"the first service layer on the shared economy"
September 16, 2014 10:14 AM   Subscribe

Silicon Valley Has Officially Run Out of Ideas : The winner of this year's TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Award is Alfred Club, basically "Uber for servants"
posted by gwint (203 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
At least they resisted the urge to call it 'Butlr'. Small mercies I suppose.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 10:18 AM on September 16, 2014 [85 favorites]


In the sign-up form to Become an Alfred:

If you were putting away groceries, where would you put uncooked chicken?
-Refrigerator
-Cupboard
-Counter
-None of the above

What

I mean what I was actually looking for by clicking on that was information on how such a thing could possibly cost only $99 a month but I suppose in a way that explains it?
posted by sunset in snow country at 10:20 AM on September 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's not that they're running out of ideas, it's that their one real economic idea is finally reaching its distillation: the technologically-enabled serfdom of the entire planet.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 10:21 AM on September 16, 2014 [111 favorites]


This is clearly a large-scale training set for our eventual robot overlords servants.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:21 AM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Hey, it's a club! That's fun! It's like a cool social group where you get to be a servant for people more wealthy than you, or you get to hire them! How is that a club!
posted by clockzero at 10:21 AM on September 16, 2014 [12 favorites]


If both of my parents die, will my Alfred become my legal guardian and surrogate father figure?
posted by naju at 10:21 AM on September 16, 2014 [76 favorites]


The correct answer is None of the Above. Uncooked chicken is to be promptly disposed of and replaced with a more suitable fowl, such as the noble pheasant.
posted by theodolite at 10:23 AM on September 16, 2014 [19 favorites]


Just like how in Victorian households they wouldn't want to learn the maids' names, or maybe the maids would have lower class names or ethnic names, so they'd just call them all "Jane", etc.

One thing I like about the one percent - they seem utterly devoid of anything resembling a sense of irony, which is just as well since a ruling caste which itself had some "humanizing features" would be even harder to take.
posted by Frowner at 10:23 AM on September 16, 2014 [15 favorites]


I know it's gross, but I need this so bad and would love to hire someone like this. I am the bad guy.
posted by bleep at 10:26 AM on September 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


The App of the Red Death
posted by overeducated_alligator at 10:27 AM on September 16, 2014 [12 favorites]


SerfR
posted by stenseng at 10:27 AM on September 16, 2014 [11 favorites]


If you were putting away groceries, where would you put uncooked chicken?
-Refrigerator
-Cupboard
-Counter
-None of the above




We're disrupting food safety!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:27 AM on September 16, 2014 [42 favorites]


Four of the judges were investors in this thing? I mean, it seems like a largely meaningless event outside of a few tech followers, but that is pretty outrageous.
posted by Think_Long at 10:27 AM on September 16, 2014 [18 favorites]


Is there an app that let's me be batman?

I'd settle for an app that let's me be a sidekick.

Actually, I would settle for an app that let's me be a butler to superheros.
posted by tnecniv at 10:29 AM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


As long as the pay is reasonable, I don't see what the big deal is. You realize house-cleaning services, dry cleaners, etc. already exist, right?
posted by festivus at 10:29 AM on September 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


Also, they should really call this thing "caser" or "catburglr", because that's how I'd be using it.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:29 AM on September 16, 2014 [35 favorites]


For $25/week, I'd be shocked if you got a servant good enough to even bother to kill you when the Revolution comes.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:30 AM on September 16, 2014 [101 favorites]


What I don't get is how this is a "tech" startup in any way. It's a service business. How is it different from Molly Maid?
posted by GuyZero at 10:30 AM on September 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


How is this different than Taskrabbit?
posted by leotrotsky at 10:30 AM on September 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Pick up passenger in UberX car service on way to dropping off dry cleaning for TaskRabbit before doing some shopping for an Alfred client - be sure to get the "good" peppers, you got a black mark last time, you already have two cause you lied about having kids - kids slow you down - more than four and no SharingLabor service will touch you
posted by The Whelk at 10:31 AM on September 16, 2014 [38 favorites]


This stuff is why I couldn't bear working in tech any more.

There was a time when 'tech' meant inventing washing machines, so people didn't have to do their washing any more so long as they could raise the money for the machine. Now, 'tech' is getting close to enabling a situation where you don't buy the washing machine, you buy an iPhone so that some poor person can do your washing.

As long as the pay is reasonable, I don't see what the big deal is.


Well I'm pretty sure you answered that one right there.
posted by colie at 10:31 AM on September 16, 2014 [40 favorites]


I mean what I was actually looking for by clicking on that was information on how such a thing could possibly cost only $99 a month but I suppose in a way that explains it?

Here's something I've learned working as a "handyman" which is both counter-intuititve and obvious at the same time: the less people pay you, the more they think they own you.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:32 AM on September 16, 2014 [88 favorites]


The Silicon Valley usage of "disrupt" as a verb seems to be highly limited by class. If blue collar folk start "disrupting," they get thrown in the drunk tank or the booby hatch.
posted by jonp72 at 10:32 AM on September 16, 2014 [21 favorites]


You realize house-cleaning services, dry cleaners, etc. already exist, right?


Well aside from the fact that it raises size-of-market questions for most reasonable investors, it also appears that it is another example of the "sharing economy" disrupting things like licensing, training, insurance, and minimum wage.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:32 AM on September 16, 2014 [45 favorites]


Also, they should really call this thing "caser" or "catburglr", because that's how I'd be using it.

The Butlr did it.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:33 AM on September 16, 2014 [19 favorites]


you guys are missing the best part. Its not just a butler, its a butler for the other web services you use. Like they'll order an Uber for you.
posted by JPD at 10:34 AM on September 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


There's nothing wrong with being a service worker. It's legit work that has real value and makes the world go 'round. And there's nothing intrinsically wrong with software that helps service workers find people to provide services to. But there's something dehumanizing about the way this particular service is being marketed.
Do you have Alfred? ....Either set up a weekly routine or email your Alfred in advance of your service days to let them know what you want. This is what happens next: Alfred arrives, having already picked up your requested items... Alfreds are people like you and me... Alfred is the first ever human-powered "operating system" for your life
Every person who does work for you is now "Alfred". Specifically, your Alfred. That's gross.
posted by the jam at 10:34 AM on September 16, 2014 [36 favorites]


I don't want to live on this world anymore.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:35 AM on September 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


Beth: Say, Bill, where's your manly man?
Joe: Gentlemen's gentlemen.
Bill: Cadbury's gone.
Joe: If I was that dude, I would have quit a long time ago.
Bill: Oh, he didn't quit.
Beth: You fired him already?
Bill: No. Cadbury got up early this morning and left, and stole my wallet, my credit cards, my TV, my stereo, by fridge and most of my furniture.
Beth: Did you call the police?
Bill: Yes, and I explained the whole story.
Joe: What did they say?
Bill: I believe their exact words were, "what kind of jackass hires a discount butler from a classified ad in the local Pennysaver?" Then I became verbally abusive and they hung up on me.
Newsradio, S04E09 "The Secret of Management"
posted by griphus at 10:35 AM on September 16, 2014 [76 favorites]


The Butlr did it.

Clnl Mustrd in the Lybrary with the cndle stk
posted by Think_Long at 10:35 AM on September 16, 2014 [19 favorites]


(sighs, looks at beta site for BELVEDR, presses Delete key)
posted by Shepherd at 10:35 AM on September 16, 2014 [21 favorites]


o you have Alfred? ....Either set up a weekly routine or email your Alfred in advance of your service days to let them know what you want. This is what happens next: Alfred arrives, having already picked up your requested items... Alfreds are people like you and me... Alfred is the first ever human-powered "operating system" for your life

Every person who does work for you is now "Alfred". Specifically, your Alfred. That's gross.


Yeah, that's actually pretty creepy. Like the actual human persons who would be doing this work don't already have names or identities.
posted by clockzero at 10:35 AM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Dry cleaning? House cleaning? Small errands? Bah. Who needs that? The real killer app would be matching you a proper gentleman's gentleman, the kind of silent, efficient organizer who knows everybody, arranges everything, and picks out the best outfits and directs you toward comely lads of good virtue to corrupt AND can deliver a close shave and keep their mouths shut and possibly, id needed, stab someone with a hidden umbrella knife.

All this other stuff is for other people to think about, sheesh.
posted by The Whelk at 10:36 AM on September 16, 2014 [20 favorites]


Its not just a butler, its a butler for the other web services you use.

I remember when web tech was supposed to cut out the middle man, not add more of them.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:36 AM on September 16, 2014 [15 favorites]


What I don't get is how this is a "tech" startup in any way. It's a service business. How is it different from Molly Maid?

It's a tech startup in the same way that Uber is 'just an app' and 'definitely not a taxi dispatcher:' they have a whole list of terms and conditions , which repeatedly stress how use of Alfred (the software) may also involve third-party courier or logistics services (ie, buying stuff and taking it to your home) but that's totally not Aflred's (the company, that is) responsibility:
THE COMPANY DOES NOT PROVIDE LOGISTICS OR COURIER SERVICES, AND THE COMPANY IS NOT A LOGISTICS CARRIER. IT IS UP TO THE THIRD PARTY COURIER OR LOGISTICS PROVIDER, COURIER OR VEHICLE OPERATOR TO OFFER COURIER SERVICES WHICH MAY BE SCHEDULED THROUGH USE OF THE SOFTWARE OR SERVICE. THE COMPANY OFFERS INFORMATION AND A METHOD TO OBTAIN SUCH THIRD PARTY COURIER SERVICES, BUT DOES NOT AND DOES NOT INTEND TO PROVIDE COURIER SERVICES OR ACT IN ANY WAY AS A COURIER, AND HAS NO RESPONSIBILITY OR LIABILITY FOR ANY COURIER OTHER THAN STATED HEREIN SERVICES PROVIDED TO YOU BY SUCH THIRD PARTIES.
posted by cjelli at 10:37 AM on September 16, 2014 [13 favorites]


Well aside from the fact that it raises size-of-market questions for most reasonable investors, it also appears that it is another example of the "sharing economy" disrupting things like licensing, training, insurance, and minimum wage.

