WE'RE THE FUTURE. YOUR FUTURE.

The competition is fierce but the actual worst regular columnist in American journalism has to be Steve Tarter of the Peoria Journal-Star. Is it against the rules or the spirit of competition to pick someone from such a podunk media outlet? Maybe. But this guy is goddamn magical. He once did a restaurant review of Cracker Barrel. His standard fare is "business" stuff written from the perspective of a person forever trapped in 1957. I don't even think he's that old, to be honest. It's an extreme manifestation of the fact that everything in the rural Midwest is about 30 years behind the rest of the country. If it was popular on the coasts or in the cities during the Bush presidency, it'll get to Peoria sometime in the next 5-10 years. You don't find a lot of hot takes on the new economy in a place where every corner has a Family Video doing a land-office business. In 2016.

This humdinger from last week really shows Tarter at his Tarteriest, a word salad entitled, "Looking for a new career path? Freelance jobs, online employment are on the rise." If you live in a real city, read this and tell me it isn't depressing. Let's start with the fact that freelancing was a "new" "trend" in our economy in, what, 2000? Add in the fact that "online employment" – which Tarter, parroting most of his readership, does not really appear to understand – similarly has been popular for many years and you have a column that serves as little more than an advertisement for two losers who turned grant money into completely unprofitable "small businesses" of startling unoriginality. Oh, a website about "online career opportunities"? Gee why didn't someone else think of that. Explore an opportunity to become a "consultant"…that sounds lucrative.

This is why I'm sad a lot.

We hear a great deal at regular intervals about how Empowering the new economy is, freeing us from the shackles of a regular paycheck, benefits, and eventual retirement to let us run free in the playground of dreams that is piecing together a living a dollar at a time. Is it possible to cobble together some earnings online? Sure, things like Mechanical Turk pay in actual money. But the idea that this sort of thing can provide a real adult with a real working class income is ludicrous and indicative of someone who has no idea what he's writing about. Oh, the Internet! These nice young ladies told me there's all kinds of money to be made on there! Sounds good, where's my typewriter!?!

Remember, this guy is talking about making a living on the internet in response to the Fortune 500 employers in the region slashing a few hundred or thousand well-paid jobs every couple of months. You know. Because you can replace manufacturing jobs with pensions by turning people without any salable skills or familiarity with the tech economy into internet entrepreneurs. Sounds plausible, right?

I used to think that the economic elite wouldn't be happy until everyone in the country was earning minimum wage with no benefits. In hindsight that was naive; they won't be happy until nobody has stable employment of any kind. We can all drive them around for pennies as Uber drivers and do their laundry on some app that will make us underbid other unemployed people for the privilege and serve them food as just-in-time temps at mostly automated service industry outlets. This is the future we're striving toward as a nation, and it sucks. It sucks for 99% of the population on the planet but it doesn't matter. Eventually they will succeed in breaking the population of the idea that any employment is more stable than day-to-day, and lawyers and doctors and engineers will be groveling for nickels just like the rest of us. Here's an app that people can use when they need medical help, just enter the amount you're willing to pay and wait until your bid is accepted! Shit, where's my notepad? Has someone thought of that one yet? I should get in on the ground floor for once.

They call it economic freedom, but the absence of security is not the same thing as freedom. Insecurity just happens to be cheaper, so it needed a rebranding and a good marketing campaign. It has been relentless since the 90s or, in Central Illinois, since this year.

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48 Responses to “WE'RE THE FUTURE. YOUR FUTURE.”

  1. Glen H Says:

    I think this is a bit naive.
    Why have people scrabbling for pennies working for you when you can put them straight on unpaid internships?

  2. Reilly Says:

    Glen — I think it's the old frog-in-a-pot theory. The pennies might provide a "Hey, This Isn't So Horrible" factor until we're all bought into the concept, and then they'll be rolled back to bare subsistence for a while. Of course, one will only be able to subsist until something even mildly-catastrophic happens. Something like slipping on an icy curb and dinging one's knee, which would be nearly a non-issue in a modern European country with the slightest remaining vestige of social contract.

