It’s not new news that either through choice or simply to make ends meet the number of independent workers is on the rise – two thirds of the US workforce are now not linked to a traditional 9-to-5 job and, according to a survey conducted by the 2011 Freelancers Union, almost half of US workers (46%) have earned their income from two or more categories of work in the last year. (Freelancer’s Union 2011: America’s Uncounted Independent Workforce).
Governments seem apparently happy to turn their backs on the plight of many, yet what could be described as a dismal situation – the loss of the traditional ‘job for life’ and pension – is creating a different type of workforce. Quietly people are joining forces both globally and locally to form alternatives to the traditional capitalist model – we may, as the New York Times points out, be ‘moving to something different from both traditional capitalism and socialism – without anyone even noticing’.
A new social market ecosystem is emerging in which collaboration is key. Many have entered a whole new way of working – often casually at first – to find themselves becoming entrepreneurs, producers or suppliers, often in many places and spaces both virtually and physically all at the same time.
Virtual Communities – Global and Local
Global communities online abound where you can make your online mark and make a buck – and much hype and money is being poured into these ventures. The last 5 years or so have seen the increase and success of community-based sites such as Etsy.com for buying and selling your handmade products, Kickstarter the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects (just recently the author of a self-published webcomic ‘The Order of the Stick’ raised more than $1m from fans on the site to bring his stories back into print making it the richest creative work in the crowdfunding site’s history), or Local Motors – the world’s first open-source community of car designers and fabricators with the mission “To lead the next generation of crowd-powered automotive manufacturing, design, and technology in order to enable the creation of game changing vehicles.”
It’s all very enticing but online communities in areas of business where you are up against global competition can sometimes feel more like a global bazaar than a global village. In every way you’re up against the best the world can offer. Often the cost of setting up competing online businesses is minimal therefore it’s easy for many to copy your business idea, add to that competition for work where there may well be others more creative than you, products being sold cheaper than yours or those with stronger online reputations and who have the time and energy to shout louder.
Back on the ground an increasing number are turning their backs on the traditional capitalist ‘large corporation’ model and are becoming involved in co-ops and worker-owned companies. As the New York Times notes:
‘Some 130 million Americans, for example, now participate in the ownership of co-op businesses and credit unions. More than 13 million Americans have become worker-owners of more than 11,000 employee-owned companies, six million more than belong to private-sector unions…’
Collaboration, transparency, responsibility and sustainability are common themes – a definitive move away from competition and self-interest, (while even recent Harvard Business Research offered evidence that corporations with sustainability embedded into their culture (through social, environmental & economic awareness and ethics) consistently outperform traditional businesses focused solely on profit.
We seem to be waking up to the fact that the large corporates perhaps are a ‘form of tyranny more abhorrent that it (society) had ever endured.’ described in Part 1 in 1887 and to which we have become conditioned are not necessarily the way forward.
System D – Slipping behind the Government
While these new global online and local communities have been building let’s not forget one element of ‘community’ which has been going on globally for centuries: The Black Market – or, as it has been recently retagged by the French: System(e) D.
Outside the reach of the measurement and control of central governments there is another sign in the shift in the way the future economy could grow. Freakonomics highlights an article by Robert Neuwirth for Foreign Policy:
“In 2009, the OECD concluded that half the world’s workers (almost 1.8 billion people) were employed in the shadow economy. By 2020, the OECD predicts the shadow economy will employ two-thirds of the world’s workers. This new economy even has a name: “System D”.
Governments’ answers to System D seems to be to try and eliminate cash and push transactions online where they are able to be measured and monitored (The Shadow Economy in Europe 2011 – see pdf link – The Shadow Economy in Europe, 2011. But won’t this attitude simply encourage many to push further away from working via the online world – and aren’t we having enough of being electronically tracked and monitored anyway?