What licensing and training do you think is necessary for household tasks? If the pay isn't reasonable, people won't do the jobs.
posted by festivus at 10:37 AM on September 16, 2014


Alfred collects groceries and fresh produce from the finest stores (Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Shaws)

I'm curious as to what definition of "the finest" would include Shaws.
posted by anthom at 10:39 AM on September 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


I will settle for nothing less than a Jeeves!
posted by Zed at 10:39 AM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


If the pay isn't reasonable, people won't do the jobs.

The market has spoken!
posted by colie at 10:40 AM on September 16, 2014 [18 favorites]


Fuckers stole my idea!
posted by SansPoint at 10:40 AM on September 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


Everyone should install this add-on:

https://github.com/richardharrington/disrupt-to-bullshit

It has a special entry just for this event, replacing it with "BullshitPalooza"
posted by slater at 10:42 AM on September 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


festivus:What licensing and training do you think is necessary for household tasks? If the pay isn't reasonable, people won't do the jobs.

You don't actually believe that, do you? Because there's thousands of people on minimum wage and below who would disagree.
posted by SansPoint at 10:44 AM on September 16, 2014 [18 favorites]


What licensing and training do you think is necessary for household tasks? If the pay isn't reasonable, people won't do the jobs.

Yo! Last week I painted someone's apartment for about half of what I thought was reasonable. Do you want to know why? Because I hadn't worked in a month and couldn't afford not to make some cash.

That's what your free market is all about.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:46 AM on September 16, 2014 [83 favorites]


If there is some discussion to be had that these people won't make minimum wage, fine. Let's talk about that with actual evidence.

If the argument is simply GRAR PEOPLE SHOULDN'T HAVE BUTLERS (or household help), then I can't agree. This ties into the idea that household work is somehow less than "actual" work and shouldn't be paid for, but done (puritanically) by the people themselves. Usually the women, I might add.
posted by festivus at 10:47 AM on September 16, 2014 [11 favorites]


If you were putting away groceries, where would you put uncooked chicken?

I see an opportunity for a throwback 80's sitcom starring Auntie Fee as the Alfred for a fussy San Franciscan Felix Unger.
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 10:47 AM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Guys, guys, you're never going to guess who happened to have been investors in this TechCrunch Disrupt winner. Why, it's Mike Arrington, founder of TechCrunch, and his totally unaffiliated Crunchfund investment company! OK it's more complicated than that, with disclaimers and Arrington not officially a judge and blah blah blah. But somehow year after year Crunchfund seems to have picked TechCrunch Disrupt winners. Amazing!

I don't have any opinion on Alfred Club itself. Honestly I think it could be useful, as inbred and one percent as the idea sounds. It is cool that the founding team is mostly (all?) women.
posted by Nelson at 10:48 AM on September 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


If the argument is simply GRAR PEOPLE SHOULDN'T HAVE BUTLERS (or household help), then I can't agree.


No one here has made that argument.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:48 AM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


What licensing and training do you think is necessary for household tasks?

"Licensing" includes bonding and insurance.
posted by Etrigan at 10:50 AM on September 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


If the argument is simply GRAR PEOPLE SHOULDN'T HAVE BUTLERS

Nobody needs a butler. Clean your own toilet.
posted by colie at 10:53 AM on September 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Clearly you haven't seen my toilet.
posted by griphus at 10:54 AM on September 16, 2014 [16 favorites]


If there is some discussion to be had that these people won't make minimum wage, fine. Let's talk about that with actual evidence.

The site charges its users $99/month for the use of a personal servant who may be engaged for chores such as grocery shopping, picking up dry cleaning and cleaning your house. Each of these tasks, by themselves are at least an hour long, and the site promises to have your Alfred do it on a weekly basis. Let's say, for the hell of it, that means that an individual Alfred will therefore be engaged by their client for 4 hours every week and for 4 weeks in a given month, or 16 hours per month. Let's even be generous and say that they pocket most of that $100 monthly fee. Let's say it's even $80. That's still around $5/hr of work.

The minimum wage is $7.25

Show your math and work and propose how these Alfreds actually could make minimum wage. Are they expected to wear ad tattoos on their bodies to supplement their income?
posted by bl1nk at 10:55 AM on September 16, 2014 [36 favorites]


Alfred Club, basically "Uber for servants"

Eh? Oh-h-h-h, "Alfred" as in Stately Wayne Manor. Y'know not everyone's into The Batsman.

I guess "Jeeves" was taken.

At least they resisted the urge to call it 'Butlr'. Small mercies I suppose.

Hmm.


If blue collar folk start "disrupting," they get thrown in the drunk tank or the booby hatch.

Or worse, over the rail to fall for miles down to the planet's surface.
 
posted by Herodios at 10:55 AM on September 16, 2014


(sighs, looks at beta site for BELVEDR, presses Delete key)

You could always rebrand it as BROCK2NR and cater to the die-hard super fans.
posted by Strange Interlude at 10:56 AM on September 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


It is darkly hilarious to see techsploitation defended on grounds of feminism.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:58 AM on September 16, 2014 [16 favorites]


If there is some discussion to be had that these people won't make minimum wage, fine. Let's talk about that with actual evidence.

I talked about this in a recent thread about Uber (no, actually, it was that fucking wash.io bullshit). The problem is that employees for services like this aren't actually "employees", they're "independent contractors". Labor laws don't apply when you're simply "hiring a contractor" rather than "employing somebody full-time", so things like minimum wage, mandatory sick time, and any other benefits legally mandated or not can get thrown out the window.

So let's say I'm an Alfred (or a wash.io employee, Uber driver, whatever). They'll pay me $15/hour, say. Great, that's a lot more than minimum wage! Except they only pay me when I'm actually performing my tasks. Okay, reasonable enough I guess, doesn't seem fair that I should get paid if I'm sitting around waiting for a call to action. But that means I'm not working a full forty hours a week - maybe I'm only actually working 15 hours, and spending the rest of the time waiting. So I get paid for fifteen hours. And I'm not allowed (per my contract) to work for anyone else while I'm working for Alfred/wash.io/Uber. So I can't go out and pick up other "contracting" work because the company owns me.

Because I'm a "contractor", I also don't get mandated sick time if that's the law in my area. And I have to pay for my own background check and insurance. Plus, I pay for my own gas, my own car, my own uniform... I don't get benefits because I'm not an "employee", I'm a "contractor" - I have to pay for my own insurance, or the state has to provide it for me. How's that luxurious $15/hour look now?

These companies are all offering services by skirting employment laws that would otherwise make these gigs a decently paying job. They're offering arguably frivolous services to entitled upper class people at rates that can only be achieved by fucking over the workers. And it's not just these startups that are doing it - this is a huge problem with employment law right now. FedEx just got busted (maybe just around here? can't remember if it was a nationwide thing) because they were classifying all of their drivers as "independent contractors" despite them only working for FedEx.

People will take shitty jobs because it beats the alternative of not eating. Strong employment regulations prevent people from being preyed upon or acting against their best interests. Companies like this have found the loophole that allows them to effectively pay next to nothing and reap all the benefit, and this is why people have a problem with these asinine B-School startups.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:01 AM on September 16, 2014 [180 favorites]


Honestly I think it could be useful, as inbred and one percent as the idea sounds

Is this really geared towards one percenters, though? Wouldn't they just employ a full-time servant? I know I would have a dedicated one if I could. I don't want him touching anyone else's laundry.
posted by desjardins at 11:01 AM on September 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


A butler doesn't clean your toilet, he is the head of the male servants and most senior member of a great house, in charge of the dining room, cellar, and pantry
posted by The Whelk at 11:02 AM on September 16, 2014 [36 favorites]


(begins using former Belvedr webspace to create Ambulnschsr, a service that pairs individuals with amateur lawyers who will represent them when they sue Uber and Alfred after the frankly inevitable happens)
posted by Shepherd at 11:03 AM on September 16, 2014 [10 favorites]


Houseboy, then?
posted by desjardins at 11:03 AM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


It seems like having each Alfred really be one person is pretty wasteful. Wouldn't it make more sense to pay a subscription fee for a team of people to do these things for a number of clients? A "pick up dry cleaning person" picks up multiple clients' dry cleaning at once. A "grocery shopping" person could go to the store and buy multiple clients' groceries. A cleaning person could do a few apartment/houses in a day. Each worker could mix and match their responsibilities, rotating by availability.

I mean, I hate this idea, but if it's going to exist, it might as well make some limited sense.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:03 AM on September 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


As I see it, this isn't the people making Silicon Valley tech, this is more about people riding the coat-tails of the people making tech.
The coat-tails formula seems to be as follows: How can we use already-rolled-out silicon valley tech (ie avoiding the difficult, expensive, risky aspect) in a way that doesn't require the expense, difficulty, and risk of rolling out new stuff?

