Apploitation in a city of instaserfs
January 7, 2016 7:42 PM   Subscribe

How the “sharing economy” has turned San Francisco into a dystopia for the working class. Oh, Canada! I’m writing you from Berkeley, California to warn you about this thing called “the sharing economy.” Since no one is really sharing anything, many of us prefer the term “the exploitation economy,” but due to its prevalence many in the Bay Area simply think of it as “the economy.” Whatever you want to call it, the basic idea is that customers can outsource all the work or chores they don’t want to do to somebody else in their area.

There is a place in this world for the sharing economy, and it could be a beautiful thing, but where I live these companies run the show. There are no rules. The apps are breaking the spirit of the law by abusing the independent contractor loophole and actively encourage (e.g., through dubious car placards) actually breaking the law. But it will only ever be the workers, not the companies, who are punished. If you’re going to let the sharing economy into your country, dear Canada, please take control of the situation. Don’t just let the invisible hand lead you wherever it wants you to go.
posted by modernnomad (169 comments total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
 
I can't remember now where I saw it, but about 2 years ago I watched a video of the head of Uber or one of the other early "sharing economy" firms giving a talk, and someone in the audience yelled out "that's not sharing, that's selling!"

It's a simple, powerful insight, and I don't understand why it's taking anyone who isn't getting rich off it so long to see what this is all about. It's the digital equivalent of sweat shop piece work, nothing more.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:48 PM on January 7, 2016 [63 favorites]


In January 2015, Uber announced it would guarantee earnings of between $10 and $26 an hour depending on peak hours. But to qualify you have to accept 90% of all ride requests, accept one ride per hour and be online for 50 minutes of each hour worked. Lyft has a similar deal where you can earn a 10% bonus for driving 30 hours in a week, a 20% bonus for working 40 hours a week, and a 30% bonus for driving 50 hours a week. The idea is to reward loyalty and prevent drivers from having Uber and Lyft open at the same time. The thing is, if you’re working 40 or 50 hours a week with one company, that looks a lot less like a gig and a lot more like full-time employment.
Er... yes? If you depend on Uber- or Lyft-provided work as a full-time job, and you want to earn "between $10 and $26 an hour" doing that job, then you need to put in the hours. If you're fairly self-sufficient and can afford to spend some free time driving customers around (as one of my friends does, to make money while meeting people), then you don't need bonuses to guarantee a living wage.

I suspect that the popularity of "instaserfs" is partly a result of the middle class being able to hire something akin to the former upper class's full-time servants, and partly a transitional stage between "typical middle-class office worker has a wife to handle his background work" and "typical middle-class couple pay for cheap robots to handle their background work".
posted by Rangi at 7:54 PM on January 7, 2016 [7 favorites]


That's the point. It's the endpoint of people being fooled into hating labor unions. Next up will be minimum hours, then they'll ramp that up. And at some point, the answer will be take it or starve.

It already is for many people. Soon, it will be those people and the top 1%.

Really. We've lost. Mainly because people didn't think it was important, but we lost. Our only hope is that the 1% goes to war against the 0.1%. They better, but they won't. They think they're in charge.

They are actually next.
posted by eriko at 8:00 PM on January 7, 2016 [88 favorites]


Sharting economy.

("Rentier economy" is a little too abstruse.
posted by klangklangston at 8:03 PM on January 7, 2016 [7 favorites]


In January 2015, Uber announced it would guarantee earnings of between $10 and $26 an hour depending on peak hours. But to qualify you have to accept 90% of all ride requests, accept one ride per hour and be online for 50 minutes of each hour worked.

What I thought was most interesting about this paragraph relates to the previous FPP on Shannon Liss-Riordan's class action lawsuit against Uber. If you guarantee earnings by demanding a level of commitment that no longer allows drivers to contract with Uber's competitors, they are a de facto employee of Uber and not an "independent contractor." I do hope that this policy helps quash the abuse of the independent contractor fiction and force Uber/Lyft/etc to provide the benefits that their employees deserve.

I don't think that this type of shit labor, hustling for scraps from the affluent in SF, is the future of employment. I think it's taking time to fight back, but the fighters have a strong chance of winning back ground from the exploiter class.
posted by Existential Dread at 8:04 PM on January 7, 2016 [17 favorites]


There's no need to buy robots when you can hire desperate people so cheap.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:04 PM on January 7, 2016 [36 favorites]


It's a simple, powerful insight, and I don't understand why it's taking anyone who isn't getting rich off it so long to see what this is all about.

All I can think of is Dead Kennedys' Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death. My experience in SF and Seattle is that young professional people don't want to think too deeply about the people hustling to bring them their banh mi or drive them to the bar. It's so convenient and cheap and easy to use! And cabbies suck!
posted by Existential Dread at 8:09 PM on January 7, 2016 [28 favorites]


Again WHO pays into worker's comp, social security and Medicare for these "contractors"? This is like 1887 India but with texting.
posted by Freedomboy at 8:10 PM on January 7, 2016 [29 favorites]


Technically the contractors pay into social security and Medicare as part of their self-employment tax, which they learn about to their surprise at tax time and which Uber et al. make no attempt to make clear.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 8:18 PM on January 7, 2016 [20 favorites]


I've been reading Pillars of the Earth lately and so much of it sounds pretty indistinguishable from 21st century late capitalism.
posted by Sara C. at 8:22 PM on January 7, 2016 [16 favorites]


That Postmates thing sounds like the worst, even worse than Uber and Lyft. It sounds so bad it's like a parody. The idea that you always have to take on another job before you've finished the first one because otherwise you don't make enough, the idea that if you deliver some dude's burrito across the goddamn metro in fifty minutes instead of forty-five you're a terrible worker...

I just - what in god's name is wrong with people out there? Why can't they get their own burritos? Why can't they order from the place down the street and take the delivery when the delivery guy arrives, like normal humans? Why do they think that they're entitled to someone delivering them frozen yogurt with their special-wecial selection of toppings and only those toppings, such that the delivery person gets dinged if the place is out of raspberries? Don't they ever think "gee, I am not a tech entrepreneur bestriding the globe, I am a giant whiny baby who can't handle bringing my own lunch"? If they have all that money, why can't they pay a living wage? What exactly do they think is so world-historical about the world they're building, given that it seems to be making life shittier for the majority? It's gross and scary but it's also deeply baffling. I sure hope we have a few more years in flyover country before we catch whatever moral disease is going around out there.
posted by Frowner at 8:34 PM on January 7, 2016 [107 favorites]


Why can't they get their own burritos?

