1. Rise of the freelancer
Developed nations are increasingly relying on freelancer / contractor works (40% of America’s workforce will be freelancers by 2020 says Intuit’s report). This puts new demands on the workforce – high agency, independence, risk tolerance. Reputation is already now one of the main currencies (think Uber, Airbnb et al.).
2. Internal and external coordination costs
Is this the death of the poor Sararīman (salaried employee)? How far can this trend go?
Coase’s Theory of the Firm did tap into an important insight from complex systems: Firms grow to achieve a dynamical equilibrium between internal and external coordination costs, between economies and dis-economies of the scale.
The technology-enabled, highly networked world with its remote communication and work tools and reputation-rings shifts the set point of most companies towards a more distributed, freelancer-reliant structure.
Nonetheless there are limits to this shift as coordination cost will never quite reach zero. More importantly, there are limits on the size of the workforce pool, that does have the required levels of agency and risk tolerance.
3. Rise of the robo-worker
There is one more, overwhelming trend that is coming to play. The rise of the freelancer (and the death of sararīman) will co-evolve with automatization. The Uber freelancers can already start competing with their robotic colleagues.
The salaried man will not live long enough to die by glorious Karōshi (death by overworking), but rather die the double death of outsourcing to a freelancer or a robot.
4. The Tale of the Slave
While I don’t want to get into the neo-luddite debate now, I do want to link Taleb’s article with Nozik’s fantastically funny Tale of the Slave. It is a very short read, but very much worth it. The point being, that maybe the salaryman-hood is not such such a great thing to cling too anyway.
5. The Diogenesian or Epictetian future of the salaried worker
Ultimately, the boundary conditions for the “freed” (= kicked-out, redundant) Sararīman are:
- living in barrel like fellow slave Diogenes (the neo-luddite scenario)
- or flourish like ex-slave Epictetus, becoming a wealthy and self-actualized freeman
Here, I’m more on the cautious optimist’s side.
While not everybody will become an influential philosopher (artist, writer…), my hope is that we will be wise enough to use the surplus generated by automatized technology to make the barrel really comfty (good Wifi and VR googles are included of course).
Wait, did I say optimistic?