Ok, so "coat-tails" implies a dichotomy and it's really a long gradient between the genuine innovation (doing hard stuff and pushing the world forward) and the dregs of the barrel (get-rich-quick schemes formulated on being the first to grab as-yet-unnoticed low-hanging-fruit recently brought into reach by the success of the former).
posted by anonymisc at 11:04 AM on September 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


The contractor loop hole is quietly being filled in, if the FedEx suit is any indication. Probably not a great business model to follow if you have morals and not a great business model to follow if you like not hiring lawyers.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:04 AM on September 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


From the perspective of a bougie homeowner:
Q: If items are lost or stolen will Alfred replace them?
A. It is very unlikely that this will happen, but in the off chance that it does, we will do our best to help you recover your items and advocate with vendors on your behalf. However, if we are unable to resolve the issue for you, we unfortunately won't be able to replace your items directly or reimburse you for the cost.
I hire a cleaning service and not a cleaner off craigslist because I want some assurances. I want to know the cleaner has been background checked. I want to know that if I'm unsatisfied, I have some higher power to appeal to. I want to know that if I've been robbed, the service will fucking replace my shit. And I want to know that if the cleaner is injured on the job, their health care will be taken care of (and I won't be sued).

I am continually shocked at the amount of money that investors will give to products that save people from having to talk to a human being from time to time (for example, calling an actual bonded and insured concierge service company and setting them up to pick up/drop off your dry cleaning or do your grocery shopping twice a week).
posted by muddgirl at 11:04 AM on September 16, 2014 [45 favorites]


I've spent a few years looking for where the ideas all went, eventually settled on Berlin.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:05 AM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


And honestly, I really don't think there's anything fundamentally wrong with hiring people to help with household work. Just pay them fairly and treat them like human beings.

Last week I painted someone's apartment for about half of what I thought was reasonable.

I personally will not hire help unless I can afford to pay that person a reasonable wage for their work. We just hired a pianist for our wedding, and his email to me was basically, "well, here's my rate buuuut if you really can't do that then we can talk" and I just hired him at his asking rate because people gotta eat. I don't want to take advantage of someone just because things have been shitty lately and I can use that as leverage.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:06 AM on September 16, 2014 [34 favorites]


The contractor loop hole is quietly being filled in

In the UK this loop hole was widely used for IT contractors (who were of course well paid compared to 'Alfreds'). Then there was a scare about it being closed a couple of years ago.

But I think a version of it has actually been reopened for the low-paid masses now - off to check up on this now.
posted by colie at 11:07 AM on September 16, 2014


The Washington Post just had an article nicely illustrating all the points backseatpilot just made.
posted by Diablevert at 11:10 AM on September 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


I've spent a few years looking for where the ideas all went, eventually settled on Berlin.

Except in Berlin the ideas (at least from the outside) appear to be about creating livable, sustainable, workable cities. Not figuring out ways to aggregate this and that and send as much $$$ as possible to the very top.
posted by cell divide at 11:11 AM on September 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


From the perspective of a bougie homeowner:

BURGLAR DELIVERY SERVICE
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:12 AM on September 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


I don't think there's any way these servants serfs slaves contractors could even break even on this type of arrangement.

My criteria: could I do this job exclusively for 30 years while covering living expenses for me and my wife, and have enough money to retire on at 65? If not, then it's not a job, it's a kick in the face from the boots of those standing on top of you.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:12 AM on September 16, 2014 [39 favorites]


Actually, I would settle for an app that let's me be a butler to superheros.

Yeah, but then you have to deal with idiots like this.
posted by longdaysjourney at 11:13 AM on September 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


why isn't there an Uber for Goons yet?

Hired Goons.
posted by The Whelk at 11:13 AM on September 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


There is however a lot of innovation in tech for government, like Code for America, that Govtech Fund thing, etc. It'll help enormously if we can "disrupt" government bureaucracies, meaning employ fewer people administering them.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:13 AM on September 16, 2014


The Whelk: Hired Goons? *cautiously opens door*
posted by SansPoint at 11:14 AM on September 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


i have not run out of movie ideas!

what we need is a batman movie told from the perspective of alfred, the least fleshed-out character in the batworld. how does he feel about waxing the batmobile twice a week and constantly taking orders from a rich fckr in an outlandish costume? does he date, and with whom? does he ever fight crime in his own way, where he's the captain of the side of justice and righteousness?
posted by bruce at 11:15 AM on September 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Like, reading about Homejoy - I can totally see how there's an economic argument that maid services are too expensive because of inefficiencies like having to dispatch cleaners from a central location. It seems to me like tech could help address those inefficiencies - dispatch services so that cleaners can just go straight from home to their job, say. But instead, modern tech culture asks, "How can I make money by inserting a middle man between prospective clients and the Craigslist Services section?"
posted by muddgirl at 11:19 AM on September 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


There's something unsettling about the use of language like "Alfred collects groceries and fresh produce from the finest stores (Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Shaws) & puts it all away in your fridge." It's not that it's the idea of the service ("Servant Corp. collects groceries and fresh produce...") but rather that the corporate service has the name of a person, but the service works by paying a person (probably not named Alfred) to do that for you. This isn't a complaint about the service being unethical or anything, but it's a phrasing that sounds weird - first names shouldn't be job descriptions or company names. (Frankly, I'd prefer Butlr.)
posted by Going To Maine at 11:19 AM on September 16, 2014


I personally will not hire help unless I can afford to pay that person a reasonable wage for their work.

But what if you just bought a house, and you can barely afford the mortgage because home values are so inflated... and actually you can't afford the mortgage which is why you are renting out part of the place... which just needs a little work...

The bank* squeezes you and you have to squeeze someone or default on your loan. that's how it works.

* replace bank with your boss, the economy, etc. it's all one chain of being: big squeezes littler all the way down.
posted by ennui.bz at 11:20 AM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


My follow-up question is: Is there an Uber for exotic dancers yet? If not, does anyone want to invest in my seed round?
posted by muddgirl at 11:21 AM on September 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


why isn't there an Uber for Goons yet?

Hired Goons.


The personal touch is what really sells it.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:23 AM on September 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


does he date, and with whom? does he ever fight crime in his own way, where he's the captain of the side of justice and righteousness?
posted by bruce at 11:15 AM on September 16 [+] [!]


Mr. Wayne, would it really be beneath you to just ask him yourself? He has a long and storied career in the intelligence services.
posted by Think_Long at 11:23 AM on September 16, 2014 [23 favorites]



Because I'm a "contractor", I also don't get mandated sick time if that's the law in my area. And I have to pay for my own background check and insurance. Plus, I pay for my own gas, my own car, my own uniform... I don't get benefits because I'm not an "employee", I'm a "contractor" - I have to pay for my own insurance, or the state has to provide it for me. How's that luxurious $15/hour look now?


Don't forget that you aren't eligible for unemployment if the work dries up (you can't lay yourself off if you work for yourself!) and that for all these glorious perks of being an entrepreneur, you have to cough up an extra 7+ percent tax per year (the employer's half of social security/medicare) for 'self-employment tax'.

(No, I'm not bitter. Not at all.)
posted by matcha action at 11:25 AM on September 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Yo! Last week I painted someone's apartment for about half of what I thought was reasonable. Do you want to know why? Because I hadn't worked in a month and couldn't afford not to make some cash.

That's what your free market is all about.


Would you have been better off if you didn't even have that opportunity, though? There's no guarantee that the job would have been offered to you at the price you found "reasonable."

The idea seems pretty cool, but they'd have to have some really strong background checks/liability insurance, I imagine, for the burglary risk.
posted by corb at 11:25 AM on September 16, 2014


There is however a lot of innovation in tech for government, like Code for America, that Govtech Fund thing, etc. It'll help enormously if we can "disrupt" government bureaucracies, meaning employ fewer people administering them.

Don't see why, really. It's not like salary costs are the biggest problem contributing to the federal deficit. The abundance of stable government jobs with decently meritocratic-ish hiring standards has been a major factor in creating a black middle class in DC, for example. In fact I'd think that halving the number of current employees contributing would severely exacerbate the underfunded pensions problems that are the real millstone around the necks of state and local governments...

I mean, taking a step back, the larger issue is that destroying a bunch of existing jobs is only a good thing if what replaces them is better jobs. That's the core issue, and the one where the Valley is manifestly failing. Even the jobs they create where you're paid well seem to be shit in lots of ways --- the hours, the likelihood of the company failing and the stock becoming worthless. All the innovation lately seems to be in this Uber-fication of Blank stuff, where stable small local business are replaced by an app and a bunch of hustlers, in all senses of that word.
posted by Diablevert at 11:26 AM on September 16, 2014 [22 favorites]


That linked "Homejoy" story is quite something.

Walker sits at 13 out of D.C.’s 42 cleaners with a 4.6; almost all 5s, except for a woman who complained that he hadn’t gotten the mildew entirely out of her shower grout.

Yes, indeed, the less they pay you, the more they think they own you, and that's because low wages are themselves a sign that you are less human - if you weren't an ownable commodity, you'd be making more, right?

I've given up actual hope for any kind of just economy or decent living for most people - all I hope for now is blood in the streets, and/or for one of the tech wunderkinds to take the Crake option.
posted by Frowner at 11:28 AM on September 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


I am continually shocked at the amount of money that investors will give to products that save people from having to talk to a human being from time to time (for example, calling an actual bonded and insured concierge service company and setting them up to pick up/drop off your dry cleaning or do your grocery shopping twice a week).

I think some service workers I know would be happy to see technology spare them direct interaction with clients. Obviously that's double-edged - really depends on what you're doing for whom. But when I see an argument like this I always think of Cliff Stoll predicting the failure of e-commerce because customers would miss salespeople. I mean are you fucking kidding me? Maybe I'm antisocial but I know for damn sure I'm not the only one.