This particular moralizing strain that always seems to come up is so weird to me. Why shouldn't we have other people deliver our burritos? The problem is that the guy who delivers the burritos doesn't get paid for shit (and some related problems).
posted by atoxyl at 8:42 PM on January 7, 2016 [82 favorites]


Lifestyle inflation? You've got a city of bay area tech folk making six figures and other than the obscene rent its gotta go somewhere. When your hour of employment is worth $75 and more, paying an app $20 to bring you a burrito is worthwhile because you can keep working for that hour. It doesn't make much sense outside of those regions which is why things like instacart and postmates have a hard time expanding beyond the large, dense metros with high disposable incomes.
posted by msbutah at 8:44 PM on January 7, 2016 [12 favorites]


Don't they ever think "gee, I am not a tech entrepreneur bestriding the globe, I am a giant whiny baby who can't handle bringing my own lunch"?

This may be, in a nutshell, the definition of privilege. And having grown up among these people, I will tell you, unequivocally, that the answer is "no".*

* In fact, not only will they NEVER, EVER think that, they'll be so indignant that they'll immediately start thinking of a technocratic start-up solution that will burn through millions of dollars of venture capital in an attempt to insure that no one like them is ever, ever denied raspberries again, under any circumstances. It may be called "Brry".
posted by ryanshepard at 8:46 PM on January 7, 2016 [66 favorites]


It's not so much "why can't people always get their own burritos" as "why is it preferable to have someone work an incredibly shitty job fetching you a burrito than to get your own burrito".

I mean, personally, I tend to feel that a society where we really need a lot more teachers, carers, people who fix houses and streets, etc is not a society where it's just so awesome that we seem to be developing more burrito delivery people, though. It's the usual capitalist huge waste of human potential - these people, who simply statistically tend to have more skills than just burrito delivery, are being channeled into burrito delivery because as a society we've decided that we won't pay for more teachers, for road repair, for people to help care for the frail, for libraries, etc.

Those things are way more useful and vital than delivering burritos to people who could, mainly, go out and get their own. But because we set up society so that we don't have either the taxes or the institutions to fix our roads, improve our schools, etc, we get burritos. Or else we deliver them, of course.

And, too, I think even a society where we have lots of busy bee burrito delivery dudes who make a better wage is a pretty sad one. Burrito delivery isn't a satisfying career for most people, but we're getting toward a society where the best we can hope for is deskilled, soul-killing work for the majority but deskilled soul-killing work that pays enough to live on. That's the dream. I think it's an awful one.

I would much rather see a society where burrito delivery is so expensive and specialized that most folks have to get their own, and instead there are better jobs doing more socially useful or at least more interesting things. Very few people dream of wearing a logo tee and running burritos all day.

And again, this is very much about the tax choices that we make, not about some natural law inclining us to make everyone postmates.
posted by Frowner at 8:54 PM on January 7, 2016 [148 favorites]


what in god's name is wrong with people out there? Why can't they get their own burritos? Why can't they order from the place down the street and take the delivery when the delivery guy arrives, like normal humans?

Can't speak to San Francisco or the Silicon Valley scene, but I know that a lot of these food delivery apps are used in L.A. to bridge the gap in a city where most restaurants don't offer delivery. And, in fact, Lyft and Uber have worked well here as well, in a city that lacks not only public transit but the urban infrastructure of free-floating taxis. So I have mixed feelings about the existence of these apps.

On the other hand, as a Lyft driver, yeah, it can be really dehumanizing and I will admit that the reason I do it is that I otherwise can't make ends meet working in my field.
posted by Sara C. at 8:55 PM on January 7, 2016 [19 favorites]


eriko: "Our only hope is that the 1% goes to war against the 0.1%. They better, but they won't. They think they're in charge.

They are actually next."
Which is a point Marx, Engels, and various communist & socialist writers & commentators (e.g. London) made 100+ years ago.

The people surfing the employee-contractor grey area are the new petite bourgeoisie…
posted by Pinback at 8:55 PM on January 7, 2016 [16 favorites]


2018's Hottest New Startup: Teachr
posted by gottabefunky at 9:01 PM on January 7, 2016 [13 favorites]


why is it preferable to have someone work an incredibly shitty job fetching you a burrito than to get your own burrito

Because you can have one person fetching multiple burritos for hungry people in the area. The type of work isn't a problem. The conditions and value that the market is choosing to derive for those who perform the service is. Companies undervalue the labor since it's massively surplus and it overvalues the organization and capital aspect. Do we really think that organizing rides for people and taking a percentage off the top is worth eight to nine figures? Probably not. But since the capital holds all the cards the rest of the serfs fight for scraps. Uber could so easily (from a technical standpoint) be reimplemented as a collective, co-operative or mutual organization with proper government regulation and much higher wages. Would capital holders let the politics necessary to happen, though? Not on your bloody life.
posted by Talez at 9:01 PM on January 7, 2016 [26 favorites]


Why shouldn't we have other people...

My theory is: You want to hire someone to do some shit work. Your kid expects someone to be availible any time for any of his shit work. Your grandkid believes someone should be happy to do all his shit work, probably at the same wages you were paying.

Maybe I'm wrong but I'm sure a shit sandwich tastes better when ya got a lot of bread.
posted by ridgerunner at 9:11 PM on January 7, 2016 [11 favorites]


If we as a society had, for instance, a lot of jobs available through an expanded university system (including admins, cleaners, grant support, lab staff and all the knock-on-effect supplier businesses) and we had a lot of jobs available in state-run social services, and we had a lot of jobs available inspecting food for safety, and fixing roads, and enforcing environmental standards, there would be upward wage pressure on burrito delivery, probably to the point where there was much less of it. If we had all the "luxury" stuff like subsidies for artists and musicians, and better funded museums that didn't need to rely on volunteer labor all the time, and enough staff to run a lot of public parks, and lots of grants for students (not loans) so that students didn't need to work all the time - if we had all that stuff, it would cut down on burrito delivery too. People could realistically choose more meaningful and fulfilling work.

It's because we have a shrinking state that we have this kind of desperate labor pool. We could have the state doing lots of useful things, as it does elsewhere and has sometimes done here, and it might be bureaucratic but it would be better than our current Tech Overlords and Delivery People society.

We could do this. If there were good full-time jobs for adults, then we could go back to having delivery gigs be part-time jobs for teens or for folks who don't want to work full time.
posted by Frowner at 9:20 PM on January 7, 2016 [109 favorites]


I think delivery services are great, I think we need more of them. I'm pretty sure it would be much greener to have our groceries, dry cleaning, et cetera delivered by a small fleet instead of having a bazillion people trying to drive to the store. Anything that can wean us off the car is good for us and our descendants.

