Silicon Valley "unforgivable" refers to its employees since the 1970s

Original author: Eric Johnson
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The author of the book “Temporary Workers” Luis Himan says that the technology sector used one-time labor long before the appearance of the “part-time economy”

You should not blame Uber for the problems of the economy of part-time work [gig economy] - they did not invent it, as the economic historian Luis Hyman claims.

“Uber is a waste of service economy,” said Hyman in the last episode of Recode Decode. "The company relies on a crowd of people who have no alternative."

Hyman is the author of the new book “Temporary Workers: How American Work, American Business, and American Dream Became Temporary” [Temp: How American Work, American Business, and American Dream Became Temporary]. He told Recode, Kare Swisher and Kani Mola, that the number of people who have to rely on temporary jobs, freelancing or other “alternative jobs” has been growing since the 1970s, while the era of bloated corporations gives way to businesses optimized for short-term profits, which begin to regard workers as disposable.

“The alternative to working at Uber is not good work at the factory with wages at union rates, and not stable office work - this is coffee making at Starbucks, where you may have the right amount of hours, and perhaps not,” he said. - This is what people are trying to do. They try to gain enough hours to make ends meet. Often, people argue about the economy of part-time work, as about "auxiliary income". But it is not auxiliary, if you need it to pay braces for your child, or to buy food, or to pay for housing. ”

Hyman argues that this phenomenon can be traced back to the army of non-documented migrants who assembled the first computers before all the factories moved “overseas”. “They were born subcontractors, and this has really become something of a forerunner to today's corporate organization,” he said. “It was a rehearsal of the future.”

The following is the transcription of the interview.

The history of "temporary work"

Welcome to Recode Decode.

Thank you for inviting me.

How did you start this research? Tell us a little about previous events. I think people will be interested to understand how you came to this topic.

The first two of my books talked about the same dark themes - the history of personal debt in America. And when I wrote them, I noticed that, in principle, the history of America’s finances is the history of work. I decided that my next project would be the story of how the security of not only our finances but of our work disappeared.

In the book, I wrote about how such a thing appeared as after World War II, like safe work, reliable investments, large corporations, stable jobs, and how it all began to fall apart in the 1970s. To understand not just the collapse of the old model of jobs, but also the birth of the next - consultants, temporary workers, unregistered migrants - and how it all became the center of change of capitalism since the 1970s.

Do you want to talk a little about the history of temporary work in Silicon Valley? Because she appeared there not ten years ago.

Yes, it is very important to understand that Uber is a waste of service economics.

Oh, I like that definition, what does it mean? Waste. Shit, in other words.

Good. Well, that is, terrible. Uber is a waste because it relies on people who have no alternative. It needs to be understood - an alternative to working at Uber is not good work at a factory with wages at union rates, and unstable office work - this is coffee making in a starbucks, where you may have the right amount of hours, and perhaps not.

That is what people are trying to do. They try to gain enough hours to make ends meet. Often, people argue about the economy of part-time work, as a "subsidiary income." But he is not auxiliary.

Yes, but companies represent this as "freedom, ancillary income, which you can do in your free time."

But it is not auxiliary, if you need it to pay braces for your child, or to buy food, or to pay for housing. I think that when discussing the economy of part-time work, it is easy to say “this is terrible”. But such terrible problems have existed since the 1970s.

Working Americans are faced with ever-increasing amplitudes of income fluctuations and increasing inequality. All this is simply covered by words such as digital economy, mobile applications.

How workers became disposable

What leads to salary fluctuations? What pushes people to take part in a side job?

One of the arguments in my book is that a whole movement was born for the departure of corporations from the organizational structure that they promoted, both among business leaders, and among lawmakers and investors. It all started right after the so-called. The "madness of conglomerates" in the late 1960s. Then, as now, corporations earned a lot of money. They earned heaps of money and bought other companies.