I've said here before though - in principle Uber-style software is a good (if somewhat obvious) idea to apply to a lot of things lot with advantages for everybody involved, except that right now it's just a race to see who can get the money to set themselves up at the middleman for Service X first. I wouldn't mind being self-employed if there wasn't somebody taking a big cut and pretending not to be my employer. I would love to see this model done as something closer to a workers' collective - I've thought about trying to come up with a more generic "hire this person for Service X" software package that could enable this.
posted by atoxyl at 11:30 AM on September 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


I can only hope that at some point, there's a majority of American voters who no longer think of themselves as "temporarily embarrassed millionaires".
posted by Slothrup at 11:30 AM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Would you have been better off if you didn't even have that opportunity, though? There's no guarantee that the job would have been offered to you at the price you found "reasonable."

That, friends, is the sound of the race to the bottom of the free-market barrel.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:31 AM on September 16, 2014 [40 favorites]


(These might not be such antisocial businesses if there were actually a real social safety net that included a certain level of healthcare.)
posted by Slothrup at 11:32 AM on September 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


There is however a lot of innovation in tech for government, like Code for America, that Govtech Fund thing, etc. It'll help enormously if we can "disrupt" government bureaucracies, meaning employ fewer people administering them.

Yes, because it's not like people employed by the government spend money or anything. Paying people doesn't do any good, unless they're tech entrepreneurs. We should totally do our best to get as much work as possible done for free, because there are no external issues involved in work, only the dollar number on the paycheck. That's why Rustbelt towns where all the jobs are gone are just as great places to live as cities where there's still an economy. And of course, it's not like we have a government to do any good, either - our whole goal is to strangle it in the bathtub or something, because we certainly wouldn't want a government that was in the business of providing good jobs for its citizens. Hey, maybe we could, like, get a lot of unpaid interns to work at DOD and NIH, too - they could crowdsource instructions on how to pipet and run flow cytometers, it would totally cut down on research costs.
posted by Frowner at 11:33 AM on September 16, 2014 [13 favorites]


I realize that doesn't solve the problem of needing capital to get started doing Service X or economy of scale issues in general. I don't claim the works for everybody and every job. But "I already have a car, might as well make a buck playing cabbie" sort of stuff would appeal to me if I didn't have very mixed feelings about the companies currently enabling that.
posted by atoxyl at 11:34 AM on September 16, 2014


Independent contractors of the world, UNITE! log in! You have nothing to lose but your chains credit rating!

It's capitalism 2.0 baby. Only more so.
posted by spitbull at 11:34 AM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think some service workers I know would be happy to see technology spare them direct interaction with clients.

Oh, obviously I am an introverted millenial (gen y? whatever) who prefers to do everything by email or faceless app. I just think it's completely irresponsible to focus so much capital investment on both social phobia and on screwing low-wage workers even further.
posted by muddgirl at 11:36 AM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


TheWhiteSkull:
If the argument is simply GRAR PEOPLE SHOULDN'T HAVE BUTLERS (or household help), then I can't agree.
No one here has made that argument.


I would make that argument, at least for butlers. It's a loaded term that goes far beyond a mere job title, separating the world into an aristocratic class and the rest of us. It's a dangerous and pernicious idea, one that continually returns to human affairs unless it's continually fought against.
posted by clawsoon at 11:37 AM on September 16, 2014 [17 favorites]


I can think of ways to incorporate Uber-style software into non-shitty things, but they all result in actual just-plain-jobs. Not just desperate clouds of contract work for individuals.

In a better culture with a better economic system, there wouldn't be anything amiss about an app which efficiently coordinates various Alfred-style tasks. Most people, including myself, wouldn't mind getting people's dry cleaning, etc. if it resulted in a materially secure life.

As it stands, Alfred just sounds like a half-baked idea sitting on top of a rotten pile of everything wrong with the US.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:38 AM on September 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


Will they stand in the corner and face the wall as I pass, or do I actually have to make eye contact with them?
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:40 AM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


what we need is a batman movie told from the perspective of alfred, the least fleshed-out character in the batworld.


I recently saw the pilot of Gotham. It's not terrible, and I think I might stick with it to see if they have an episode where young Master Wayne's precociousness and thrill-seeking finally cause Alfred to crack.


"You little bastard! Get down from there, and put out that chemical fire! Loyalty to your father's memory will only go so far! God damn you, I served in Malaya!"
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:41 AM on September 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


The idea seems pretty cool, but they'd have to have some really strong background checks/liability insurance, I imagine, for the burglary risk.


Yeah, they totally don't.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:43 AM on September 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


Most people, including myself, wouldn't mind getting people's dry cleaning, etc. if it resulted in a materially secure life.

Yeah honestly I would love an easy, simple way to get vetted and reasonably compensated people to do tasks that I do not have the skill, time or energy to do. I was turned on to a local cleaning cooperative run by women and we're definitely going to give them a shot at least once, and regularly-ish if we can afford it because a) I want to live in a nicer environment than I care to put physical effort into and b) it's a cooperative, so I know they're getting a fair shake. But I'm not going to be under the impression that I am hiring some sort of Downton Abbey-esque chambermaid who should be thankful I exist. I'm hiring someone to bust their ass doing a task I find grueling and relatively unrewarding and for which I'm willing to give up the money I make spending my day doing exactly the same fucking thing except with complicated paperwork instead of bleach spray.
posted by griphus at 11:46 AM on September 16, 2014 [17 favorites]


For the agile local shark who requires competent multiplier leverage in a potentially hostile profit-earning venture: Gön.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:54 AM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Eh... I doubt that these guys will make this work in a way that I'd actually be comfortable paying money for, but I gave them my (site-specific) email address and zip code, and I'll seriously consider it if they ever make it to my area.

There's nothing inherently wrong with what they're trying to do... and on the one hand it seems unnecessary (housekeepers, grocery delivery services, etc. exist already), but having it all online in one place? That could be worth paying a premium for.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:57 AM on September 16, 2014


I would make that argument, at least for butlers. It's a loaded term that goes far beyond a mere job title, separating the world into an aristocratic class and the rest of us. It's a dangerous and pernicious idea, one that continually returns to human affairs unless it's continually fought against.

We're not talking about literal butlers, though - that the association is intentionally made here is noteworthy but this original comment said not only "nobody needs a butler" but that everybody should clean their own toilet, which is a different sentiment. If you were to argue that the division of labor inherently leads to divisions of class you would't be the first, but if you want to throw that out the window there are a lot of things you have to be willing to see go with it.
posted by atoxyl at 11:59 AM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I am down with the snark here, and generally agree with the criticisms above, but this is really forcing me to question my fondness for AirBnB, which my wife and I use frequently to visit places that we frankly could never even dream about setting foot in otherwise. We've stayed in London and New Orleans thanks to AirBnB (and its capacity to set us up with places with kitchens, which in turn let us cut costs further).

It's allowed her to go to conferences and have educational/networking opportunities she wouldn't otherwise have had; it's enabled us to visit small towns off the beaten track where conventional motel stays weren't an option.

But in a broad messy way it's part of the above "serf economy" problem; we're arguably underpaying the market rate for sleeping/eating, and moving jobs away from full-time housekeepers, desk clerks, and maintenance staff.

On the other hand, I'm putting money directly into the hands of the person providing all of those services to the limits of their comfort and ability, instead of contributing to the yacht fund of the shareholders in DeltaWesternFourPointsSheratonInc. And spreading that money in different ways than I would if we were stuck at home because we could never go anywhere.

So I feel pretty good about AirBnB, on balance, but things like this shade into it in ways that make me question whether I'm just being a self-justifying shitheel.
posted by Shepherd at 12:00 PM on September 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


Silicon Valley isn't out of ideas. Tech Crunch is out of ideas. Which isn't surprising for a company owned by AOL.
posted by humanfont at 12:01 PM on September 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


APP USERS! Are your Alfreda out of sorts? Complaining? Striking? Threatening to unionize? Just use Pinktr Two to hire available warm bodies in your area to break a new picket lines (or noses!)
posted by The Whelk at 12:01 PM on September 16, 2014 [26 favorites]


Clean your own toilet.

Are people who pay other people to clean their toilets monsters?
posted by Nelson at 12:03 PM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Finally some jobs that can't be outsourced to the third world. I guess we'll have to recreate it here!
posted by blue_beetle at 12:03 PM on September 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Shepherd: But in a broad messy way it's part of the above "serf economy" problem; we're arguably underpaying the market rate for sleeping/eating, and moving jobs away from full-time housekeepers, desk clerks, and maintenance staff.

On the other hand, I'm putting money directly into the hands of the person providing all of those services to the limits of their comfort and ability, instead of contributing to the yacht fund of the shareholders in DeltaWesternFourPointsSheratonInc. And spreading that money in different ways than I would if we were stuck at home because we could never go anywhere.


Except there are plenty of "serfs" employed by DeltaWesternFourPointsSheratonInc, and there are no doubt plenty of yacht funds for the investors and executives involved in AirBNB, Uber, etc. At least with the big employers, we have things like minimum wages, benefits packages, etc. Not great ones, but at least they're big enough targets that we can see the problems.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:04 PM on September 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Ain't just about "sustainable living", cell divide. Berlin has like 15 hackerspaces, including c-base an easy match for noisebridge. SF has at most three hackerspaces, ignoring for-profit machine shops and co-working spaces that call themselves hackerspaces. Yes, hackerspaces are about making a place inventive, not rich, but that's where it begins.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:05 PM on September 16, 2014


STARTUP MAN (Self-link but relevant.)

mods strike me down if it please you
posted by overeducated_alligator at 12:07 PM on September 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Yeah honestly I would love an easy, simple way to get vetted and reasonably compensated people to do tasks that I do not have the skill, time or energy to do.

