No jobs but activities. But what about incomes ?

One thing is sure : we must prepare to face a jobless future. Or, at least, with far less jobs that we have today. The causes are many and well known.

First because of robots and intelligent machines what will do more and more jobs currently done by humans.Second because of new economic and work models known as digital labor. The last one takes many forms, from Uber drivers to Amazon Mechanical Turk, some being more enviable than others but all having one thing in common : a lot of wealth being created on the one side and a growing economic insecurity on the other. A “second economy” is forming, invisible, digitized, and it’s swallowing lots of jobs that – contrary to the previous revolutions we’ve known – won’t reappear anywhere in new industries replacing the collapsing ones. As for the sharing economy, its impacts in terms of jobs, insecurity and impoverishment look quite “promising” in some industries.

What’s at stake is distributing prosperity

As work is becoming “on demand” and contingent, our problem – as said in the McKinsey on the second economy – is not anymore to create prosperity but to distribute it. In other words, instead of jobs, we’ll have activities contributing to this prosperity but won’t be able to reap most of the benefits of this prosperity.

Knowing that, there are three possible attitudes : enthusiasms (it’s digital so it’s the future and that’s wonderful), resignation (there’s no escape) or lucidity (what’s going to replace capitalism as we know it is capitalism in worse). Some will find funny that what’s being very well “sold” under the name of  sharing economy, wrapped with good feelings, may finally be worse that what it replaces, some won’t.

In short we must find the model that is aligned with new value creation models, more related to activities and work that to jobs. And if we’re not ready to face the tsunami of robots, we’re even less ready to face the societal impact of these new models many are pushing so happily.

The basic income or a flat rate for one’s contribution to value creation

Each of our behaviors is used and monetized. Each of our actions online or offline generates data (and will generate more and more in the future), these data being used to make better decisions, offer us better services etc. and, in the end, will create an incredible value for those who utilize them.

This acknowledgement helped to bring an old idea back under the lights : the basic income. Quickly explained, the idea is that everyone contributes to value creation but some are left out the distribution process because they’re not a part of the financial flow, their contribution should be turned into a flat-rate and returned to them as a basic income. An idea that’s not new at all but seems more and more relevant as our economy changes.

As a matter of fact, if we consider the business model of the data economy, we can find those who produce the data, those who process it, those who do business with and the only one left out the financial equation is the first one. It’s as if you had an oilfield in your backyard, let others drill, refine and sell it (and sometimes sell it to you) and you make absolutely no money from this process. The value chain of data leave out those who produce the raw material and even if the solution is anything but obvious I don’t think such a system can last forever.

One idea leading to another : monetizing one’s “data assets”.

Monetizing personal data as an asset

That’s the logical next step. If I generate more and more data and if others use them to generate more and more vale, if I consider than I generate more data than others or that – for any reason – they have a specific value, I can prefer to directly monetize them.

Dear Facebook I’m sick of being a product. Now consider me as a data provider and pay !

It’s easy to see the limits of such a model : it would be a labyrinth and we should not forget that our personal data have very little value without others’. Some businesses are experimenting this new and unknown way and maybe one day we’ll see data brokers centralizing operations and being intermediaries between people and the business that use their data.

As foolish as this idea may look, I just invite you to imagine what would happen if one day there was a “like” and “share” strike, a “no online contribution day” when everybody would use private browsing… Just imagine the impact on some business models and stocks…

But why not in the long term. More broadly it’s about anyone monetizing his own knowledge and data capital. Could be really say that we’re in a knowledge and data economy while those who generate and own them in the first place are the only one unable to monetize them ? Today, knowledge sharing is a way to promote one’s personal brand in a world where there’s still lots of jobs, but what will happen when jobs will be scarce and that people won’t a have a job besides their online (free) activities ?


Disintermediate and replace the sharing economy with cooperative economy

There’s a paradox in the sharing economy, shown as a more human – and even humanist – alternative no to capitalism but to financial capitalism as we know it today. Supposedly relying on the values of the web, it’s disentermiediate nature is often praised while it’s not disintermediated at all. Old monopolies have been replaced by new ones that understand that something bigger than disintermediation exists : leverage effect. The difference between old taxi companies and Uber is not that obvious except that the second issued its platform in the first place and used digital technologies to have a bigger leverage effect : more volume, less costs. With all the criticism that may come with regarding to jobs.

Some propose an alternative more “workers friendly” that this sharing economy : cooperative platforms.From the outside nothing changes, from the inside everything is different since it’s a real disintermediation. Digital levers are used in favor of a truly disintermediated model and putting the intermediary out of the business increases the shared value for both the workers and the customers.

Thinking about that I invite you to think about the inevitable and insurmountable nature of the sucess of Uber and co. By definition intermediaries are fragile and replacing one with another does not change the nature of the model. That’s not the end of change, the raise of a real collaborative economy. Expect things to keep on changing. The option I mention is one among other but it’s not less credible than any other.

Work less to balance the lack of jobs

That’s another option proposed by more and more people. Even if the results of a similar experience conducted in France with the so-called 35 hrs workweek look like a joke, the idea is coming back and even Google’s Larry Page considers it as a possible – and even desirable – future. But many smart people have already push such ideas in the past.

I have to confess I’m more than sceptical about it. If we can work less, from an individual standpoint, to produce everything we need, it does nit mean that sharing work will help to bring people back to work. In fact there are two things at stake : jobs and incomes. Working less for less money does not work and working less for the same income will kill businesses. What Pages say is that it will be possible to work less, not how to deal with the consequences of working less.

Moreover, not all jobs can be shared. Routine jobs can, intellectual and creative ones can’t.

Establish a risk sharing model

New economic models share activities (a lot), incomes (a little) but don’t share the related risks at all. For some these model won’t be mature as long as risk is shared. If businesses abdicate their social role as stakeholders then the society will have to establish new rules.

So we have three issues that must be dealt with jointly

• Employment : there will be less and less jobs and they’ll be more and more fragile.

• Social and economical risk : will only be supported by fragile and contingent workers

• Revenue : will exclude a large part of those who contributed to its creation.

I’m not sure we’ll come to anything acceptable by dealing with one point at a time. Such an approach will lead to a more shaky model that the one being replaced.

Many things are written and said on this matter and this post was only a non-exhaustive and quick overlook. What’s going to work ? I have no idea. But it’s urgent to move.

We can also say “too bad, that’s the victory of web entrepreneurs and digital economy”. But once nobody will be able to buy their products and services, then the snake will beat its own tail

Image Credit : Work Revenue par  Dooder via Shutterstock

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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