But because of antitrust laws, they bought companies not affiliated with them, and generated new profits. And a small electrician makes his way to the 25th largest company in America with his money. It turns out that they were all badly ruled.

How did they manage them?

How could they be managed? They all fell apart. This refers to 95% of Fortune 500 companies. Then people started looking for alternative models. They blamed the corporations that emerged after the war and the whole system of work organization. And consultants and business gurus penetrated this intellectual void, starting to sell a new idea of ​​managing a corporation - saving on employees and employees.

And please, we have the origins of modern firms. To understand today's history, it is necessary to consider not only technology. Technology changes not in telephones, but in corporations, in the methods of organizing people.

But in Silicon Valley, everything is organized differently. These are teams that grow with a single goal.

The history of Silicon Valley is very important. I write a lot about it in the book, since Silicon Valley became the leading economic sector in the 1970s. By the 1980s, it was already the most profitable part of it.

And this is before the big boom?

This happened before the semiconductor manufacturing boom. And it is very dependent on another type of production. In Silicon Valley, trade unions such as they were in Detroit never appeared. Silicon Valley does not pay good money to workers in factories. Silicon Valley depended on hundreds or thousands of unregistered migrants who were outside the scope of the new laws that were issued in the 70s, the US Department of Occupational Safety and Health, all of these environmental standards for chip production. They were born subcontractors, and this has really become something of a forerunner to today's corporate organization. It was a rehearsal of the future.

All stories related to Silicon Valley, mostly tell about Steve Jobs, Wozniak, ...

How they were busy in their garages

About people from garages and their innovations. But they all relied on thousands of immigrants, mostly women. So every time someone in Silicon Valley says “robot,” he usually means a colored woman. In the book, I track how this idea of ​​automation and progress was used to justify a disgusting attitude toward employees.

Yes, you are very interested in writing about how people perceive Uber, and compare it with Etsy . They are similar in that they are platforms that sell the work of other people and are not necessarily good to the people who work for them. And everyone is angry about Uber, but no one is angry about Etsy. You said that "the reason is that we do not appreciate women's work."

Exactly. I think the main question is who considered all this. After the war, the calculations were done by white men, that's all. If you were a woman of color, if you lived in the United States, but not as a citizen, your rights did not have the same meaning as the rights of people who made the rules and managed the companies.

Today everything is exactly the same. I think that's why we get angry at Uber - because men drive a taxi, but women don't. And with Etsy, everything is fine.

What jobs will remain human?

Inevitably more people will be required. I have always said that everything that can be digitized will be digitized, and people react to it simply “yes, it's interesting.” No, you think about it. Think carefully. We will have not only robomobili without drivers - we won't have mechanics either. No need for mechanics, no need for insurance companies. Retail stores will be gone. What will retail workers do?

And the podcasters?

Creativity is all that matters. It seems to me that curiosity and creative spirit, that is, the qualities that define a person is the most important. The fact that the person does not apply, should make the machine. In the book I write that people should not be engaged in machine work. And from my point of view it is not bad. My inner optimistic futurologist likes this, but the question is different: what will we do with people? We have a system, an education system, an economy that has treated people like machines for over a hundred years. This is called industrialization.

And the first computers, that is, calculators, were women

Women - and this can not be ignored. So why are we so surprised when robots finally take away our work? And this is actually grace. This could mean the end of all paperwork that we all hate.

Or work in the mine,

or mines, or other things - but what will we do from the political and social side, so that our societies do not explode because of the emergence of a new type of digital ruling class? Here, utopias and dystopias come into play, and history demonstrates its importance. No matter how I like people from Silicon Valley, but when you talk to them, it becomes clear that these are people who read only science fiction.

The current situation has no historical analogs.

Yes. Everyone imagines the transition from an agricultural economy to an industrial one, as a smooth schedule, and not as, for example, the riots of 1877 , when trains with machine guns took land from people in Pennsylvania, and people rebelled, destroyed rails and dropped bosses.