They are a bit more expensive than Alfred Club (which they should be), but googling Your Location and Concierge led me to several results specifically in your (mefi profile) area. Prices seem to start at $45 per hour, with discounts the more you are willing to pre-pay for.
posted by muddgirl at 12:11 PM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


This is why I left San Francisco.
posted by madcaptenor at 12:12 PM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


At least with the big employers, we have things like minimum wages, benefits packages, etc. Not great ones, but at least they're big enough targets that we can see the problems.

In other news, in lieu of paying their housekeeping staff more, Marriott has begun a campaign to get more of their guests to tip them by placing designated envelopes in the rooms.

So, you know, there's that.
posted by Diablevert at 12:12 PM on September 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


I don't want to live on this world anymore.

Maybe you should invest in SpaceX so we can get on with colonizing the rest of the Solar System, then.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:15 PM on September 16, 2014


In other news, in lieu of paying their housekeeping staff more, Marriott has begun a campaign to get more of their guests to tip them by placing designated envelopes in the rooms.

Adding $1 a night to every hotel room to give to the housekeeping staff would lose them so few stays that Marriott could keep 1¢ of it and still see a net gain. Fuckers.
posted by Etrigan at 12:18 PM on September 16, 2014 [10 favorites]


Maybe you should invest in SpaceX so we can get on with colonizing the rest of the Solar System, then.

Weyland-Yutani Corp. in partnership with Uber bring you: Spayc, everyone's personal interstellar conveyance.
posted by griphus at 12:18 PM on September 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


the booby hatch

Everything wrong with the way modern female superheroes are drawn I hear.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 12:21 PM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


It is cool that the founding team is mostly (all?) women.

THE PLOT THICKENS
posted by Apocryphon at 12:25 PM on September 16, 2014


what we need is a batman movie told from the perspective of alfred, the least fleshed-out character in the batworld. how does he feel about waxing the batmobile twice a week and constantly taking orders from a rich fckr in an outlandish costume? does he date, and with whom? does he ever fight crime in his own way, where he's the captain of the side of justice and righteousness?

That petty criminal who killed Bruce's parents? I think he's making his penance.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:26 PM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


On the one hand this company wants to screw over employees by pretending that they're not employees and stripping them of workers' rights*.

On the other they're seeking to convince relatively wealthy people to let untrained, unchecked, and uninsured people into their homes.

"Don't touch with a bargepole," is the answer which comes to mind.

(*Hey, you, believer in the markets, you should believe in workers' rights too, because then competition is about improving products and services and not a race to the bottom. Markets don't work when the participants are too hungry to choose in their best interests.)
posted by Thing at 12:27 PM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


That petty criminal who killed Bruce's parents? I think he's making his penance.

This speculation is treading dangerously closely to Spider-Man 3 territory.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:29 PM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Would you have been better off if you didn't even have that opportunity, though?

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist recasting grinding power inequalities as "opportunities".
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:31 PM on September 16, 2014 [17 favorites]


If anyone needs me, I'll be over here developing Woostr, which allows you to time-share a useless rich person for $99/mo.
posted by frogstar42 at 12:34 PM on September 16, 2014 [42 favorites]


Can I use his car and stay in his beach house?
posted by spitbull at 12:36 PM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


there are *excellent* cocktails.
posted by The Whelk at 12:40 PM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I would totally pay $100 a month to have Bertie Wooster flopping all over and making energetic clueless remarks.
posted by corb at 12:42 PM on September 16, 2014 [10 favorites]


I recently interviewed at a place like this, but it was a delivery service. I quickly realized I was probably too jaded to deal with their spiel. "Hey, so we're really great because we don't think of you as employees" was something actually said.

What depresses me about this culture is that words like innovation and creativity and 'the future' are tossed around so readily, but its really none of these things. Its simple entrepreneurship, and its using technology to get around worker's protection because the law can't adapt quickly enough. On top of that, its using this technology in either creepy or simplistic ways that should be below the education levels of these folks.
posted by lownote at 12:43 PM on September 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


I don't want to live on this world anymore.

No, it's a great world. What I don't want is people who think this is a good idea to live on this world anymore.

Don't trust anyone under 30...
posted by Naberius at 12:47 PM on September 16, 2014


Don't trust anyone under 30...

With a CS or marketing degree.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:48 PM on September 16, 2014


If anyone needs me, I'll be over here developing Woostr, which allows you to time-share a useless rich person for $99/mo.

"I say, frogstar, what's all this I hear about 'disruption'? Seems a bit of a right ticky-tack, eh wot?"
"Nothing a gentleman would concern himself with, sir."
posted by Etrigan at 12:52 PM on September 16, 2014 [12 favorites]


Shocker: the founders are from Harvard Business School. Yet another "shovel money through the network" Peter Principle play. The way that the Stanford network has rewarded, basically, social skills by funding whatever crap an alum convinces other people to work with them on, so too for HBS. I mean really, this shit won a well-publicized contest. This is the best of what HBS has to offer?

Even though TechCrunch is basically The Gym Teacher of technology, they reveal that the people running these companies are carpet-baggers in the VC world and when their terrible ideas have sucked up all the money from good ideas and the popular independent business world crashes down again, they'll just go back to being Business Analysts or Finance drones or whatever jobs are basically waiting for them anyway.
posted by rhizome at 1:00 PM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]




How is this different than Taskrabbit?

Well, they ask if you've worked for Taskrabbit. I suspect Taskrabbit might know that already.
posted by effbot at 1:26 PM on September 16, 2014


why isn't there an Uber for Goons yet?

Hired Goons.


You're in luck!

Private security may or may not be goons. Offer not valid in all states or even outside of San Francisco.
posted by Gilead at 1:30 PM on September 16, 2014


If the pay isn't reasonable, people won't do the jobs.

This is one of the most pernicious lies hanging around the world today. People take completely unreasonable pay every single day because it's the only option available.

Clean your own toilet.

Grow your own food. Dryclean your own clothes. Make your own clothes, for that matter. Take out your own garbage.

There's nothing wrong with paying someone else to do something for you at all; the problem comes when it's subsistence-level wages, if even that, and there's no dignity.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:37 PM on September 16, 2014 [15 favorites]


Around 1999, growth in the United States economy stopped translating to growth in middle-class incomes.

I'm reading this article, thinking about how the late 90s are when the S&P500 started its crazy wild swinging when it occurs to me to wonder about inflation. The S&P hit a peak of 1,520.77 on Sept. 1, 2000. Its all-time intra-day high was 2,011.17 on Sept. 4 of this year, but according to the BLS inflation calculator, that's only 1,453.61 in 2000 money. The S&P has never recovered from that crash, and in fact right now is only at the level of about mid-1999. Of course this is even just accepting CPI at face value as a proper measure of inflation!
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:41 PM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


People take completely unreasonable pay every single day because it's the only option available.

Sure - but it's a mistake to assume that if those options were removed, the alternative wouldn't be nothing.

There exists a price point at which it would be worth it to me to hire a part-time personal assistant/butler/what have you. It is above 99$ a month, but less than hiring someone at full-time minimum wage, so not enough to support someone solely by myself.

If there are no services available at that price point, I'm not going to sigh and hire a full time person. I'm just not going to hire that person. Sure, I'll do the things myself and build character or whatever, but that means that the people who are willing to accept unreasonable pay will instead get zero pay.

You may think that's better, but I'm not really sure why.
posted by corb at 1:53 PM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


These people want a chunk of the revenue without taking on any risk. They have tried to structure everythng so that clients and their workforce have no remedies against them if anything goes wrong. That's not as serious as the employment issues raised above, but still annoys me. I want to do business with people who are willing to pay their employees and take some responsibility for the services provided by those employees.
posted by Area Man at 1:53 PM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


but that means that the people who are willing to accept unreasonable pay will instead get zero pay.

You may think that's better, but I'm not really sure why.


Because when your options are nothing or unreasonable, you will take unreasonable. And the most cursory examination of the entire history of humanity before wage standards were implemented should be more than enough to explain why that is a bad thing.

Wal-Mart pays its employees so little that they actually help employees fill out welfare applications. These are people with no other options, and it's fatuous to believe Wal-Mart wouldn't pay less if they could.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:57 PM on September 16, 2014 [20 favorites]


"Sure - but it's a mistake to assume that if those options were removed, the alternative wouldn't be nothing."

Pity the children with no mining experience when they graduate!
posted by klangklangston at 2:03 PM on September 16, 2014 [13 favorites]


Sure, I'll do the things myself and build character or whatever, but that means that the people who are willing to accept unreasonable pay will instead get zero pay.

I think it means instead that they will (hopefully) get a job that has reasonable pay and actual benefits, instead of working for less than minimum wage on a job that requires them to basically own and pay for their own car/insurance/additional contractor fees, in addition to working sporadically-- possibly getting in the way of jobs with firm shifts. There are already existing services for part-time help and personal assistants. Generally, around here, sketchy Craigslist ads suggest the price point per hour, for at least 10 hours a week, is closer to $10-15 and up as an independent contractor for those things. You could already be spending that money on licensed and bonded services that (probably) provide a better working situation for your employees, or you could choose to independently vet and hire someone to do these tasks. You're just currently getting zero services for your zero pay.

