Raw Deal: How the "Uber Economy" and Runaway Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers, by Steven Hill, St. Martin's Press, 326 pages, $27.99
I'VE WORKED FOR Travis Kalanick for more than a year, but I've never met him. Technically, he's not my boss and I'm not his employee. I'm one of North America's 400,000 independent "1099" contractors with Uber, the company Kalanick co-founded and runs. In 2015, working in Pittsburgh three or four nights a week, I made nearly 2,200 Uber trips, carried more than 4,500 passengers, and put about 20,000 scratch-free Uber miles on my wife's 2013 Honda CRV. Subtracting expenses for gas and wear and tear on Pittsburgh's infamously pot-holed roads, I netted about $15,000 for the year.
This is the best part-time job I've had in a career of them. I have no bosses, I have no schedule, and I work when, where, and how long I choose. It's the perfect gig for an ex-newspaperman who's writing a book and whose income streams also include Social Security, a pension, and freelance writing. Every time I go to work, I know I'll pick up about 25 random, mostly under-30 people from Pittsburgh and around the globe who, sober or drunk, are happy to see me and, when asked, invariably express unconditional love for Uber.
Here in Pittsburgh, Uber is destroying the local Yellow Cab monopoly, one of the worst taxi companies in the country. It's getting drunk drivers off the roads in unknown numbers. It's energizing the city's nightlife. It has clearly been a boon for the city's young women, allowing them to move around safely, reliably, and affordably at night, alone or in packs of three and four. It has also created hundreds of part-or full-time jobs for Pittsburghers.
Steven Hill hates it.
Hill, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, is the author of Raw Deal, a grueling sermon accusing Uber--and similar "peer-to-peer" businesses, such as Airbnb and TaskRabbit--of exploiting part-time workers and eroding the wealth and security of the American workforce. These so-called "sharing economy" companies connect the buyers and sellers of goods, services, and labor online. For Hill, the people who run them and the venture capitalists who fund them "have conceived of nothing less than a wholesale redesign of the U.S. workforce, the quality of employment and the ways we live and work." This powerful, diabolical, apparently conspiratorial new species of techno-entrepreneurs has planned "a dead end for U.S. workers, as well as the national economy" by creating what Hill dubs "the freelance society."
THE GRUELING ELEMENT of Raw Deal is Hill's argument, not his prose...