But here's the thing: I think they need pay a comfortable, livable wage. The problem is, we don't want to pay for it. We decided that as a society about a half century ago. That's why grocery stores stopped delivering and why your neighborhood milkman vanished.

We became a nation of selfish babies when he elected grandpa for president because he told us we didn't have to conserve and we could have it all. Unless we shape up, we are doomed. I am not optimistic.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:25 PM on January 7, 2016 [31 favorites]


Well the current absurd proliferation of delivery services is almost certainly symptomatic of income inequality, from both directions - VCs giving away money for any half-assed thing and a whole bunch of broke people ready to step up to replace anyone who quits. I won't argue with that. I was going to say something about how if you think we should have more people doing [Y] than [X] I'd be way more interested in how to promote [Y] than how much you disapprove of [X] but then you went ahead and did just that. You're always on top of shit! (seriously you're a really good commenter)

(I did some part-time food delivery and it was kinda fun - but it probably doesn't stay fun after a while for sure).
posted by atoxyl at 9:30 PM on January 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


Why can't they order from the place down the street and take the delivery when the delivery guy arrives...

Thanks to the delivery guy economy.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:30 PM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


There was a time when I was bringing in a six-figure salary. (That time is over, probably forever.) Before I got that job, I owned a games company, and made about half as much money. When my company closed, I "failed upward."

The new place was about three blocks away from the old place. AWESOME, I thought, I can keep going to that great little mom-and-pop bakery for lunch on Third Street. Well... no. When you make (for instance) $120k/year, that is literally $57.69 an hour before taxes. And when people pay you that much money, they expect that you don't spend an hour going out and getting your own lunch. They expect you to order in.

It isn't just lunch, of course. It is every minute of your life that isn't working that can be compressed by spending money. You will spend $300/mo for that parking space next to the office instead of taking mass transit. You will get your laundry done by others instead of doing it yourself. OK, fine, you can go to your daughter's swim meet three miles away, but you can't drive. You will take a cab from the stand outside (this was right before Uber / Lyft) so you don't waste time parking.

So, yes, in that world, in that bubble, Uber and Postmates and and and... all make perfect, rational sense.

(18 months after that company failed, I was a driver for Lyft. I drove people to and from Logan Airport and Kendall Square. I had many great conversations with many startup CEOs. And I told them all to watch their wallet, because someday they might end up driving people to push off homelessness too.)
posted by andreaazure at 9:31 PM on January 7, 2016 [74 favorites]


There's a great opportunity for vulture - jamming here...just get a whole bunch of pissed off local people to sign up for, say, postmates and have everyone on the system at an appointed time. Accept as many jobs as you can before they boot you, and just don't complete them. I wonder how many people it would take to flood the system with pissed off customers. Sign a bunch of folks up for Uber, have them converge on a major sporting event, accept rides, and then don't pick anyone up.

yes, meant to write culture-jamming, but the typo seemed like a better fit
posted by Existential Dread at 9:33 PM on January 7, 2016 [28 favorites]


2018's Hottest New Startup: Teachr

I figured it would be Wipr for the busy professionals who need to outsource their bathroom hygiene needs
posted by poffin boffin at 9:37 PM on January 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


Uber In Retreat Across Europe

Probably because of those damn Socialists.

There's a company backdoor listing in Australia whose entire role is to Uber-ise white collar jobs. I saw that and it made my blood run cold.
posted by Mezentian at 9:48 PM on January 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


I will save my feelings about Uber the employer for another comment, but considering the state of public transit within SF (Muni busses are notoriously unreliable with schedules that are works of fiction) and lack of taxis outside downtowns in the SF Bay Area, it is no shock they do a lot of business.
posted by zippy at 9:50 PM on January 7, 2016 [11 favorites]


I figured it would be Wipr for the busy professionals who need to outsource their bathroom hygiene needs

Shittr: Your time is valuable. Why waste it sitting on a toilet?
posted by MikeKD at 10:16 PM on January 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


This conversation is curious to me because, like so many others, it presupposes a stabler, cleaner American class system than the one I seem to be mired in. We actually ordered from Postmates for the first time tonight (hadn't heard of it before) because my partner was sick and wanted pho and that's the service the pho place used. She works in tech but not in a fancy high-demand job; until a few months back, she also drove for Lyft. I am sometimes marginally employed in the arts, sometimes in the service sector. We're not particularly demanding or entitled (though I do like burritos); what we are, is people who tend to overspend our money on frivolous shit and don't plan well and live in an expensive city and are probably getting pretty screwed by the system in the long haul. I would guess that many of the customers of Uber/Lyft/DisruptInc are like us; I would guess that many of the employees of Uber/Lyft/DisruptInc are like us. This thread has guilted me sufficiently into not using Postmates again, but I don't think that's really where the solution is.
posted by thetortoise at 10:19 PM on January 7, 2016 [22 favorites]


> Well... no. When you make (for instance) $120k/year, that is literally $57.69 an hour before taxes. And when people pay you that much money, they expect that you don't spend an hour going out and getting your own lunch. They expect you to order in.

Look, I know peer pressure and this sort of company politics is a whole insidious thing and it's not so simple to just say "dammit I will be appreciated for my contributions and not these ridiculous power games!!" But on the other hand...c'mon, there's plenty of personal entitlement going on, just play the game. Put it on your calendar as a private appointment. Trot out one of a revolving set of vague intimations on occasion to help people assume or speculate something that fits an appropriate narrative.
posted by desuetude at 10:30 PM on January 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


The author claimed to be a "free-lancer filmmaker". You bet.
If he wants to live in an expensive city and have some sort of nonstandard career, he might be advised to think about how he's going to afford that. Delivering burritos is a far cry from coal mining or working on a fishing boat or digging ditches.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:31 PM on January 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


If he wants to live in an expensive city and have some sort of nonstandard career, he might be advised to think about how he's going to afford that.

And that excuses him being exploited...how, exactly?
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:44 PM on January 7, 2016 [23 favorites]


The type of work isn't a problem.

The Type of work is totally a problem--not all tasks are equally desireable. one type of work teaches you to be a servant, the other type of work teaches you how to be creative and in charge. a coordinator and a worker belong to two different classes, just as an owner and a worker do.

The division in what people are learning to do is a political division, and that ripples through the society.
posted by eustatic at 10:45 PM on January 7, 2016 [13 favorites]


I would much rather see a society where burrito delivery is so expensive and specialized that most folks have to get their own, and instead there are better jobs doing more socially useful or at least more interesting things. Very few people dream of wearing a logo tee and running burritos all day.

