San Francisco–based veteran journalist Hill (Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age, 2010) examines the degenerative influences of technology businesses on the national economy.
Despite the massive wealth and innovation flourishing throughout Silicon Valley, there’s also a major downside, writes the author. It lies in the premise of a “sharing economy,” in which participating businesses actively repurpose or outsource formerly full-time positions with project-to-project freelancers and independent contractors who earn reduced salaries with little or no benefits packages. Hill argues that this trend has irreparably damaged the American workforce, making it increasingly impermanent, disposable, and transient. The author writes of personally experiencing this trend himself after being laid off from full-time employment and then having to pay exorbitant health care premiums and payroll tax payments as a freelance writer. There’s a “sheer arrogance of avarice” afoot in the country, Hill writes, and he zeroes in on a selection of popular, lucrative tech companies that have an impact on future economic forecasts. Bolstered by startling statistical data and a generous sampling of real-life profiles, the author supports his theories with examples of apps like short-term home-rental company Airbnb, ridesharing behemoth Uber, and gig-economy brokerage platforms like Upwork and TaskRabbit. They are all contributory, in their own capacities, to disruptive side effects ranging from slumping economic and employment scales to the fissuring of closely knit neighborhoods. Hill’s survey of the movement’s lethal underworld of drugs and crime, robotic automation, and “economic singularity” is equally alarming. Inasmuch as the author emerges as a detractor, he counters his mostly critical text with proactive solutions involving options like all-employee benefits packages, tax deductions, and labor law reform.
A provocative, remedy-based perspective on the joint complexities of economic stability and ever expanding technology.