Marketplaces are evolving in ways stacked against regular people. Aggressive new labor markets like Uber: mislead work-seekers, slash pay, distort the market against workers, withhold data, systematically undermine regulation and lobby against worker rights around the world. Uber is not an outlier, it’s a pathfinder for labor market platforms covering thousands of sectors.
Meanwhile, corporate employees are increasingly deployed in line with their employer’s hour-by-hour needs. New scheduling software puts businesses under competitive pressure to adopt these one-sided efficiencies.
About 50% of workers are now reliant on at least some ad-hoc economic activity, much of it in shadow economies. This feeds divisive problems; financial volatility, health problems, child poverty and popular rage. A cheapened, commoditized, workforce with little chance of progression is also a huge waste of economic potential.
That’s a problem for governments. Many are getting increasingly radical in their thinking: Universal Basic Income, a Green New Deal free tuition and other taxpayer funded schemes are gaining traction worldwide. But Britain leads with an alternative path: comprehensive online markets that use new tools, personalised data and interfacing into official facilities to unlock the full economic potential of any citizen or local business.
Tony Blair’s government funded the core of this infrastructure, David Cameron’s team advanced it further. Now in a non-profit, the resulting markets have just also been launched by public bodies in Los Angeles County. This initiative seeks to work with financiers; on models to enable scaling of the infrastructure and in creating investment vehicles based on upskilling and equipping workers in line with their local needs.
Wingham Rowan is the former anchor and producer of Britain’s longest running TV series about the Internet. While working on that series he approached the think tank Demos to develop possibilities around how any government could initiate much better markets for local businesses and people at the bottom of the economy.
Books, articles, policy papers and a TED talk followed. In 2005 the UK government funded a first build of the technologies developed by Rowan’s team. Those markets – providing an empowering alternative to “gig work” platforms – were launched by 20 city authorities before being absorbed into central government’s Universal Credit scheme.
Funded by four national US philanthropies, those markets have now been launched by public agencies in Los Angeles County. The launch project won US Conference of Mayors’ prize for best economic development initiative in America. Rowan has led the US launch team while running the MM4A non-profit.
As governments explore increasingly radical policy possibilities post-Covid, the wider vision of governments initiating better markets across the entire micro-economy in partnership with financiers and technologists is gaining traction. Rowan has become something of an expert on this emerging area of policy. www.ModernMarketsforAll.org