I find this pretty obnoxious. You'd really rather see a society where burrito delivery service is so expensive that people be prohibited from making money doing it. If that's not a giant "Fuck You" to people who need that income, I don't know what is. You want people doing more socially useful things? Or at least more interesting things? Do the rest of us need your approval in the careers we seek? Is is really some act of kindness that you'd rather see people unable to make money or even unemployed because you don't value the things they would do?
posted by 2N2222 at 10:46 PM on January 7, 2016 [17 favorites]


If that's not a giant "Fuck You" to people who need that income, I don't know what is.

I think your disagreement is merely a matter of vision. If we had a democratic economy, would as many people choose to deliver burritos? probably not. Probably fewer by a couple of orders of magnitude. I think that is what the other poster is saying.

But we never get to pose the question. Since we never get to ask ourselves the question, delivering burritos beats picking the tomatoes in the field for the people forced to need that income.
posted by eustatic at 10:54 PM on January 7, 2016 [9 favorites]


Why can't they order from the place down the street and take the delivery when the delivery guy arrives...

You mean expecting people to stand around doing nothing but deliver, fix and sell food? When there's so many more socially important and interesting things they could be doing than standing behind a cash register? What pray tell, is the difference between expecting someone to deliver food, and expecting them to stand around all day waiting to serve?

People can go fix their own damn burritos. From scratch.
posted by happyroach at 10:54 PM on January 7, 2016 [11 favorites]


We've had at least one FPP about Indian tiffin wallahs who have a hugely sophisticated system to bring workers their lunch "steaming hot straight from your wife's kitchen". This is probably less exploitative than that; it certainly doesn't rely on an implicit contract that one spouse stays at home. I agree that as a society we can and should do better, though.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:02 PM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm so confused now.
posted by Justinian at 11:02 PM on January 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


In many ways I'd rather have the luxury of time to braise my own beef, lovingly prepare vegetables in the cast-iron pan I've owned since I was old enough to get it out of my folks' cupboard, and languidly assemble my own burrito every day before enjoying a relaxing lunch at home while I contemplate what to do with the rest of the day.

But what I have instead is a job that pays me enough to buy a burrito, and if burrito delivery were a thing where I live, you can be damn sure I'd do it— because in my current situation, making a lunch means I have to wake up earlier, or stay later at work, and fuck that. I draw the line at making coffee at home.
posted by a halcyon day at 11:04 PM on January 7, 2016 [11 favorites]


It's the usual capitalist huge waste of human potential - these people, who simply statistically tend to have more skills than just burrito delivery, are being channeled into burrito delivery because as a society we've decided that we won't pay for more teachers, for road repair, for people to help care for the frail, for libraries, etc.

Fuck to the hell yeah, Frowner nailed everything that is wrong with our country, and SF, my hometown, is ground zero for this Social Darwinian experiment in squandering our resources as we are just looking for ways to appease the new rich. I once joked, after seeing a sign for a place called "Blowology,",* that our economy is no longer the haves & have-nots, but the blowers and the blown. Seriously, it's going that way as entitled money drives everything. It's also sad as SF has a great history & culture of workers' rights and investing in infrastructure of social services, cultural institutions and libraries, and it's now being eroded. And as that infrastructure erodes, life at the very bottom gets more hellish, thus young people are forced into whatever's available, not what's necessarily good for them or society as a whole.

In the other thread/article about Shannon Liss-Roirdon, if I remember it right, it said that 29% of new jobs were 'sharing' economy-style independent contractor jobs. This is a scary number, and so much more than "why not have your burrito delivered, what's wrong with that". There's nothing wrong with food delivery per se. Rather, it's because would-be teachers, nurses, social workers, road and transportation workers and librarians could be delivering that stupid fucking burrito, that's what's wrong with it.


*it's just a hair salon but the metaphor was too apt
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 11:16 PM on January 7, 2016 [14 favorites]


The Type of work is totally a problem--not all tasks are equally desireable. one type of work teaches you to be a servant, the other type of work teaches you how to be creative and in charge. a coordinator and a worker belong to two different classes, just as an owner and a worker do.

Why do they have to be? An prick of an office worker may look down on a plumber but the plumber knows they're being paid twice as much when the officer worker's shitter clogs up. So long as someone is paid a decent amount for their services why can't they just be a simple worker bee? The only problem with it is that we pay a virtual pittance to people performing labor.
posted by Talez at 11:18 PM on January 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


The thing is, if you’re working 40 or 50 hours a week with one company, that looks a lot less like a gig and a lot more like full-time employment...


If you're fairly self-sufficient and can afford to spend some free time driving customers around (as one of my friends does, to make money while meeting people), then you don't need bonuses to guarantee a living wage.


But this is about people working full time for a single employer who isn't fulfilling the responsibilities of a full time employer. If you're fairly self-sufficient, that sounds suspiciously like already working full time. I guess there's no need to guarantee a living wage when everyone can just get a second job.


I suspect that the popularity of "instaserfs" is partly a result of the middle class being able to hire something akin to the former upper class's full-time servants, and partly a transitional stage between "typical middle-class office worker has a wife to handle his background work" and "typical middle-class couple pay for cheap robots to handle their background work".


I'm going to let someone with more energy than I do decide whether calling one's wife a servant or one's domestic staff cheap robots is more offensive.
posted by Madame Defarge at 11:21 PM on January 7, 2016 [11 favorites]


As someone who's had depression and executive-function issues sometimes get in the way of her diet, and who used to live in an area where affordable food was not that easy to find when you're already exhausted, if it weren't for apps like Postmates or Grubhub or whatever there would be days where I didn't eat at all. (Thank God for American portions being big enough that one order can feed me a few times.)

In fact, a lot of these apps strike me as being extremely useful to people with disabilities - but between the high price point (which a lot of folks with disabilities can't easily pay, or even earn to afford) and the utter sanctimony of everyone else, it's not surprising that nobody ever takes disability into account. Only lazy Silicon Valley babies use these apps, right? Such a baby, make your own damn burrito you chump.

And if taxis weren't so terrible and difficult to hail as a lone woman of color, especially at night, I wouldn't have to rely on Lyft to get me home. Man, I wish it were that easy to get that taxi driver who wanted to make me his second wife or the one who said they won't drive me home at night because it was "too dangerous" fired just by rating them.
posted by divabat at 11:32 PM on January 7, 2016 [45 favorites]


which a lot of folks with disabilities can't easily pay, or even earn to afford

There are usually services for that; Meals on Wheels etc. I think that is the preferable option.

and the utter sanctimony of everyone else, it's not surprising that nobody ever takes disability into account.

