our economy, or had allowed it to be designed, as a kind of ideal incubator of an epidemic. Because we are an economy whose health insurance systems have all been redesigned to make sure the patient pays first dollar. In our privatised health care system most health insurance plans, including those offered through the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) require workers to pay an amount in health care costs before the insurance coverage begins (“deductibles”) and to pay some of the cost of each health care treatment (“co-pays”). And we are an economy where a sizable percentage of the workforce doesn’t have paid sick days. So, millions are seriously incentivised not to seek medical treatment when they are not feeling well, and to go to work sick as long as they can.


The rest of the piece us here.

I think it is fair to say that Damon and I share many views on the problems besetting the modern economy. But I also think we have some profound differences as to the solutions to those problems. But that is a long conversation for another time. It is perhaps enough to say that I have limited confidence in the long term viability of world super-states. I think something else is coming.

Michael C. Duff

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