As Jobs Dissolve, There’s Still All This Work To Do


The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories

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Globalization and outsourcing have already reshaped the American workforce. Next up: work-on-demand and automation. That’s the future-of-labor picture according to venture capitalist Fred Wilson (AVC), who moderated a discussion on the topic at our just-concluded NewCo Shift Forum.

What we’re seeing, when you put these trends together, is the unbundling of employment. “Job” has always been a name for the package our economy has used to tie together a bunch of different things: work that an organization needed to get done; payment for that work to individuals with the skills to do it; benefits that provided long-term security to the worker; and laws that defined the obligations on both sides of the “job” relationship. All of that is now in flux.

At Shift Forum, Work Market CEO Stephen DeWitt described his company’s platform for “labor clouds” that help companies manage “contingent workforces” — freelance or contract labor — and bring the Uber model to white-collar work. There are some obvious advantages to this approach: It’s efficient, flexible, and fast. But the faster it catches on, the faster old-fashioned jobs will vanish. That will turn up the pressure to provide collective, public alternatives to the benefits — like health insurance, vacations, and retirement benefits — that we used to get from our employers.

If we don’t plan now for ways to buffer individuals from this grand unbundling of employment, then we can expect office and service workers to stage their own reactionary, “bring back the good old days” revolt — one that’s even more politically volatile than what we’re already experiencing in the manufacturing and blue-collar sectors.

Trump’s Team Could Target Indian Outsourcing

White House adviser Steve Bannon is widely understood to be the taproot of the Trump administration’s anti-globalism. What Bannon calls his “economic nationalism” has manifested itself mostly in ideas for protecting and promoting domestic manufacturing at the expense of global supply chains. But Bannon’s “close the borders” mindset could also start applying its vision to the world of global services, writes James Crabtree (Foreign Policy).

That could start with already-rumored restrictions and limits on the H-1B visas that let tech companies hire engineers from abroad. It might then aim at disrupting the global trade in IT services that brings $120 billion to India each year.

As one Indian executive puts it, “The big thing we don’t know is whether Trump’s intent is to dent the outsourcing model or to kill it.” Do Bannon and Trump just want better terms from India, or do they want to blow up the whole transnational labor system that tech companies have evolved? Looks like we’re going to find out soon.

Without Immigrants, Silicon Valley Is In Trouble

If Trump and Bannon do succeed in walling off the U.S. from foreign business and talent, the biggest casualty could be Silicon Valley itself, writes Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. The U.S. tech industry has built and kept its competitive edge by being “a beacon for the world’s best inventors.” Immigrants have always played an outsize role in founding successful tech companies and in contributing to their innovations, which is one of the main reasons that tech has been in the forefront of business opposition to Trump’s refugee ban. Manjoo cites a study that recently looked at 87 startups valued at $1 billion or higher to see how many were founded by one or more people from outside the United States. The answer: more than half.

Why are immigrants so successful in Silicon Valley? Partly it’s just numbers: The U.S. has only 5 percent of the world’s population; more talent will come from outside than inside its borders. But it’s also about psychology: “People from outside bring new perspectives that lead to new ideas,” Manjoo says. Close the borders and you could stifle the tech industry’s soul.

Whole Foods Gets Some Competition

Whole Foods rode the healthy-eating wave for years, but recently it has struggled, as cut-price competitors like Costco and Walmart expanded onto its organic turf (Caitlin Dewey in The Washington Post). Now Whole Foods is closing some stores and dialing back its projections. Consumers are buying more organic than ever, but they don’t necessarily want to pay the hefty Whole Foods markup that earned the store its “Whole Paycheck” nickname.

Of course, the same competition that drives organic prices down can also end up diluting the meaning of “organic” itself. You can get your farm or product certified organic by following U.S. Department of Agriculture rules — without staying true to the ideals of the original, echt organic movement. If Whole Foods wants to bolster its reputation for quality it will have to work harder to explain to customers exactly why paying more for their quinoa and kombucha makes sense.

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