by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Andrew Tonsing argues in a Federalist column that it’s “misguided and dangerous” to pine for the days when a person could spend his entire working career with one job.
In post-World War II America, many workers enjoyed lifetime employment that enabled a middle class lifestyle through providing health care, a generous pension, and a steadily rising wage. In fact, the nostalgia for this arrangement is so strong that it may explain an element of our political fracturing.
Yet we decry as oppressive a one-size-fits-all approach to almost everything else in life. We would all agree, for instance, that one car model does not suit every consumer’s preference, that one system of education does not meet the needs of every learner, and that one beauty standard does not encompass all our tastes in attractiveness. Why insist we apply such a standard for our employment? …
… Companies like Uber, Airbnb, and TaskRabbit all allow people to use existing assets — a car, empty room, or skill — to earn income. This has produced significant new benefits to workers. First is flexibility. A single parent busy raising children or a student in school can create a work schedule that fits around other core commitments in their lives. Very few other jobs work this way. Second, it offers a source of supplemental income to help absorb shocks in life, such as being laid off or having to take care of a sick relative.
These are amazing benefits for many people the old economy could not help. But the initial excitement for these companies has bent toward viewing them as exploiters. They provide little to no retirement benefits and it’s very hard to earn enough money working full-time to live well, let alone raise a family. There have followed increasing calls for legislation. Hilary Clinton in 2016 said as president she would force gig companies to reclassify contractors as full-time employees and provide them more benefits.
The tradeoff for this would be to destroy the opportunity to obtain a middle-class lifestyle that our public policy purports to support.
In some respects, Tonsing’s arguments tout the benefits of creative destruction.