And hey, I'd love to hear from someone who currently works for them. But the trend of independent contractors isn't going to make the economy stronger, and I don't think it's a way to have a stable long-term life for a lot of people either.

(to be honest I'm also kind of worried about the fact that there is zero client vetting-- trust goes both ways, and this involves a lot more trust than even an Uber situation)
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:06 PM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


You are paying the Wal-Mart employees a marginally better wage than is apparent, but it's coming out of tax dollars that support government programs like welfare instead of slightly higher prices on Wal-Mart products. It's a circuitous arrangement that makes it easy to stiff the people who have the least political influence - that is, the ones receiving the programs. In that respect it's a little bit like Alfred, because it keeps the people who do the work at arm's length and lets the corporation organizing everything have as little responsibility as it can get away with.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:13 PM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


corb: If there are no services available at that price point, I'm not going to sigh and hire a full time person. I'm just not going to hire that person. Sure, I'll do the things myself and build character or whatever, but that means that the people who are willing to accept unreasonable pay will instead get zero pay.

You may think that's better, but I'm not really sure why.


Amartya Sen showed us the endpoint of thinking with market-based blinders on: People who can only get unreasonable pay die of starvation.

If you don't like that outcome, you have to stop focusing on the classic free-market truism that any free exchange makes both parties better off than they would have been without that exchange. You need to start thinking about Hayek's necessary prescription for state-provided social security, and the taxation needed to support it.
posted by clawsoon at 2:15 PM on September 16, 2014 [12 favorites]


The way that Walmart leverages the welfare system to reduce their labor costs, so would Alfred like to do with your homeowner's/renter's insurance. I guess maybe that's the inside-baseball that HBS teaches and the VCs reward: find the safety nets that people have available, and create a business that might give them a reason to use them.
posted by rhizome at 2:21 PM on September 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


While the same mindset tries to completely dismantle those nets, leaving us with real actual serfdom: employees utterly dependent on the scraps they receive from their employers.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:27 PM on September 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Cleaning my toilet takes barely 2 minutes. Cleaning my whole flat maybe 35 minutes. Nothing like growing food or making clothes at all. And I actually do some of that too anyway rather than work in tech like I used to. Not being fighty but just answering honestly.
posted by colie at 2:27 PM on September 16, 2014


Also, they should really call this thing "caser" or "catburglr", because that's how I'd be using it.


I'm setting up a disruptive peer-to-peer e-commerce service for . . . lightly used goods. I call it Fnce. MeMail me
posted by The Bellman at 2:28 PM on September 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


To be all Debbie Downer for a bit...I've been listening to The History of Rome podcast a lot lately. The idiom of "bread and circuses" is used today to mean simply bribes and distractions. But the thing of it is, the reason the bread rations got to be such an entrenched expense to the Empire was that the people on the rations had nowhere else to go, and nothing else to do. They had all crowded into the cities after the farmland in central Italy got bought up and consolidated by aristos. Rome's military conquests meant a constant stream of free labor in the form of slaves, so there was no point in hiring citizens and paying them. You could join the army for a way out, maybe. But even if you started your own business and started making a little money you were unlikely to be better off; there were a huge swathe of the lower middle class who made just enough to not qualify for free bread and not enough to ensure they weren't going to bed hungry anyway. Meanwhile at the upper end you'd use one slave to open the door when you had a party and another to walk them down the hall....the bread and circuses weren't merely a bribe and a distraction, they were an utterly necessary bribe and a distraction, the valve in the pressure cooker in a society where thousands of people had no useful purpose.

We have slaves, now. They're in our pockets. They're the free unlimited supply of productivity, our phones and our apps and pretty soon our robots and our driverless cars. So maybe corb's right. Maybe 10 bucks an hour for 15 hours a week is better than the nothing else that the economy has to offer so many. Maybe feckless is right too, and more employers will take after Wall Mart. Because paying people enough to not starve is simply too much when you could replace them all with self-checkout stands instead. Get 'em on the roll dole, and keep giving them hours for a few more years until Moore's law has its way with them too.
posted by Diablevert at 2:30 PM on September 16, 2014 [10 favorites]


“A lot of the time, I think I have a really good idea, but then it turns out it’s actually not a good idea. Like, I was really hungry, and I wanted a personal chef, but I couldn’t afford one. So I had this idea that I’d start a business that’s like a timeshare thing for personal chefs, where a bunch of people pool their money; you just use the chef when you need one. And I was really excited… and then I realized that I just invented the restaurant.”

— Dan Mintz
posted by letourneau at 2:34 PM on September 16, 2014 [25 favorites]


I'm setting up a disruptive peer-to-peer e-commerce service for . . . lightly used goods. I call it Fnce. MeMail me

Honest to god, there was an FPP (... a couple of years ago? Some time back, anyway.) about new Internet based pawn services that were attempting to disrupt traditional pawnshops.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:34 PM on September 16, 2014


We have slaves, now. They're in our pockets.

And behind our fast food counters, and in our discount megastores, and working for Taskrabbit and Alfred.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:34 PM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yep, The US food industry is subsidized and run on near slave labor from every step on the ladder.
posted by The Whelk at 2:38 PM on September 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


I guess maybe that's the inside-baseball that HBS teaches and the VCs reward: find the safety nets that people have available, and create a business that might give them a reason to use them.

There is something like that which seems to be going on here: the strategy is to find what costs/risks that companies normally providing these services assume and figuring out a way to offload those costs/risks elsewhere and pocketing the savings.

The advantage to the matching service of disconnecting the clients and the servers from any personal interaction is that it prevents the servers from branching out on their own and separating from the matching service once they have a reputation and relationship with their clients, like high-end tutors do.
posted by deanc at 2:39 PM on September 16, 2014


If the worker isn't an emoloyee of Alfred, then don't you have to treat them as a household employee for tax purposes.
posted by humanfont at 2:42 PM on September 16, 2014


What's the gilded version of silicon?

I propose aSilded.

As in "We truly are living in an aSilded age."
posted by symbioid at 3:10 PM on September 16, 2014


If you were putting away groceries, where would you put uncooked chicken?
-Refrigerator
-Cupboard
-Counter
-None of the above

We're disrupting food safety!


Actually that suggests a MetaFilter entry for next year's contest: an app called "Should I eat it?"
posted by beagle at 3:12 PM on September 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Do the legal regimes in other wealthy nations undermine these sort of projects? Why do they always start in the U.S.? Or are there other internet service startups in London and Sydney, but TechCrunch and I don't hear about them?
posted by gsteff at 4:26 PM on September 16, 2014


As long as the pay is reasonable, I don't see what the big deal is. You realize house-cleaning services, dry cleaners, etc. already exist, right?
You realize that maybe the pay isn't reasonable, right?

It's not clear to me exactly what "Starting from $25 a week" means, but my washing machine has recently died, and while I'm waiting for the new one to be delivered I've almost run out of clean clothes, so I brought a small bag of laundry to a wash-and-fold this morning just to tide me over till the new machine arrives. The charge for this one small load of laundry, which won't even last me (and only me) a week? $25.

And house-cleaning services? I have house-cleaning services. I pay them over $100 per visit. Unless "$25 per week" means somebody shows up to clean my house less than once a month, it's not a reasonable wage to pay for the services of the people actually doing it, even ignoring that the company is going to take a chunk of it before the person actually doing it even sees a dime.
posted by Flunkie at 4:28 PM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I am now hoping someone sets up Buntr, the service that connects the idle rich with people who can help them organize their wine cellars and also assist in solving mysteries.
posted by nonasuch at 4:39 PM on September 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Clearly you haven't seen my toilet.

Unclogr
posted by zippy at 4:43 PM on September 16, 2014


Ah, Doucherupt, you never fail to live down to expectations. You'd think entrepreneurs these days would be more aspirational than striving to be middlemen siphoning money from services they shouldn't be able to sell in the first place.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:52 PM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]




Doucherupt is an awesome word

and also sounds like the Brawndo of feminine hygiene products.

"Are you feeling not so fresh? DOUCHERUPT! [said in a Randy 'Macho Man' Savage voice]

[logo shown in GOLD METALLIC 3D over a background of EXPLOSIONS and FLAMES]

posted by zippy at 5:47 PM on September 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Yo! Last week I painted someone's apartment for about half of what I thought was reasonable. Do you want to know why? Because I hadn't worked in a month and couldn't afford not to make some cash.

That's what your free market is all about.


Uh... yeah...

I mean, you were offering a service that wasn't in particularly high demand. How else would one expect this to play out?

Really, I think metafilter tries to make its own alternate reality sometimes.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:58 PM on September 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Q: If items are lost or stolen will Alfred replace them?
A. It is very unlikely that this will happen, but in the off chance that it does, we will do our best to help you recover your items and advocate with vendors on your behalf. However, if we are unable to resolve the issue for you, we unfortunately won't be able to replace your items directly or reimburse you for the cost.


Dude this sounds AWESOME

Sign me up! I'll sleep in my bus and camp out at a trailer park somewhere near the valley for a few months, and return to washington with a huge cache of loot to unload on craigslist.

I'm sure i'll make hell of a lot more than $15 an hour when i have several thousand pounds of macbook pros.

On preview, someone had of course already made the "burglr" joke. But they seriously don't fucking care!

What's to stop me from registering with this service with a $40 fake ID? do they even want my SSN or anything? if they refuse to insure, and all they can tell the client is that my name is Jean Luc Picard then lolololol.


I, of course, kid. But a lot of people don't.