I'm going to be a huge asshole here (so what else is new?) and say that I've had psychotic episodes, been outta my freakin mind, hospitalized 5 times, been on meds that made me lose motor control and speech, and sure I do get the odd pizza delivery, but I still can get my own food and bring it home on the bus and have groceries in my house. If I had Alzheimers, or any advanced illness, sure, I'd need assistance. But that's what social services do and I'd rather have them get paid a decent wage with labor rights than a convenient app that undercuts workers benefits.

The reason why I'm being so pissy and adding to the sanctimony is that I really don't want to see "But Sharting Economy is Good for Mentally Ill and Disabled People!" Yikes, please let's not do that. Let's not see that used as a reason to supplant social services with appsploitation.

I'll now bow out because I won't be able to conduct myself civilly on this one.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 11:51 PM on January 7, 2016 [38 favorites]


I've been waiting for the regulatory folks to clamp down on these services for a while now. I'm amazed the taxi/limousine companies haven't been able to force regulations on Lyft and Uber somewhere.

In the meantime though the lesson for me is to not mess around with nuanced ratings for services I use. Unless I specifically believe someone is unqualified they will get five star feedback.

There is a clear demand for these services and were they paid a bit more equitably I don't believe they're a job beneath anyone's dignity. There are far worse ways to earn your keep.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:51 PM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Meals on Wheels and the ilk aren't accessible everywhere, and usually involve a hell of a lot more paperwork and hassle than people anticipate. I used to help care for a friend with severe disabilities and she wasn't able to access half the resources available to her because they needed much more bureaucratic overhead than she was able to handle. Ordering a pizza or a burrito or a cleaning service is a hell of a lot more simpler - no forms, no need to prove how "disabled" you really are, no questions asked.

I was extremely lucky to get access to any kind of social service while I was in the Bay Area on a student/OPT visa because it's a sanctuary city, which means your immigration status can't be used against you - it was a LIFESAVER when I suddenly ran out of psych meds and my stupid student health insurance wouldn't cover psychiatry. I got signed onto Medi-Cal and got free meds. But again, I was hella lucky. I was in Australia for 5 years ish, on either a student visa or a bridging visa, and I did not qualify for any sort of social service whatsoever except for Medicare (thank fucking God). There were times where I could have desperately used a carer but I would be ineligible for one because of my immigration status. The Government wouldn't give a shit, so what else was there to do?

Don't take my words as me endorsing exploitation. In any system, Government or corporate or otherwise, somebody's exploited somewhere and we need to fix that. But that doesn't mean we need to demonize anyone making use of the resources that are actually available to them.

(And that comment about how you somehow managed to get a pizza even with a psychotic episode is unnecessary. There's no need to start comparing levels of disability here.)
posted by divabat at 12:01 AM on January 8, 2016 [31 favorites]


Being in the bay area right now is a little surreal. There is an app for everything. I can have someone else spend their Saturday picking up my long grocery list, and then another person will drive it to my door, for six dollars. Food prices same as in store, they'll even go weigh things out from the bulk bins or go the meat counter. $6 is a recent increase from $4. I don't have a car - why wouldn't I use it? But how can it possibly make economic sense? And how can you know how these workers are paid or treated? Are they employees? Uber style "contractors"? Who knows?

There are more than a few different on demand laundry apps. I think I saw a subway ad for one specifically for app based alcohol delivery. My friend works for a weed delivery app. He complains that their better funded competitor has so much VC cash that they just employ people to basically drive around and hand out free weed all day. Endless promotions and discounts, so that they can show user engagement growth to the same investors who are paying for all that bud. Crazy.

I don't think people outside the bay understand the extent of it. If the labor laws around independent contractors are not enforced, this will be the future of work for a lot of jobs. All the risk is being shifted on to an ever more precarious worker, summoned by app. In Silicon Valley bullshit speak, they say "these apps are just platforms creating markets".

'm amazed the taxi/limousine companies haven't been able to force regulations on Lyft and Uber somewhere.

Yellow Cab just filed for bankruptcy in San Francisco.
posted by bradbane at 12:03 AM on January 8, 2016 [21 favorites]


Not sure what pains me more, that smart people out of most likely Stanford and Berkeley are the ones enabling these exploitation technologies, or that intelligent people from Stanford and Berkeley haven't been more vocal in articulating criticism and proposing alternatives. Are there no good scholarly papers on this new category of businesses?
posted by polymodus at 12:06 AM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


polymodus: The people I know from those institutions have been speaking out, but they've generally been more activisty about it rather than academic.
posted by divabat at 12:07 AM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


To be utterly clear about it, these companies are exploitative and mistreat their "contractors," should be regulated, etc. I am just way burnt out on public dialogue in Seattle that shunts all rhetorical blame for this economic shift onto a supposed class of entitled infantilized bad-mannered tech bros, as though nobody else uses Uber, as though we were all given a choice to reject or accept the new "sharing" economy before it was upon us and only the weak capitulated. And I'm probably projecting that onto the thread here.
posted by thetortoise at 12:16 AM on January 8, 2016 [21 favorites]


Don't take my words as me endorsing exploitation.

Divabat, I know I said I'd bow out, but wanted to say that I appreciate what you're saying. I just perceived that direction coming up and it creeped me out. I hear too much rationalizing of this fucked economic system and perceived a bad turn coming and wanted to head it off at the pass. I did it with an iron fist and a bit of mouth-foam, and I apologize, but seeing my illness potentially used as an angle for justifying a bad system made me a bit postal.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 12:17 AM on January 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


Thanks. I'd ask you to not invalidate my experiences with disability either: your comment came off as "I'm more disabled than you but I'm not as lazy, just shut up and suck it up" and it was close to making me postal too.
posted by divabat at 12:20 AM on January 8, 2016 [17 favorites]


I apologize; I'm not the most sympathetic person in the world, and my bipolar rage does grab my tongue on occasion. Mea Culpa.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 12:22 AM on January 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


I've been grouchy about the so-called sharing economy for quite a while, because they steal the lingo of co-operatives without adhering to the core co-operative principle of democratic control by the members.
Uber, if really a sharing economy, could be a driver controlled co-op, similar to traditional cab companies organised this way, but with a technological update.

As said in the article, Canada's major centres are having big debates about uber right now. Here's an article about the recent cab protest in Toronto, which raises some interesting questions.
posted by chapps at 12:27 AM on January 8, 2016 [10 favorites]


Why shouldn't we have other people deliver our burritos? The problem is that the guy who delivers the burritos doesn't get paid for shit (and some related problems).

Why shouldn't we have people deliver our burritos? Because we have literally never paid them appropriately for this type of work, and it has never been on the cards. "Delivering burritos" in the context of modern society almost necessarily means being underpaid.

