Work Futures Daily | Giving Something A Name

| Feudalism | Oz or Kansas | A New Bundle | Meritocracy Trap | The New Bundle | Brian Eno | Business Casual |

Beacon NY | 2019–09–18 | There is folk wisdom in the saying ‘naming calls’, a superstitious or mystical concept where mentioning something makes it more likely to happen or mentioning the ‘true name’ of some spirit or demon can actually summon it forth. But in the commonplace or barnyard sense, if you call a dog ‘Rex’, over time he will come when you call his name.

The names we give to things matter, so associating ride-hailing with feudalism, or pointing out that ‘meritocracy’ was originally pejorative, adds background to the discussions we are having about the future of work.


You Call It the Gig Economy. California Calls It ‘Feudalism.’ | Miriam Pawel provides deep background on California’s Assembly Bill 5. It wasn’t really about ride-hailing drivers, but old-fashioned delivery drivers. The court case behind it all is 14 years old, predating the app era:

Although the ride-share businesses Uber and Lyft were center stage in the run-up to the legislature’s votes, they were in fact not the impetus for the new law.

The bill was actually incited by a 14-year-old case in which Los Angeles delivery drivers sued their employer for lost wages after they were abruptly reclassified as independent contractors. Last year, the state’s highest court issued a broad ruling that sought to clarify what had long been a murky legal standard. The decision said workers are presumed to be employees unless a business can meet the “ABC test” — an independent contractor must be free from the control of the hiring entity, perform work outside the normal scope of the hiring entity and be an independent established practitioner of the trade performed. With exceptions for specific professions, the new measure adopts that definition.

The focus on the gig economy has obscured the more widespread impact of the new law in traditional businesses where workers — like the delivery drivers who sued in 2005 — have been misclassified for years. Hundreds of thousands of construction workers, janitors, truckers, nail salon workers and others now paid as independent contractors will be entitled to earn minimum wage and overtime, receive unemployment insurance and family leave, and have bargaining rights. The state hopes the measure will garner it much of the estimated $7 billion a year businesses have evaded paying in payroll taxes; unions hope to recruit new members. Their success will be both an indication of their strength and a key to effective enforcement.

But Pawel does not really answer the implicit answer of the piece: will our governments — municipal, state, and federal — pass laws to make most of the gig economy illegal? California has, and New York is next to go, I bet.


Fortitude: reflections from #gnfwomen | Nicole de Beaufort attended a women’s leadership conference in Miami where she ‘felt simultaneously empowered and defeated’. And then… [all emphasis hers]

After several days of thinking through these questions, I became impatient. I felt like we were becoming an echo chamber, repeating back the same things until they became meaningful only to us. It felt as if we were not going to make a difference by sitting here talking about it. But then Victoria Budson, executive director of the Women in Public Policy Program and the Harvard Kennedy School, and the conference emcee, delivered thoughts that were as synthetic of all that came before as they were disruptive. They are paraphrased below. Each is, to me, a koan of sorts, upon which I’ve meditated and troubled. Each becomes a nesting doll of social constructs and meaning, built upon history and culture. These lines below? These are things I want to spend more time thinking about and working through.

In the workplace and in society we have non-equal networks of information.

The repercussions for errors are bigger for women in the business context. This is learned behavior.

Success comes from being able to navigate through our cultural construct. The choice is in where to invest your time and energy.

You do not choose whether or not you’re on the path. The pathway has been decided for you. Unless you design and create environments that yield gender equity.

Opportunities without realistic discussion of the challenges inherent in them are not really opportunities.

Fact: women who take time off after having children are underemployed for the rest of their lives.

We need the full set of information. And we need to invest in things that bring joy and create an environment to think differently.

When women choose roles, they choose all that comes with it; the impact, pressures and strains. Having a network of women who are dealing with this can buoy you.

Women will be discussed and judged in every part of society. There are innumerable obstacles in our way. There is joy in removing and not yielding to barriers.

For some reason, reading this reminded me of a recent Ron Chast New Yorker cartoon, where Dorothy is talking to Glinda, the good witch, and asks, ‘So, my choices are just Oz or Kansas?’ Are we limited to the same old discussions and the same old hypotheses regarding women at work? Budson (and de Beaufort) seem to be offering a way out.


The Meritocracy Is Making Us Miserable | Christopher Shay interviews Daniel Markovitz about his book, The Meritocracy Trap:

Christopher Shay: What is the “meritocratic trap” that you’re describing in the book?