    But if those progressively imposing the New Economy get the cadence right, people will gradually lose the time, inclination, and energy to so much as *think* big-picture about the fragility of even that bare existence. We'll be too busy scrambling to afford some actual protein with one of our meals.

    And this — not the "Uncle Walter with a shotgun vs. the U.S. Army" fever dreams our blogmaster has so correctly skewered — is why I'm a pro-gun lefty. It's a core conviction of progressivism that the abuse of privately held money power can devolve us into tyranny just as surely as can the abuse of formal government power. And bullets have the remarkable property of not discriminating on the basis of wealth. Post-Citizens United, there's a small class that might be able to buy elections… but they still can't buy self-healing arteries and veins.

    I'm not sounding reveille here; the idea is more that the present possibility of an involuntary exit serves as a deterrent to at least the most onerous of the potential plans for New Serfdom. Let's not leave ourselves completely defenseless.

  3. waldoh Says:

    We can all drive them around for pennies as Uber drivers and do their laundry on some app that will make us underbid other unemployed people for the privilege and serve them food as just-in-time temps at mostly automated service industry outlets. This is the future we're striving toward as a nation, and it sucks.
    Jeez, mate, you're sad…. aaawww…. you need to

    http://feelthebern.org/

    and then… get to fucking work

    https://go.berniesanders.com/page/s/volunteer-for-bernie <

  4. Chris Says:

    David Brooks remains through worst within the mainstream. I honestly don't know how he gets a job despite being spectacularly patronising, boring, smug and, most importantly of all, consistently wrong.

    I could shit better columns.

  5. Chris Says:

    The* worst. Fucking autocorrect on this phone, man.

  6. Major Kong Says:

    @Reilly

    As Jay Gould infamously said:

    "I can just pay half the working class to kill the other half"

  7. Delbort Says:

    Don't worry, we'll run out of clean drinking water well before we have to worry about an armed revolution. Thirst does not discriminate based on wealth, either.

  8. Huntly Says:

    Maybe he was just imagining this scenario:
    http://qz.com/612040/the-best-part-of-being-freelance-is-working-in-the-nude/

  9. Katydid Says:

    My industry is big on stupid slogans like, "Take hold of your career" (meaning: nobody in the management chain is looking out for you, you're on your own to find a paying contract, manage your own health insurance, figure out what stupid thing they did with your 401k money, etc.). The minute you're not profitable for the company, you're out the door.

    As the song goes, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

  10. geoff Says:

    Free to starve!!

  11. Mike R Says:

    Geez geoff you need to sell that slogan to the republican party. Paul Ryan could use it on the next republican budget.

  12. Xynzee Says:

    @Glen H: More on Reilly's point. It's a real "First they came for…" situation. First it was all those (unionised, high wage) manufacturing jobs. Well, need to save costs, so we'll just off shore those.
    Now they're working their way through white collar jobs. A lot of production artwork, brochures, catalogues, PDS, etc have since the early aughts been done India. How many companies do you know where the Accounts teams are being shipped off-shore? I know several.

    A mate went to India to set up an auditing team. This wasn't to do work for the Indian division to do work for the Indian interests. This was so they could send Australian auditing work to be done. So yes, they're working their way through the Accountants. Sad thing is, they—accountants—are actually happy to help facilitate this. You know, for whatever kool-aid it is they drink studying the CA and CPA. My mate even acknowledged that this would probably put him out of a job in the long run. The adherence to ideology over self-interest/preservation was dumbfounding.

    I do like the idea of the getting surgeons to directly haggle against each other via an app. What would be better, is having hedge fund managers and CEOs have to haggle against each other via an app.

  13. Tim H. Says:

    The United States may is potentially a self-correcting problem, if our diplomacy involves us in a serious knock down, drag out sort of war, we'll no longer have much in the way of industry to militarize to rapidly build more implements of destruction.

  14. Mo Says:

    The Nineties career choices:
    70-hour factory week
    Going into service for the aristocracy
    Pulling turnips
    A handcart with apples

    The 1890s, of course. In case you couldn't tell.

    Who else has read Mike Lofgren's The Deep State? I did it as a chaser to Dark Money and now I'm going back to my fetal position in the corner.