Are delivery services potentially useful? Yes. Are services like Uber successful because of problems with how public transport work? Yes. But the solution here is to fix public transport and services not pretend like it's okay to screw a whole class is people just because we, as a society, have allowed necessary public services and infrastructure to be degraded, privatised, undermined, or just plain discarded.
posted by Dysk at 12:27 AM on January 8, 2016 [33 favorites]


And re burrito delivery, Shift Co-op in Vancouver delivers by bike, and are a worker co-op.
Very cool, and they've been pretty successful.
posted by chapps at 12:30 AM on January 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


(Shift delivers for tacofino. Not burritos, but close!)
posted by chapps at 12:32 AM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


To be utterly clear about it, these companies are exploitative and mistreat their "contractors," should be regulated, etc. I am just way burnt out on public dialogue in Seattle that shunts all rhetorical blame for this economic shift onto a supposed class of entitled infantilized bad-mannered tech bros, as though nobody else uses Uber, as though we were all given a choice to reject or accept the new "sharing" economy before it was upon us and only the weak capitulated. And I'm probably projecting that onto the thread here.


I have this thought a lot in these threads too because at least if you live in the Bay it's apparent that many of these services - especially things like Uber that are actually, you know, useful - are used at least a little bit by people across a pretty significant swath of the socioeconomic spectrum, though like most things the relatively wealthy probably get the most out of them and the poorest very little. That's why in my last comment I pointed my finger more at VCs blowing money on dumb bandwagon ideas than people ordering burritos. On the other hand as I said in the Paul Graham thread, poor people shop at WalMart a lot - that doesn't mean WalMart does good for poverty overall and in fact there's something of a self-perpetuating cycle.

I've explained my complex feelings about this stuff before though. I think there are genuine upsides of the electronically-mediated piecework model from multiple perspectives - it just seems like a lot of these companies are sorta running a scam on labor/the government/investors right now.
posted by atoxyl at 12:37 AM on January 8, 2016 [12 favorites]


And to be clear - renting ain't sharing, which should be a warning sign.
posted by atoxyl at 12:40 AM on January 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


I can have someone else spend their Saturday picking up my long grocery list, and then another person will drive it to my door, for six dollars. Food prices same as in store, they'll even go weigh things out from the bulk bins or go the meat counter. [..] But how can it possibly make economic sense? And how can you know how these workers are paid or treated?

You can look at that six dollar price tag and immediately know that there's no way that any employee is being paid enough.
posted by Dysk at 1:05 AM on January 8, 2016 [14 favorites]


We've had at least one FPP about Indian tiffin wallahs who have a hugely sophisticated system to bring workers their lunch "steaming hot straight from your wife's kitchen". This is probably less exploitative than that; it certainly doesn't rely on an implicit contract that one spouse stays at home.

No. The exploitation is not in the nature of the work, but in the fact that the Uber-type companies have taken over the system in order to extract maximum rent from the process. People have worked in this way all over the world for centuries, if not millennia. It's certainly something that one might have hoped we'd largely evolved our way out of, but apparently not. What the Ubermenschen have done is colonise that space: their end goal is that if you want to participate in a particular market you must accept serfdom. The gender breakdown of the tiffin wallah system is functionally irrelevant to this.

Disruption is just rent-seeking behaviour. The dominance of influence of finance over the political process has resulted in an economy that is increasingly constructed primarily or even solely for the benefit of the rentier class. 80s neoliberalism was based on the promise that the benefits of participating in rentier behaviour could be extended to all - in the UK, for example, through the privatisations of the utilities and the sale of council houses - but what we have found is that this is an illusion. Ultimately the benefits make their way up the system to a vanishingly small number of people.

Similarly, the rise of the Ubermenschen acts as a tremendous frictional force upon the areas of the economy they turn their attention to, sucking wealth out of those areas that, if left to an archipelago of independent operators, would be distributed throughout their communities; suppressing the agency and initiative of the operators and reducing them to drones, desperately mugging to their customers in fear of receiving less than full marks for their performance. Individual tasks might be nominally cheaper for the Uberised purchaser, but the social benefit of the non- or pre-Uber system outweighs the higher prices. Especially given that the general trend that Uberisation is a part of is tending to drive down real incomes such that the post-Uber price is not, as a proportion of the purchaser's income, really that much less. While at the same time demanding that the suppliers demonstrate an obsequiousness that Uriah Heep would find embarrassing.

All traditional economics from Adam Smith to Marx tells us that this predominance of the rentier class is a disaster. The mid-twentieth century Keynesian reforms that we saw throughout the world were not a blow against capitalism but a means of preserving it. Everything we understand as prosperity derives from the post World War Two social-democratic reforms, and is dependent on them.

Without those reforms and controls capitalism would just continue merrily on its way towards the catastrophe that looms ahead of us now, since many of those protections have been abolished and their abolition is accelerating rather than abating.

lt:dr - Uber: Bad for drivers, bad for communities, bad for capitalism.
posted by Grangousier at 1:15 AM on January 8, 2016 [56 favorites]


It's the usual capitalist huge waste of human potential - these people, who simply statistically tend to have more skills than just burrito delivery, are being channeled into burrito delivery because as a society we've decided that we won't pay for more teachers, for road repair, for people to help care for the frail, for libraries, etc.

That's just inequality for you.

We visited a third world country and had a tour guide for a few days that was hugely talented - natural leader, managing teams of 20 people to run tours for up to 20 tourists at once. Very high influencing skills. Says he graduated top in the state for maths and got a full scholarship at university and went into academia. Decided it didn't pay enough. I reckon he'd rise up to senior management in any MNC if he was given the chance. We tipped him the equivalent of a month's wages after our tour.
posted by xdvesper at 1:23 AM on January 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


I used deliver food in a PostMates like model. We would pickup food from a restaurant and deliver it to people's homes. I was an independent contractor with no guaranteed minimum wage (oh and I had to provide my own tuxedo shirt and tie as the company was called Butler's Service). Our smartphone app routing system was the owner calling me on a cellular bag phone and directing to me the next restaurant and house. I had to use maps, made out of paper! I basically made a fixed amount per delivery plus tips. I averaged about $18/hr in 1989, that average includes some nights when literally we got no calls. I almost prefer it to my privileged techie job I have today, I spent most of the time driving in my car listening to music or books on tape, and got to see mostly nice people every 5 minutes out of 40-60 - not a bad deal.

I just - what in god's name is wrong with people out there? Why can't they get their own burritos?

