The On-Demand Economy – Worker on Tap

In the early 20th century Henry Ford combined moving assembly lines with mass labour to make building cars much cheaper and quicker—thus turning the automobile from a rich man’s toy into transport for the masses. Today a growing group of entrepreneurs is striving to do the same to services, bringing together computer power with freelance workers to supply luxuries that were once reserved for the wealthy. Uber provides chauffeurs. Handy supplies cleaners. SpoonRocket delivers restaurant meals to your door. Instacart keeps your fridge stocked. In San Francisco a young computer programmer can already live like a princess.
Yet this on-demand economy goes much wider than the occasional luxury. Click on Medicast’s app, and a doctor will be knocking on your door within two hours. Want a lawyer or a consultant? Axiom will supply the former, Eden McCallum the latter. Other companies offer prizes to freelances to solve R&D problems or to come up with advertising ideas. And a growing number of agencies are delivering freelances of all sorts, such as Freelancer.com and Elance-oDesk, which links up 9.3m workers for hire with 3.7m companies.

The on-demand economy is small, but it is growing quickly (see article). Uber, founded in San Francisco in 2009, now operates in 53 countries, had sales exceeding $1 billion in 2014 and a valuation of $40 billion. Like the moving assembly line, the idea of connecting people with freelances to solve their problems sounds simple. But, like mass production, it has profound implications for everything from the organisation of work to the nature of the social contract in a capitalist society. Read More…

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