[logo shown in GOLD METALLIC 3D over a background of EXPLOSIONS and FLAMES]

You sound like you need cool 3d

I'm giving away my best vaporwave secrets here, but seriously, #1 cheesy 3d text program.
posted by emptythought at 6:08 PM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


All the risks of Uber, except at the expense of your whole house instead of your body!
posted by rhizome at 6:11 PM on September 16, 2014


why isn't there an Uber for Goons yet?

Hired Goons.


Homēz™, we got your back℠!
posted by emptythought at 6:13 PM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Wasn't this literally the business model of Exec? It got bought less than a year ago.
posted by TwelveTwo at 6:19 PM on September 16, 2014


1: Last week I painted someone's apartment for about half of what I thought was reasonable. Do you want to know why? Because I hadn't worked in a month and couldn't afford not to make some cash.

2: Would you have been better off if you didn't even have that opportunity, though? There's no guarantee that the job would have been offered to you at the price you found "reasonable."

The implication here is that the 'opportunity' to work for an unreasonable wage leaves a person better off simply by virtue of the fact that some cash is better than no cash at all. This is boilerplate libertarian ideology - and typical of that train of thought - it ignores context and leaves out a lot of nuance.

On the very face of it, who is to say that the opportunity cost of agreeing to an unfair wage and shady labor terms isn't actually a better job down the road? It is quite possible that in this case the decision to make "no cash" and hold out for a better deal would more than make up for the time spent and paltry money made stuck in exploitation.

So while in the short-term some cash is better than no cash at all, the long-term outcome of being stuck in a system where you are being taken advantage of is tremendous. When we allow, through lack of strong employment regulations, businesses to take advantage of desperate people we are enabling a predatory marketplace that can trap people in a cycle that might allow them to eat, but never allows them to fill their bellies, and certainly never gives them the necessary tools to better their lot. Eating food is important, but having time and proper resources to plan your next step is more important in the long run - and those crucial components of climbing out of poverty or desperation are missing in jobs where you are compelled to accept just enough to subsist.

Tossing someone a bone for their labor while denying them a robust opportunity to flourish and excel (by means of a proper wage and proper working hours) is exploitation by means of leveraging the immediate need for sustenance against them. If you are claiming all of a persons waking hours and not paying them a living wage you are costing them the opportunity to better themselves by enabling them to stay preoccupied with living right on the edge.

So is someone better off being taken advantage of for an unfair wage versus no wage at all? I don't think the answer to that question is quite as obvious as you think it is.
posted by jnnla at 6:31 PM on September 16, 2014 [20 favorites]


There's something I've been thinking about, which is basically how the "sharing economy" is ultimately a model that only makes sense in terms of an economy where everyone is staving off disaster. How does AirBnB work? By taking spare bedrooms in your home and renting them out. Why do you need to do that? Because you are financially strapped and need to rent out the room rather than using it as a study or giving each kid their own room instead of bunking them. How does UberX work? It's about taking people who have free time and a car and letting them use that time and their property to drive other people around for money-- consuming the cycles of car use that would otherwise be idle because the person had a full time job and/or was home, having spent a full day at work and didn't need more money.

It's the equivalent of a company trying to stay afloat by renting out their spare office space after having laid off staff, figuring out how to sell off their effluvia from the factory, trying to recycle heat into electricity, or someone who raids his attic to find things to sell on ebay so he can make rent next month-- these are things people do because they are desperate and trying to stretch every last dollar, not because things are going well and growing.

When someone has a good job, he's not spending his free time driving strangers around town in his car. When someone makes enough money to live comfortably, he's not renting out the spare bedroom to travelers.

When a person is trying to monetize every last bit of his down time and every last square foot of his apartment, it's not a sign of growth, it's a sign of trying to stay afloat during a contraction.
posted by deanc at 8:05 PM on September 16, 2014 [29 favorites]


There's something I've been thinking about, which is basically how the "sharing economy" is ultimately a model that only makes sense in terms of an economy where everyone is staving off disaster.

yeah all this stuff feels like it would be fine in a world where everybody using it has like, a strong safety net and health insurence and universal day care and they're just making some money on the side running errands until another job opens up.

They basically assume everyone is a young, fit, reasonably well-off tech bro with no kids who is temporarily underemployed.
posted by The Whelk at 8:09 PM on September 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


It makes a lot of sense when you live in a world where you are completely surrounded by people who were only ever "poor" in college, when they had spent all the allowance from their parents(or possibly loan leftovers after they buy textbooks) and had to slum it and work at subway next to the university library for the summer so they could still buy DLC on steam and get the next HTC phone when it launches or whatever.

For them, a part time job was 100% party money. They don't even understand that a world exists where people double or triple up on part time jobs. They don't even understand what the concept of underemployed means.

I have a feeling silicon valley will riff on this at some point, they've done a pretty awesome job slaying a lot of other things.
posted by emptythought at 9:17 PM on September 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


Wasn't this literally the business model of Exec? It got bought less than a year ago.

Yeah, and Exec closed down this part of their service and switched entirely to being a cleaning service before they were bought, they claimed that something like 95% of Exec hours were being used for cleaning and only 5% for errands. I wonder how Alfred is going to make it work. (And it's not like Exec had a great exit either -- not the kind people try to emulate, for sure.)
posted by phoenixy at 11:48 PM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


colie: But I think a version of it has actually been reopened for the low-paid masses now - off to check up on this now.

I suspect you're thinking of Zero-hours contracts (at least in the UK).
posted by pharm at 1:48 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yep, The US food industry is subsidized and run on near slave labor from every step on the ladder.

But I like going to restaurants and don't need anyone to pick up my dry cleaning, so the moral calculus is obvious!
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:59 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yep, The US food industry is subsidized and run on near slave labor from every step on the ladder.

Most household labor is de facto unpaid work subsidized by employer benefits and spousal benefits, as well as a suite of public programs, too.

The real untapped monetization factor would bean app that lets you anonymously charge family members for the unpaid work you do around the house under the guise of, I dunno, "bank fees" or something, so that we could all gnaw away at each other and give a small transaction fee to a rich dude along the way. Disrupt domesticity!
posted by kewb at 5:56 AM on September 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


(Or, you know, acknowledge and compensate that unpaid labor with much more robust public programs by taxing, say, VCs and capital gains or something.)
posted by kewb at 5:57 AM on September 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Wait. Techstr.com. Facilitates hiring Stanford/HBS dudebros to create bullshit sharing economy startups for $9/hour.
posted by spitbull at 6:29 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Can women be dudebros?

I got some flack above for calling out that the Alfred Club founding team are mostly women. I don't think that fact redeems the company and I wouldn't condescend to the women entrepreneurs I know to get excited about a team solely because of their gender. OTOH a common and totally fair complaint about the tech startup world is that it's so male dominated, and here we have an example of a company founded by women having some publicity and success. It's worth noticing, even if it causes some cognitive dissonance because you hate the company.
posted by Nelson at 7:24 AM on September 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Show your math and work and propose how these Alfreds actually could make minimum wage. Are they expected to wear ad tattoos on their bodies to supplement their income?

I would guess it could work out because you wouldn't be doing these tasks for only one person. Going to the dry cleaners takes 30 minutes whether you're picking up 1 person's things or 10 people's things (okay, 45 minutes for 10 people's things). Same with the grocery shopping.

If all 10 of them are paying you $5/hour it could work out.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:04 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Why not just present yourself to the dry cleaners as a person who can deliver dry cleaning for them? Seems easier and more efficient than going through Alfred, for both the worker and the consumer.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:18 AM on September 17, 2014


"I would guess it could work out because you wouldn't be doing these tasks for only one person. Going to the dry cleaners takes 30 minutes whether you're picking up 1 person's things or 10 people's things (okay, 45 minutes for 10 people's things). Same with the grocery shopping.

If all 10 of them are paying you $5/hour it could work out.
"

Part of the marketing is that these "Alfreds" are working only for you during the time you specify.
posted by klangklangston at 8:39 AM on September 17, 2014


Part of the marketing is that these "Alfreds" are working only for you during the time you specify.

Is that a feature people want, or is it just a result of Alfred-the-company being unable (or unwilling) to divide the labor in other ways?
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:44 AM on September 17, 2014


gsteff: "Do the legal regimes in other wealthy nations undermine these sort of projects? Why do they always start in the U.S.? Or are there other internet service startups in London and Sydney, but TechCrunch and I don't hear about them?"

After taxes and transfers, the U.S. has some of the highest levels of inequality among developed nations. That's why.

The move away from manufacturing toward a "service economy" (or, as I like to call it, an outsourced servant economy) is fundamentally a change to a system driven by wealth stratification where people whose time is valuable (the relatively wealthy) pay people whose time is cheap (the not so wealthy) to do things they could otherwise do themselves. This is just the purest form of it.
posted by Wemmick at 8:51 AM on September 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


The $99 dollar figure is really sticking with me - it simply cannot be right. Even at slave wages for the workers, there's no way the company would allow me to truly use unlimited services for $99 - at that rate a power user could easily drive the hourly rate below $1 - you'd be making less than the cost of bus fare to get someone's dry cleaning. I suspect that $99 is actual a "membership fee" that allows you to hire out an unlimited amount of tasks, each of which has a price.
posted by fermezporte at 8:53 AM on September 17, 2014




Didn't it say "Starting at 99$" rather than "99$"? Because I could see where $99 maybe gets you, say, groceries and dry cleaning once a week or something like that, but higher amounts of labor require higher contributions.
posted by corb at 9:29 AM on September 17, 2014


Wait. Techstr.com. Facilitates hiring Stanford/HBS dudebros to create bullshit sharing economy startups for $9/hour.