I just don't get the outrage, Frowner. Could someone poorer than you not say, "What in god's name is wrong with Frowner, with him purchasing burritos made by somebody else instead of taking just a few minutes to make them himself." It's literally the same argument, actually I would probably guess the average guy making the burrito is making less that the guy delivering it. It also could probably be argued that it takes less time to make a burrito than to deliver one, assuming you did some sort of pre-prepping. Why do you buy burritos instead of make them, because in this case you've decided to pay for convenience. What's next someone could then jump on that guy and say, "what's wrong with x buying rice and beans from the store instead of growing them themselves". Ad infinitum. People pay for convenience, everybody does to some extent. Time is literally money. I think it's easy to look at the financial rung above you and say, "what an entitled jerk", while at the same time you surely are making some time/money trade offs that someone on the financial rung below you would not understand.

All that said, I'm actually a bit leery of the "sharing economy" because I feel like once someone is driving for Uber in their off hours, perpetually renting out a room in their house on air bnb and living their lifestyle so that it requires all this extra work to support it. It leaves that person with very little room for error. If they get sick or there is a major downturn in tourism to the area or whatever, they are already maxed out on all their extra money opportunities. However, what are we going to do outlaw Uber like services? Maybe it's because it's still relatively new but every time I talk to an Uber driver they seem to enjoy it as much as any other non-professional job.

Completely tangentially, I love Lyft. I take care of and live with my mentally handicapped sister, she had an anoxic stroke as a baby, so while she is reasonably capable, she does not drive, is 95% deaf, can't do math or manage money whatsoever - if she gave a taxi driver $100 bill for a $9 ride the taxi driver could give her a quarter back and she would say thanks and go one with her day, lastly she is an attractive girl that trusts absolutely anyone. I would never let her take a cab for all those reasons. With Lyft there is no money, I get an email anytime she goes somewhere with the ID of the driver and where she is going, I can put in her profile that she is deaf but can read lips. I know it's a pretty special case but it's literally changed her life to be able to go to her speech therapy, Starbucks or lunch of whatever without having work around my work schedule and she has never had a bad experience with a driver (yet).
posted by ill3 at 1:30 AM on January 8, 2016 [21 favorites]


I can have someone else spend their Saturday picking up my long grocery list, and then another person will drive it to my door, for six dollars. Food prices same as in store, they'll even go weigh things out from the bulk bins or go the meat counter. [..] But how can it possibly make economic sense? And how can you know how these workers are paid or treated?

You can look at that six dollar price tag and immediately know that there's no way that any employee is being paid enough.


I think that is a very bold assumption. As I mentioned in my post above I used to deliver food from restaurants to houses. I think we had an $8 delivery fee, guess what I got paid per delivery (not including tip) ... $10. How does that work? Because the company I worked for drove volume for the restaurants. It allowed them to sell food without taking up tables, dirtying dishes, or using server's time. For those reasons, the restaurant gave our company a 20% discount on the food.
posted by ill3 at 1:34 AM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


So, nothing is as exploitative as it first seems, but nothing is consequence-free. That leaves us ... exactly where we are right now.
posted by Chitownfats at 1:42 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


But the solution here is to fix public transport and services not pretend like it's okay to screw a whole class is people just because we, as a society, have allowed necessary public services and infrastructure to be degraded, privatised, undermined, or just plain discarded.
thank you Dysk for articulating that.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 1:54 AM on January 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


. Why shouldn't we have people deliver our burritos? Because we have literally never paid them appropriately for this type of work, and it has never been on the cards. "Delivering burritos" in the context of modern society almost necessarily means being underpaid.

Modern society does not end at the borders of the USA and it turns out it includes quite a lot of places where "we" have actually paid them a pretty decent wage, so I think your argument is completely invalid.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 2:10 AM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I know it doesn't end at the US borders. I've never been to the US. I come from Denmark, which is generally one of the better countries in the modern world for paying people toward the bottom of the job and social ladder comparatively well. Even there (or Norway, Sweden, or anywhere else you care to mention) delivery people are amongst the worst paid in society, and paid wages that I personally consider scandalous.

Because basically universally, modern humanity does not consider delivering things to be, particularly consumables, to be worth much money or respect. Not in practice.
posted by Dysk at 2:40 AM on January 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


bradbane - their better funded competitor has so much VC cash that they just employ people to basically drive around and hand out free weed all day. Endless promotions and discounts, so that they can show user engagement growth to the same investors who are paying for all that bud. Crazy.

Cheech and Chong look on in amazement, also the tax dodging Snoop Dogg/Lion is wondering why Leafs By Snoop isn't doing this.
posted by asok at 3:13 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


While it is nice to be able to take advantage of the low prices that VC funded operations like Uber offer at the moment, their destructive approach to the market will not leave the consumer better off if they dominate it. Their existence relies on better regulated and taxed operators being there to undercut. It is not a long term business model.
posted by asok at 3:18 AM on January 8, 2016 [15 favorites]


Slight derail, but wanted to give some props to Divabat and WesleyWillis for being an example of why I like Mefi comment threads: people are willing to admit they were wrong and apologize (this may belong in that other thread on writing defensively).

On topic, and I know it's an unpopular opinion around here, but Uber etc exists because taxis, by and large, were bad. They were bad for the drivers and they were bad for the customers. This may not be universally true, of course (here's that defensive writing again..), but in my large metro area, as recently as 5 years ago, if I called a cab, there was about a 5% chance it would show up within an hour. Drivers were (still are?) treated like strippers: they had to pay the cab company/owner up front and it took them 6-8 hours just to get back to zero. I can't be sure, but I'm guessing the taxi companies weren't at the forefront of providing benefits to their drivers, either.

Uber is skirting regulation, and to some extent exploiting their workforce, but (despite being routinely mocked for saying so) the vast majority of drivers I talk to seem to genuinely enjoy, or at least not mind, doing it. That climbs to 100% for the drivers who have previous experience driving cabs.

Perfect world: yeah, Uber provides benefits to its employees and stops calling them independent contractors. But the current world is still better than the previous Taxi system (according to the drivers who've done both, in my metro area).

And it's all kind of a moot point anyway, as all the Uber drivers will be out of work in 5 years when the robo-Ubers hit the streets.
posted by booooooze at 4:35 AM on January 8, 2016 [19 favorites]


  what in god's name is wrong with people out there?

Nothing that a few dog-turd burritos delivered by disgruntled human app-droids won't fix.

