Is the Platform Worker the Future of Workers?

Danny Quah
May 2023

A startling truth of the modern world---startling to non-specialists in any case---is that a worker is not the same as an employee. Employees are covered by all manner of protection, regulation, and law. Those workers that are not employees --- platform workers in particular --- are not.

But societies did not give up work flexibility so that they could instead have employee protection. Instead, societies protected employees because they decided it was a matter of basic human decency to help care for those who have contributed so much to the public well-being. It is a technical loophole that there are those who do as much for society as do employees but are, nonetheless, not protected as much---simply because they are not called employees.

Platform company intermediation is a simple and elegant solution to dynamically-evolving demand and supply. It is the same solution, scaled to local neighborhoods, as was the global supply chain to planet-sized globalisation.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s big computers in back offices connected over the Internet and kick-started offshoring, outsourcing, and the global supply chain. Ever better scheduling algorithms on those computers matched demand and supply across the world --- not just in final goods but in ever more finely time-sliced stages of intermediate production. This allowed ever greater dispersion of razor-precise physical relocation of production processes and consumption patterns. Globalisation emerged. At ever lower cost anything made anywhere became available to everyone everywhere.

Today, big computers have given way to yet more powerful smartphones connected to globally-dispersed server farms. The Internet has effectively vanished from fixed-location, hardwired telephone lines, and squirreled up into always-on, go-everywhere mobile devices.

Time-slicing matching algorithmic improvement on computers made possible off-shoring and the global supply chain. That same technology, re-scaled and refined, now makes possible ever more efficient intra-city, neighborhood-scale production processes and people-to-people engagement. This is the gig economy: It's globalisation gone local.

(Completions in what follows, the first article slightly more extended than the second.)

Quah, Danny. 2023. "Is Platform Work the Future of Work?", Feb 2023

Quah, Danny. 2023. "The Hard Truth? Almost Everyone May Be a Platform Worker in the Future", Straits Times (02 Mar), pp. B1-B2. . Also

The hard truth? Almost everyone may be a platform worker in the future. Straits Times