Saturday, September 17, 2016

Juha Siltala (2016): Työnantajan alaisena ilman työsuhdetta - Uuden talouden keikka- ja silpputyö paluuna entiseen (in Finnish; transl. "Governed by an employer without an employment contract - Gigs and odd jobs in a new economy as a return to the old)

What is it about?

While not a book but a discussion paper or a pamphlet, I find this as a very important and weighty contribution to the ongoing discourse on the development of employment (as a wider societal phenomenon) and, by implication, political-societal conditions.

The basic premise of Siltala is that the current trend as exhibited by Airbnb, Uber and the like are driving towards employment built around gigs and projects, which for the most imply perpetual uncertainty (disallowing one to plan one's life in the long term) and assuming of entrepreneurial risk without express willingness to do so.

While there is a good counter-case to be made based on standard arguments on voluntary market exchange and the market process, Siltala argues that this is not the determining set of arguments, because the current trend leads to the shrinking if not withering away of the middle class, which, in turn, is likely to cause societal unrest.

This is not to say that Siltala is absolutely right and the market purists are absolutely wrong. Instead, I argue that Siltala's pamphlet makes highly relevant arguments worthy of careful consideration.

Was it good?

As might already be evident, I found Siltala's pamphlet extremely good because of the points Siltala puts forth. Moreover, Siltala's writing style is decidedly provocative which makes the text enjoyable to read. Indeed, in Siltala's grip, one is bound to feel a bit uneasy at points, because of the force exerted by the provocation.

The main take-away for me?

I found Siltala's counter-arguments - mainly built around societal order, stability and general happiness, in addition to morality - the most valuable insights to be gathered here, whose main value is their worth in countering the mainstream market-based arguments so easily made to justify the current trend. In Siltala's view, there is nothing inevitable in the current trend.

Moreover, what Siltala is putting forward may signal for a turn in a Kuznets wave (income inequality as a pendulum with a periodicity of a generation or so).

Who should read the book?

If one is at all interested in the present discourse of economic inequality and/or the changing nature of work and employment (as everyone should be), Siltala's pamphlet is compulsory reading. Highly recommended.

The pamphlet on Kalevi Sorsa foundation's website: Työnantajan alaisena ilman työsuhdetta

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