So, in the near future everything will be automated, and many of us will lose their jobs. What works will be in the future? And what will not be?

Very hard to guess in advance. I do not think that ten years ago it would be possible to predict the appearance of the work of a “podcaster”, but we know what kind of work it will be. It will be works related to humanity - with curiosity, creativity and care.

I think that the future works will be as we would like to have - we will be free to do what people like to do by nature, which we should not be forced to do. It is necessary to force a person to get into the mine and get lung diseases. No need to force a person to take care of children.

So what works will disappear first?

I think the most important thing that will disappear is retail. For people with experience, not related to high-paying jobs - it will be retail. These are the places where people start working. Retail has disappeared. If you need to repeat the same action three times in a row - it is automated.

I think that part of the acceleration that I described in the book will be related to the idea of ​​digital migrants. In the next few years, we will observe how robots appear that are controlled by someone from a distance, and it seems to me that people do not pay this much attention. The intersection of machine learning, virtual reality and robotics.

A couple of years ago I was in a laboratory in Berkeley, where you can put on virtual reality glasses and control the robot in this way. And people were very interested in the robot that folded the towels. I sat there for an hour, waited for this towel to be rolled up, and it didn’t work. I hate folding towels, so I was really looking forward to this moment. And then I put on virtual reality glasses, and I almost immediately did it.

That is, you folded the towel with the help of a robot.

I was able to take control of the manipulators and fold the towel. And I realized that I can do it anywhere. Therefore, I easily imagined how in the next couple of years some entrepreneur would be able to offer low-cost home robots in the same way that Tesla uses its drivers to train their autopilot. With the help of some online program you can use hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world, they will wear virtual reality glasses somewhere in Bangladesh or Mexico City. And control such robots.

And then, thanks to machine learning, robots will be able to learn all sorts of homework. Therefore, all physical labor, which we consider indispensable, can be replaced.

Therefore, even digital migrants will lose their jobs.

Physical migrants will lose their jobs, and then digital migrants will replace themselves.

Universal basic income

Let's talk about UBD. How can we pay for it?

Universal basic income is an interesting topic for people who believe that automation will get rid of all people, all the current work of people.

There are many interesting points of view on this topic. Chris Hughes wrote about it. Annie Lowrie has written a book, Sam Altman writes a lot about it.

Yes, there are many opinions on this matter, and about whether people have the opportunity to move on. I think that people will always be appreciated, we are very flexible, creative - machines are not available.

There are problems with UBD, and there are many ways to organize it. You can collect taxes and redistribute funds, for example. I like the model based on the events of the beginning of the XIX century, when any charter of a corporation was supposed to include some kind of action aimed at social welfare.

And today we have socialized risks and privatized profits. I think that people should receive part of this profit. Every time a share is issued, a certain public holding should receive a share of these shares, and all people should receive their part, instead of direct payments. I think it is important to arrange everything so that we do not just distribute money to people. I think that having a goal and autonomy means a lot to many people.

And I care about what happens if we just start distributing money to people. With such direct payments is a certain hopelessness. And if we had a sense of ownership of a common enterprise, this would give us access to old American values.

You had another idea about UBD or another term, you called it something of an investment.

Yes, I think it is an investment in each other. I think it is better to talk about this in this way, and not as about UBD. Or we will talk about the world from the film “To the First Player to Prepare”, the NF-idea of ​​how people live in trailers stacked on each other, a very harsh reality. I would not want to live in such a world. The danger of automation lies not only in losing work, but in losing goals.

Therefore, although it is necessary to think about how to free people from the routine and boredom that haunt most people in their workplace, one must also think that not every one of them can become a scientist and researcher. People can't just go and stay.

We remove the routine and boredom, but do not replace them with anything else. Then routine and boredom will be better than nothing.

Routine and boredom are better than starvation, but no better than caring for the elderly, children, or art.

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