There’s nothing new about the gig economy

An article in the Economist holds up the case against Uber as an example of how new ways of working pose a challenge for policy-makers. It claims that “Over the past 150 years, regular employment has been the norm.” It may seem so to those too young to remember daily labour in the docks or casual hiring in agriculture, but it’s not true. There has always been ‘sub-employment’ and precarious employment.  In the 1970s we called it ‘the lump’, and bemoaned the failure of successive governments to deal with the obvious problems.  Casual employment in particular is a long-standing feature of conventional economies – see, for example, Beveridge’s Unemployment: a problem of industry (1909). The National Insurance Unemployment Benefit made provision until the 1980s for odd days of work – workers had to declare if they earned more than a very small amount on any single day, and show that they were not employed to the ‘full extent normal’. There is nothing new about the ‘gig economy’. What’s changed has been the removal of the support systems that were designed to deal with it.

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