  15. Kris Says:

    So what's the answer as to how to opt out of this rut? 40 is approaching and it's getting more and more difficult to see work as anything other than a depressing situation that barely allows me to survive.

  16. Mr. Wonderful Says:

    Okay, but will someone explain to me how businesses are going to thrive if we're all poor peons who can't afford to buy anything? Until the US becomes a literal feudal state, it's a "consumer economy." What happens when the consumers can't afford to consume? Who are they going to sell to? India? China? A booming consumer economy requires a solid middle class of consumers. What am I missing?

  17. c u n d gulag Says:

    And the government is "recommending" – read, threatening – in a letter I just received from the SS Dept, that those of us disabled folks who get SSDI, seek some form of employment or other, or else they'll send us for a reevaluation.

    And something tells me that the word is out that in the reevaluations, that they will do their damndest to force us disabled folks back into the workforce. You know, the fully employed workforce, where everyone is happy and well-compensated, with steady hours and great benefits.

    From what I see, the future for someone like me, is finding out how to get paid for bum-fighting under overpasses for food, and for the few refrigerator boxes under there.

    Of course, since I'm disabled, the odds are against me beating up some healthy bum for a few shitty scraps, and a rapidly decaying cardboard box "shelter."

    In other words, if I lose SSDI, I'm pretty much fucked.

    And please spare me the bullshit, you sociopathic conservative assholes! Try walking a few feet in my feet, using my legs and back, and typing with my arthritic fingers and hands, before you lecture me.
    Remember, 'there but for the grace of God, go thee…'

    Ah, but I forget – you're all special snowflakes, to whom nothing bad will EVER happen!
    'Til it does…

  18. Skipper Says:

    You can scoff, but this is where the economy is currently heading. It's a lot more pervasive than you think.

    I've been working from home for 20 years and free-lancing for 10. Working from home is a choice. Free-lancing was thrust upon me by the economy.

    As one of my free-lance jobs, I edit interviews with top-level managers in the tech field. All of your big tech companies are seriously into turning most positions into, if not free-lance, then temporary jobs. They're not hiring full-timers with the frequency they used to – even big companies with big workforces.

    Now, these companies rely on what they call "contingent workers" or "statement of work workers" or SOWs. Many companies are operating with 30 percent SOWs right now. Some companies — and they're considered successful — operate with 50 percent SOWs. The ultimate goal is to be even higher.

    The whole thing is very analogous to colleges and universities relying more and more on adjunct faculty instead of permanent faculty.

    How this works in high-tech companies is that your brilliant, bright-eyed tech dudes and dudettes are hired for a project, or even a task within a project. When that task or project ends, dude or dudette, is on the street looking for a new gig. That can be anywhere from a couple of months or a year.

    For some, it's an ongoing series of gigs at the same company. You're hired on for one project, and then get a short-term contract for another project, and then another. For others, it's constantly moving to a different company, but usually being able to stay in the same carpool.

    This is why things liker LinkedIn, Facebook. whatever have become so important to these kids. They are always in job-search mode.

    The executives behind this claim that the dudes and dudettes love this — and I'm sure it's true — for someone in their 20s. When you make it over 30 — maybe have a home, maybe some kids — it's nice to have a reasonable expectation that you have an ongoing job — not a gig that can go away in a few weeks and put you back on the street.

    Also, as you age, you become less desirable to hiring managers. They're partial to the kids, full of piss and vinegar, willing to work grueling hours. Once you hit 40, you're on the decline. Fifty is over the hill. Sixty — forget it.

    When I was tossed out on the street, I knew that despite an impressive resume (if I do say so myself) and some good job accomplishments, I would never have a "job " again — and after sending out about 500 resumes, I realized I was right. I have several friends — younger than I am — in the same boat. Very successful work history, great resumes, lots of people to recommend them, but forced to support themselves by cobbling together free-lance jobs.

    It's the new economy — and it's not getting any better.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/sap/2014/12/19/the-rise-of-the-contingent-worker/#698ec06b791b

  19. Nate Says:

    It's only going to get worse the more automated jobs become. It's why we as a society should start thinking and talking about a basic living income strategy.

    Rise of the Robots, folks. It's coming.

