The gig economy.


Byline: Anum Malkani

RECENTLY, Forbes published an article naming Pakistan the fourth fastest-growing freelance market in the world, with a 47 per cent growth in freelance earnings. While this is seen by some as a glimmer of hope in the midst of serious economic uncertainty, a deeper look into the 'gig economy' and the nature of freelance work reveals reasons for concern.

When considering human history, we generally believe it to be a story of progress. We evolved from our ape-like ancestors to cavemen and hunter-gatherers to today's advanced beings via the agricultural, industrial and digital revolutions. Author Jared Diamond brings this perspective into question, describing the agricultural revolution as 'a catastrophe from which we have never recovered', partly due to the evolution of work during this time.

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors spent a few hours each day hunting and foraging and had plenty of leisure time. Then came the agricultural revolution, offering a life of back-breaking labour from sunrise till sundown. Contrary to the belief that it allowed free time for pursuits such as art and philosophy, it increased working hours for most.

The 'future' of jobs comes with many costs.

It is possible that this great mistake in our evolution was not an anomaly. The industrial revolution worsened conditions for many workers, and examining how work has evolved in the digital age reaffirms the idea that progress does not always improve lives. The changing nature of work is emblematic of how the dividends from technological progress have not been distributed equally.

The development of artificial intelligence has given rise to a growing panic around unemployment. The WEF's The Future of Jobs Report predicts that, by 2022, 54pc of all employees will require significant re-skilling as they will no longer possess the skills employers demand.

As workers lose their jobs, technology capitalists amass more wealth, not least through the gig economy a system where companies rely on independent contractors and freelancers, rather than on permanent staff. The development of digital technology has enabled the expansion of gig work into new industries, including services such as ride-hailing and food delivery, as well as companies that outsource tasks such as programming.

This model is praised and preached in business schools: profit is maximised by minimising labour costs and shifting business risks on to employees. Minimum wage is not guaranteed and...

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