Um... that's strt.up
posted by Going To Maine at 9:44 AM on September 17, 2014


Part of the marketing is that these "Alfreds" are working only for you during the time you specify.

Does it actually say that they will do that or does it just try to convey that impression? They say that they try to provide continuity of service so that the same person helps you every time (or most times), but I don't see any indication on the site that the Alfreds will only run one person's task at once.
posted by phoenixy at 10:19 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


In terms of keeping people from other work, school, or self-care, these idealized "insured, bonded" agencies are much worse than a service like this.

There's a weird level of romanticizing of shitty employers in these types of threads. Merry Maids Inc. is not some kind of dream employer. They likely break all kinds of labor laws and they monopolize your time.

Delivery organized by the drycleaners and laundromat? That happens already. They're immigrants paid under the table, often reliant on tips and making less than minimum wage. They are among the most exploited types of workers around. But gee, this is surely way worse than that! No way a brick and mortar place would exploit anyone!

Your lifestyle requires human suffering on an immense level. And this is what has people wishing for revolution? Why, because formerly middle class white people might work for it?

You already have outsourced slaves. Look at the clothing you're wearing. Look at your computer. Look at your phone. Look at the gas in your car. You have slaves. The fact that this silly tech company makes it harder to ignore the exploitation you're benefiting from doesn't make it somehow worse.

Please, though, snark away. Rich people are so very terrible and exploitative. Good thing you're better than all that.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:20 AM on September 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


Rich people are so very terrible and exploitative. Good thing you're better than all that.

I thought it was pretty clear that rich people aren't the target audience of apps like this? But that, basically, we are?
posted by muddgirl at 10:29 AM on September 17, 2014


The move away from manufacturing toward a "service economy" (or, as I like to call it, an outsourced servant economy) is fundamentally a change to a system driven by wealth stratification where people whose time is valuable (the relatively wealthy) pay people whose time is cheap (the not so wealthy) to do things they could otherwise do themselves. This is just the purest form of it.

The industrial revolution was massively massively exploitative. On a scale much worse than what we have today.

Same thing with wealth stratification.
posted by JPD at 10:30 AM on September 17, 2014


the young rope-rider:
"Delivery organized by the drycleaners and laundromat? That happens already. They're immigrants paid under the table, often reliant on tips and making less than minimum wage. They are among the most exploited types of workers around. But gee, this is surely way worse than that! No way a brick and mortar place would exploit anyone!"
There is a rather big difference between breaking the law and circumventing it. The examples you mention would seem to do the former, which means there is at least a possibility of legal recourse for those being exploited. The problem with the "disruptors" is that they simply take that option away from their employees independent contractors.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 10:31 AM on September 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


"Do the legal regimes in other wealthy nations undermine these sort of projects? Why do they always start in the U.S.? Or are there other internet service startups in London and Sydney, but TechCrunch and I don't hear about them?"

I suspect there isn't one reason. Some good, some bad.

The US has a much bigger startup culture than most of the rest of the world, so naturally we throw out more shit hoping it sticks against the wall. We also have a much much larger pool of capital to fund these things with.

While there are plenty of people who work informally in Europe, my impression is that the sort of 1099 contractor bullshit that things like this live off of is just harder to pull off. Its more difficult for actual corporations to avoid making social payments.

I suspect there is also more of a cultural aversion for trying to skirt the rules about regulation of services and what not.

Finally, benefits levels are much higher than in the US, so for people with access to benefits jobs like this just aren't as attractive.

Certainly we seen some ridiculous startups come out of Europe - but not of this outsource labor schtick.
posted by JPD at 10:35 AM on September 17, 2014


Delivery organized by the drycleaners and laundromat? That happens already. They're immigrants paid under the table, often reliant on tips and making less than minimum wage. They are among the most exploited types of workers around.

So you're saying we shouldn't be upset at people trying to expand the ranks of the exploited?
posted by Etrigan at 10:48 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, definitely that is what I'm saying. Good catch.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:51 AM on September 17, 2014


JPD: " The industrial revolution was massively massively exploitative. On a scale much worse than what we have today.

Same thing with wealth stratification.
"

Give it time. I fear the same forces are at work here as during the industrial revolution. Things can get worse, as we're still automating away the middle class and dividing the economy into a small number secure jobs for the people running the automation with everyone else scrambling in a TaskRabbit-esque precarity. I worry that San Francisco portends where the rest of the world is heading.
posted by Wemmick at 10:55 AM on September 17, 2014


the young rope-rider: Yeah, definitely that is what I'm saying. Good catch.

Maybe instead of snark you could respond with a clarification of what you actually are saying, because your comment reads the same way to me that it did to Etrigan.

Your argument has many problems, but perhaps the most significant is that it's predicated on the idea that people can't have any sincerity behind their distaste for exploitation if they ever use any good or service that was built or provided by exploited laborers. By the same logic, someone who tries to insulate their home to reduce electricity consumption is a hypocrite if they drive a gas-powered automobile or fly in an airplane that burns jet fuel. One can sincerely care about exploitation and aim to reduce it even if they're knowingly participating in exploitation through their purchase of goods and services.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:00 AM on September 17, 2014 [5 favorites]


I don't think people are being insincere and I never implied it. I think they're lacking perspective in a way that places the blame and responsibility firmly on a certain class of people who are nothing like them. None of us can do that with a straight face.

I say this having worked as/among household servants for years. Even being able to declare income would be a huge step up for the majority of household workers. Being able to set your own hours, same thing. Huge, huge step up in terms of quality of life.

I usually don't involve myself in threads like this because people are very invested in being very angry at these exploiters who aren't like them and ultimately I am happy for people to give a shit about exploitative labor practices. Sometimes, though, the way the world is portrayed in the service of this or that being the New Worst Thing is so distorted that I lose my shit.

And yeah, I do wish that people would get just as mad about restaurants and the garment industry and the people who mine the components for their smart phone. It seems like a situation where what you do can actually have an effect on the prevalence of exploitative practices.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:39 AM on September 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


And yeah, I do wish that people would get just as mad about restaurants and the garment industry and the people who mine the components for their smart phone.

I think Mefites do get mad about these things. Just not in this thread, which is not exactly about those things.
posted by muddgirl at 11:57 AM on September 17, 2014 [5 favorites]


the young rope-rider: There's a weird level of romanticizing of shitty employers in these types of threads. Merry Maids Inc. is not some kind of dream employer. They likely break all kinds of labor laws and they monopolize your time.

Yea, really.

My friend worked for one of these companies for a while. He's a really hardworking guy, who's worked on and captained/owned-operated fishing boats in alaska deadliest catch style. He has a huge pile of stories about working 18 hour days in shit conditions and the massive list of times he's almost died.(and a lot of really, really nasty stuff therein). As such, the dude will basically do anything that's fair work for a fair buck.

And as it turns out, a lot of this stuff isn't.

He was trying to take some time off from fishing and see if he could hack it just hanging out in town and working odd jobs until he found something decent.

The service he worked for was high end. Almost every place he cleaned was in a big condo tower and probably cost greater than 1mil for the unit they were working in. He saw huge piles of money and drugs all the time. The company must have been charging these people out the ass.

And yet he constantly got shorted hours, had to haul company equipment for the entire crew or other employees in his personal car... and then they'd regularly lock the office and tell him to just keep it in his car until the next work day(and that it was his responsibility to replace if his car got say, broken into and all the stuff trashed or stolen while it was in there!) so his car was often packed to the gills with vacuums and shit and he couldn't really use it for anything else, and just general roundhouse shittiness. They were cutting corners in every possible place and expecting the employees to do lots of work getting themselves and the equipment to and from worksites unpaid. Tons of hairsplitting over transit time not being covered, and basically only getting paid for the time you were in the unit cleaning and nothing else.


I have no vision of this being any better. In fact it'll probably be worse. But there's some serious pollyanna attitudes in here about what those "licensed & bonded" shops are like, and how they treat their employees. I think there just aren't many recent immigrants living hand to mouth posting on MeFi for us to hear about it from.(he was, as i remember, the only white guy working there who wasn't in the office/admin structure) If you're going to rail on this concept, you might wanna look into how those places work to and talk to or read some stuff by people who have worked for them.


He quit pretty fast, to go scrub dishes unholy hours at a bar. Said it was an end to end MASSIVE improvement. And as someone whose worked foodservice and scrubbed toilets and shit, it must have been a pretty fucking bad job if he thought that was better.

He also said it was a shittier job than being the juniormost guy getting the shittiest jobs army-crawling through crawlspaces and attics for a pest control company. Reflect on that one for a minute.

Dudes back up in alaska now. Decided if he was basically going to get paid for people to take a dump on his face he might as well get paid a living wage for it.
posted by emptythought at 5:28 PM on September 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


This is the perfect compliment to my new app NtnlRzr.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:02 PM on September 18, 2014


I've never worked for a cleaning service, but I have worked food service (earning $2.04/hour after they took out $0.36/hour out of my generous $2.40/hour rate. This was 2003 so really not that long ago.). It sucked in innumerable ways but at least my employers paid their portion of my social security/medicare, I was eligible for unemployment insurance if I got laid off, and I could pretty much count on working 35 hours a week most weeks. I certainly don't mean to romanticize that job or industry, but it just seems like we're moving towards an economy where an increasing amount of the labor force don't even have the minimal protections I benefited from of being an 'employee' instead of an 'independent contractor'.

Any kind of exploitation of workers makes me angry (though maybe not angry enough?) but I just see this kind of move from employees to independent contractors as being part of the erosion of the political power of workers.
posted by matcha action at 7:34 PM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


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