  20. The Palace Cat Says:

    Mr Wonderful:
    Outsourcing to Asia was supposed to have 2 effects: increase the consumer base in China, India, etc and decrease Americans' standard of living. The consumer economy hasn't evolved in China because they have no retirement social insurance programs, so everyone socks away as much as they can in savings. Due to the one child policy, a generation of parents and grandparents could be relying on a single working adult to care for them in retirement. Unfortunately, the Chinese government has been systematically looting savings by forcing banks to loan money to various sketchy insolvent state run companies. So ordinary Chinese (people who can't sneak money out of the country) are royally and amazingly boned.
    Fortunately for consumerism, 20 years of encheapenation has allowed rich economies to continue to pretend that we can afford our spending habits.
    India's economy has been hobbled by basic infrastructure failures which, if they can get people clean ware and electricity, will be the next economic juggernaut. India will need to get a handle on its corruption problem, too.

  21. rustonite Says:

    Outsourcing is old news; the current trend is full automation. My current job is writing the software that will take jobs from thousands of agricultural workers. I have friends working on medicine and law (which is particularly ripe for automation, since it's mostly just memorizing arcane procedures and rules.) Some of the writing of the software itself is already automated. We're headed towards a future in which 99% of the population doesn't have to work, and the rest just does a few hours here and there as they please. That will either be a utopia or a dystopia, depending on how the politics shake out, but in any case, the value of labor is going to continue to plummet.

  22. Katydid Says:

    @Gulag, I feel your pain, man. I have a family member born some 40 years ago with multiple birth defects, with a mental age counted in months (we're not sure if she recognizes her own name, for example). Periodically, the Republican Party sends her mail encouraging her to register as a Republican, and in return, they'll get her into a program where she can pull herself up by her bootstraps and "feel the accomplishment of honest work" (instead of SSD). What work do they envision for a potential employee who can't read or write, can't speak, can't feed herself or dress herself, and isn't able to be toilet trained? They never go into details. However, even though there's nearly four decades of medical documentation that this person will never, ever be able to live without 24/7 support, her mother has to constantly jump through hoops to re-confirm that her daughter is, yea verily, truly disabled.

    You can share her carboard box under the overpass–she's good about sharing.

  23. Sluggo Says:

    My economic plan is to make it a capital offense to be on the Forbes 400.
    Vote for Sluggo!

  24. April Says:

    And THIS is what drove me to China. For education professionals there are still very well-paying jobs with benis. This is changing, however because the Chinese government really doesn't like all us foreigners making this great money along side Chinese workers making literally a tenth of what we make, so I don't think this is going to last for too many more years. Fortunately for me, my gig should last me the 4-5 more years I need to be able to buy a piece of carpet for my cardboard box retirement home.

    And yeah, I've been asking that question for years…don't the rich understand people need money to buy stuff to keep the rich in business? I just don't understand their shortsightedness.

  25. BruceJ Says:

    Everything old is new again.

    I recently picked up a dvd of scanned copies of a DIY magazine from its beginning in 1953 ("Workbench", which was actually it's rebranding as a DIY magazine from something called "Profitable Hobbies Workbench") and from the beginning it's been filled with ads for 'Be your own boss, earn money in your spare time, etc. )

    Most were scams to get suckers to buy the books, tools and such…one was a 'oil free donut making machine, Make a few dozen a day to sell to local stores in your soare time!' to the ever mysterious "Victor B. Mason" offering an un-nammd money-making secrets to the right initiates http://phil-are-go.blogspot.com/2014/07/victor-b-mason-mysterious-man-of.html

    Honestly not a lot different from the online working scams of today and with much the same 'preying on fear and insecurity' that Uber uses today to make it's serfs work for Uber's profit.

  26. BruceJ Says:

    @XYnZee sez: "What would be better, is having hedge fund managers and CEOs have to haggle against each other via an app."

    What would be better, is having hedge fund managers and CEOs have to fight to the death with pocket knives against each other via streaming video.

    There FTFY :-)

  27. Safety Man! Says:

    My plan is to get a small peice of land somewhere and start hobby farming in my spare time. Never going to be rich, but at least I'll eat.