Daniel Markovits: The idea is that the rise of a super-skilled, super-trained elite causes two things to happen: First, the elite invests enormously in training its children. This means that people who aren’t born to rich parents don’t have the same educational opportunities. That’s why you see things like the Ivy Plus colleges with more students from the top 1 percent than the entire bottom half. That’s one part of it: the concentration of education and training in a narrower and narrower elite of children.

And then there’s a labor market part, which is the remaking of the labor market in a way that distinctively favors the skills that elaborate training gets you. The labor market that, at mid-century, was dominated by a large mass of mid-skilled, middle-class jobs is today dominated by a small number of glossy jobs by super-elite workers who can then expropriate the returns to labor and immiserate a large mass of others. It’s a trap, because it excludes everybody outside of the elite from opportunity. And for the elite, it’s a trap because there’s an alienating character to being trained and then worked in a ruthless competition your whole life.

CS: You point out that the term meritocracy itself is relatively new; it’s from the late ’50s. Could you describe how it was first used?

DM: The term was invented by an English sociologist named Michael Young, who wrote a book called The Rise of the Meritocracy. It is a profound and bizarre book. It’s an imaginary social history of the second half of the 20th century, written from the perspective of a made-up social historian in the 21st. And he coined the term “meritocracy” because government by the most virtuous was already taken, that’s aristocracy. So he replaced the Greek root for “virtue” with the Latin root for “earn.” For him it was a term of critique, not a term of approval. He lamented, deep into his life, that it had been embraced as a term of praise.

I love that ‘meritocracy’ was spun up for a cautionary futuristic scenario, and then was appropriated by those it criticized. And Markovitz is espousing a fairly stark condemnation of the ‘super-elite’ bourgeoisie, and laying the social divide of inequality at their feet.


Future of Work: The new bundle is being invented as we speak | Laetitia Vitaud is gaining hope as we move ahead creating a new ‘bundle’, or social contract around work:

In the twentieth century, the dominant work model was that of the Fordist “bundle”. In exchange for division of labour and subordination, each worker was offered a bundle of benefits: a steady revenue, health insurance, paid holidays, a retirement pension, access to banking credit and housing, the promise of better future earnings thanks to the bargaining power of influential unions, a social and political identity, a set of connections, and more. The bundle made the alienation of industrial jobs quite acceptable. It gave workers dignity, economic security and a sense of agency.

But for roughly four decades now we’ve been experiencing a global unbundling of jobs. Globalisation, deindustrialisation, the decline of unions, the financialisation of the economy and the digital revolution have all played a role. Economic security is on the decline. Workers are now offered a deal that involves accepting subordination and alienation without the old tradeoff. The result is bad jobs, insufficient hours and revenues, no access to housing, job hopping, no sense of agency, isolation, and a lack of bargaining power.

In many ways the traditional bundle was a collective one. Thus the unbundling leaves today’s workers with the task of creating a personalised bundle of their own, of finding unique ways to combine the different elements of the bundle to fit their needs and situation. What was collective becomes individual. As Charles Leadbeater said, “the bundle has become a backpack”.

Go read what she thinks is coming.

Quote of the day

Giving something a name can be just the same as inventing it.

| Brian Eno


Madewell Diverges From J. Crew as a Darling of Casual America | Sapna Maheshwari says the rise of Madewell reflects the casualization of work clothing in the US:

While Madewell is only about one-third the size of J. Crew, the brand has taken off in recent years thanks to a retail strategy better suited to today’s shopping landscape and a broader shift to more casual clothing in the United States. Madewell said in its filing that it believed a substantial portion of the population anchored its wardrobes to denim — and not just on weekends “but also increasingly for work and social occasions.”

“There’s a real blurring now between what people are wearing on the weekend and what they’re wearing for work, and that blurring is working really well for brands such as Madewell,” said Sarah Willersdorf, a partner at Boston Consulting Group who specializes in fashion and luxury. Jeans are a particular beneficiary of the “casualization” trend among men and women, which has also fueled growth in athleisure and streetwear, she said.

While the trend toward casualization in America started in the 1990s with the technology revolution on the West Coast, it has “intensified” in the years since the recession and is now even extending to traditionally conservative workplaces like Goldman Sachs, said Marie Driscoll, a managing director who covers fashion and luxury at Coresight Research.

Allowing business casual at work is one of the cheapest workplace benefits.

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Originally posted on Work Futures.