  28. Tim H. Says:

    The way things are going, I'm expecting eugenics to show up again, this time to weed the gene pool of those who lacked the good sense to be born to money, or otherwise be useful to Wall $treet. The people pushing this agenda will not lose sleep over how little the relationship between genetics and intelligence is understood, after all, academics are hired help, as are medical professionals, and one doesn't consult the help over policy. If they can play it to the end, the last men and women will be comically inbred.

  29. Glen H Says:

    My bad guys- it sounds like I was scoffing about the low wage future outlined above.
    I'm not.
    The internships are just another way to acclimatise well educated and intelligent young people to the notion that their work is really worth nothing financially. Then they can be offered a pathetically low wage that they will be grateful for…

  30. Jestbill Says:

    I've been talking like you people since the '70s.

    What do I win?

  31. combat malamute Says:

    I have a sales gig at an auto shop with a huge company. I have decent benefits, a starting pay that is the best I have ever started off at, and the scary part is that I keep feeling like what I have – and the whole industry is an anachronism.

  32. Katydid Says:

    @Tim regarding eugenics; what do you think the rightwing noise about "takers" and "not feeding the animals–they'll just breed" is? Despite the fact that the average family on welfare (which is only good for 5 years now) is rural and white with 2 kids, the right, starting with St. Ronnie Raygun, love to create the impression that the only people on welfare are blah women with 23 kids and a Cadillac. The Teabaggers (with their gov't-provided scooters and gov't provided Medicare) are positively gleeful at the thought of cutting any sort of financial aid to families with small/disabled children, particularly if they're blah or some other minority. They're also huge on the idea of getting minorities sterilized against their will, and what is that if not eugenics?

    Irony; I just finished reading a book written by a woman who grew up in a polygamous Mormon cult out of Mexico–the only way those polygamous scams survive is for the women to all collect welfare of every kind for their many kids by lying and saying they don't know who the fathers are. Mittens Romney, of the "47% of this country are takers" fame, had a father or grandfather (forget which) who came out of that same cult enclave in Mexico. I guess he'd know all about that, right? Seeing as how he benefitted directly from it.

  33. c u n d gulag Says:

    Katydid,
    My heart goes out to your family.

    And thanks for putting my BS tale of woe's in perspective.

  34. Tim H. Says:

    Yeah Katydid, I know, but what we've seen is just the beginning. White trash won't be left out for long.

  35. define&redefine Says:

    "It's only going to get worse the more automated jobs become. It's why we as a society should start thinking and talking about a basic living income strategy."

    I hate how true this is. I'm a pharmacist working in a hospital. We have what is essentially online documentation and order entry. I can literally do most of my job, which includes dosing very powerful antibiotics and blood thinners, without ever leaving my desk. I still do, because I think the best care comes from someone taking the time to actually lay eyes on a patient. (I'm also lucky that parts of my job require me to be at the bedside, like responding to a cardiac arrest or a trauma.)

    But, realistically, everyone except nurses, PT/OT, and respiratory therapists (anybody who actually has to be at the bedside to do their work) can potentially have their job shipped out to…pretty much anywhere. Even doctors (except surgeons, for now. Robotics!) Our night shift neurologists see patients via what is essentially Skype. Our nurses examine the patient, essentially acting as the doctors' hands. A pharmacist in India can dose any drug that I can, provided that all the patient's pertinent vital and lab data is entered properly into the computer. (Also provided that they don't give a shit about whether it's appropriate to use the drug.)

    Computers revolutionized healthcare initially by reducing errors and allowing us to work more efficiently. The next revolution may well be to take most of the high paying medical jobs to low paying countries.

  36. Katydid Says:

    @gulag; your suffering is every bit as significant as anyone else's. I was merely commiserating with you that the safety net has long been unraveled. In your case, it's a travesty that you don't have work–you're clearly educated and literate and could very well work from home around your physical therapy schedule.

    I sit here at work today pondering the fact that I could do about 90% of what I do from home. Truly, I could come in once a week for a 2-hour meeting with my colleagues and otherwise keep up just fine via email and perhaps the occasional telephone call, and still be as productive (I argue MORE productive) than I am sitting here at a desk. That leads to another issue–there's no reason why many jobs can't be done via telecommuting, and it would open the doors to a lot more employment opportunities for a wide swath of people who are willing and eager and prepared to work.

  37. Brian M Says:

    Katydid: Count me as naïve, but work from home situations are not always idea. Software can monitor exactly how much actual work you are doing-far more efficiently and totally than human management. Not that companies cannot install such software for on site workers as well-but the incentive to do so is stronger for an off-site workforce.

    Panopticon!

  38. Katydid Says:

    @Brian; you raise a good point, but the world of on-site work is full of lots of pointless distractions and even-more-pointless meetings for the sake of meetings.

  39. Khaled Says:

    @Define&Redefine:

    I read that North Dakota had a "Skype" like system set up for remote pharmacies, where a tech would show a pharmacist in another location what the pills were that he or she was putting in the bottle to verify. Large Chain Drugstore that I used to work for invested a ton into "worksharing" by having all scripts scanned into digital files that anyone could remotely type and confirim, with only the final stage of a RPh actually looking at the pills to make sure that everything matches up. And I'm sure if they could, they would totally have a central person do all of that to reduce salary. We even had machines to dispense the pills into bottles.

  40. mago Says:

    Yeah, good comments, and my heart goes out to those suffering from debilitating circumstances which place them at the mercy of a system that views compassion as a weakness to be discarded or exploited.

    My own extensive creds go nowhere as I'm too old, too marginalized, and not enough of whatever it takes. Been down the freelance road, also tried to work the net some years before it exploded like a super nova.

    Even if was I still interested in trying to teach other people's charming little snowflakes literacy, or heaven forbid cooking for their parents, no one would hire me. When my social benefits were recently suspended I thought I might have to meet up with gulag under a bridge. That put me on notice on just how marginalized I really am and underscored how many share this plight.

    I'm not that old, but am old enough to look down the gun barrel and realize that old age is not for the weak, especially in these times. Something to look forward to I guess.

  41. Katydid Says:

    @mago; old age is not for the weak. I think about this a lot. My elderly Boomer parents are doing just fine between my father's military pension (and cheap health care!), his pension from his post-military career, his 401k, and the Social Security they both collect on my father's lifetime of work. Based on the statement I just got from my company's sponsored 401k plan, I surely can't count on that for so much as busfare when I retire. Social Security? I expect that to be long-gone. Same with Medicare. My company did away with pensions a decade before I was hired on. I might have to join you under that bridge.

  42. John Danley Says:

    It's masochism, and it's offered to you by sadists.

  43. Mo Says:

    Instead of cowering in our deluxe refrigerator boxes below the underpass, why not barbecue the rich instead?

    There has to be something that frightens our robber barons the way communism and anarchists used to…

  44. define&redefine Says:

    @Khaled, I've seen the pill dispensing machines (we have similar machines in hospitals, but they take pills from bulk bottles and put them into single dose containers.) I'm not familiar with the scanned prescriptions you're talking about, though. I wouldn't doubt it. Retail/chain drugstores have done pretty much everything they can to hire as few pharmacists as possible and overwork them as much as possible. Insurance is complicit too, by making patients use mail order pharmacies and ensuring that patients don't have a relationship with their pharmacists.

    I honestly feel lucky – healthcare is one area of the economy where people saw the mechanization of more routine parts of their jobs and used it as an impetus to push their professions forward into higher-level work. Of course, with that came more and more doctorate degrees, about which I'm sure Ed would have a few things to say…

  45. Dr. Acula Says:

    When there's no future
    How can there be sin
    We're the flowers in the dustbin
    We're the poison in your human machine

  46. john andres Says:

    The robber barons speak daily through the mouths of Clinton supporters. Do you think Hillary and Bill will come up with another way to further deregulate wall street? All they have to do now is get rid of that pesky communist errr socialist.

  47. democommie Says:

    Bernie is not Nader, but he will do as a splitter, for which the GOP will be grateful.

  48. brave captain of industry Says:

    Kevin O'Brien at the Cleveland Plain Dealer is the worst regular columnist in America.

    Mark it 8, Dude.