(and obligatory mention of Here Comes the Airplane)
posted by scruss at 4:46 AM on January 8, 2016


Deliver a man a burrito and we'll pay you $10-$26 an hour. Teach a man to do more than deliver a burrito and we won't value your job enough to ensure you could be our customer.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:53 AM on January 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


Existential Dread: "If you guarantee earnings by demanding a level of commitment that no longer allows drivers to contract with Uber's competitors, they are a de facto employee of Uber and not an 'independent contractor.'"
Of course, the Germans have a word for that: Scheinselbständigkeit.
posted by brokkr at 5:01 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I can understand the objections to the mindset behind these startups but some people here seem to be acting like food delivery is some new weird thing.
posted by octothorpe at 5:03 AM on January 8, 2016 [11 favorites]




If you're in San Francisco, are LGBTQ or allied, have a car, and need work, Homobiles (which provides donation-based rides in the Bay Area to marginalized folk) is looking for drivers.
posted by divabat at 5:22 AM on January 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


Uber, Lyft drivers know they will be replaced by self-driving cars.

You know, I think the venture capitalists already gave a good indication on how that will turn out: They don't like drivers who have trouble with English.

In the end, I think there will be a market for both, i.e. human drivers for those who appreciate a bit of human interaction and robo drivers for the rest.
posted by sour cream at 5:50 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


This all feels like it is part and parcel with what has been going on with the massive increase in adjunct professors at colleges and universities. What was meant to be part-time work for a little side money becomes people desperately trying to put enough together to make a living.

The growth of the gig economy is probably why there have been more mutterings about things like guaranteed income or distributionism.
posted by charred husk at 5:54 AM on January 8, 2016 [14 favorites]


When you make (for instance) $120k/year, that is literally $57.69 an hour before taxes. And when people pay you that much money, they expect that you don't spend an hour going out and getting your own lunch. They expect you to order in.

andreaazure: I would argue that's bad logic. If you've hired someone valuable enough to pay them $120K/year you want them to be as productive as possible. And while there certainly will be crunch times, e.g., right before a delivery date, if the day-to-day regular working environment is stressing people out so badly they can't take a break for lunch then something is wrong. It's not sustainable or healthy. Perhaps a contributing factor to the company you worked for going belly up 18 months after you joined it?
posted by Dean358 at 5:55 AM on January 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


You can look at that six dollar price tag and immediately know that there's no way that any employee is being paid enough.

Can you? This is the bizarro economy where VC money keeps these services burning cash without having any pretense of making a profit or attempting to show cash flow. Instacart does hire the shoppers as employees and I think it does pay reasonably. That money is coming out of the magical VC money faucet, not from the $6 delivery fee.
posted by bradbane at 7:04 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


To me the most enlightening comment in this thread has been this one from andreaazure:

And when people pay you that much money, they expect that you don't spend an hour going out and getting your own lunch. They expect you to order in...You will spend $300/mo for that parking space next to the office instead of taking mass transit. You will get your laundry done by others instead of doing it yourself....You will take a cab from the stand outside (this was right before Uber / Lyft) so you don't waste time parking.

If it was just lazy people using these services, fine, although I still take umbrage at the techies who say they are "changing the world" and "disrupting" when they work on shit like this. I've frequently used Eat24 myself (although I think I'm done with that forever now). But what it's doing in San Francisco is creating a class of people who never, ever have to engage with the reality of the city. Lyft has these ads right now that drive me nuts, with a map (ostensibly of Lyft rides) going in every direction overlaid over a MUNI metro map, as if to say "See how limited public transit is? See how much farther you can go if you have money?"

And yeah, there's nothing inherently undignified in burrito delivery, but when SFUSD can't pay teachers enough to stay here... I dunno, it's a little fucked up. I'm an editor, not an economist; I don't have any deep insight into what I see happening in front of me, but I sense that it has eroded much of what I loved about the city.
posted by sunset in snow country at 7:10 AM on January 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


If these companies were really smart, they'd get together and lobby hard for socialized health care. Otherwise they'll end up running into a breaking point (and some markets I think they're starting to) where they'll have to start giving these folk benefits that will eat up all their profits. The health care is probably the biggest and most important part of that for a lot of their contractors employees and a lot of the pressure to actually start treating their employees as employees would dissipate.
posted by VTX at 7:16 AM on January 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


I should add, I think the reason that teachers are leaving the city and delivery drivers are proliferating is not because delivery pays any better, but because there was never any expectation that you would be able to raise a family or even live alone as a delivery driver, whereas a teacher might once have hoped for that. (Can't speak for Uber, I do hear some tall tales about the money you can make there.) The one guy I know who delivers for Postmates is 29 and lives at home with his family. He's perfectly happy that way, but the rest of us have to face a choice sooner or later.
posted by sunset in snow country at 7:34 AM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


In January 2015, Uber announced it would guarantee earnings of between $10 and $26 an hour depending on peak hours.

Here's the thing. My own estimate of how much you have to make as an 'independent contractor' is you start by doubling your usual hourly rate just to break even vs a regular salary. You might have to go up or down from there--more likely up than down.

That is because: You have to pay extra taxes, you have to pay all insurance, you have a pile of unpaid administrative and paperwork duties that your employer usually takes on, you won't be able to fill all your available hours so you have to make more on the hours you do fill to make up for it, you don't have any paid vacation or sick leave, you have to pay full retail for any type of "benefits" a regular job provides you, etc etc etc etc etc.

So DOUBLE the hourly salary of your comparable salaried job is your starting point.

In addition to that you must have all EXPENSES covered. So that means in this case, Uber should start out by paying you the standard IRS mileage rate, which is 57.5 cents per mile. This is NOT INCOME at all but simply (and pretty exactly) covers your full actual costs of providing the vehicle for this job.

So, take the supposed $26/hour, subtract out all mileage at 57.5 cents per mile, and then divide the result in half.

It's most likely not even minimum wage.

And that is the BEST case scenario. The supposed $10/hour rate is going to net out to well below $5/hour in reality.

One reason they succeed in ripping us off is we can't do a little basic math and everyone tends to discount costs like mileage and taxes as insignificant or something to worry about later--when from a business viewpoint, they are not at all.
posted by flug at 7:40 AM on January 8, 2016 [26 favorites]


Here's the thing. My own estimate of how much you have to make as an 'independent contractor' is you start by doubling your usual hourly rate just to break even vs a regular salary. You might have to go up or down from there--more likely

Speaking as a freelancer of more than 10 years, this is absolutely true.
posted by thivaia at 7:46 AM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


In re: Stanford and Berkeley, at least for Stanford, kids go there to learn from and network with the appsploiters. This is in large part the value of a Stanford education.
posted by Existential Dread at 7:47 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


If I'm paying someone $120k a year I want productivity out of them and I'm a skilled enough manager to understand that productivity is not exclusively tied to amount of hours sitting in front of a computer screen cranking out code. Letting people have an hour off of work to eat lunch at a local restaurant allows them to decompress and bond with their peers and come back refreshed and ready to put in more hours with a higher degree of productivity.

Forcing people to scarf down a burrito in 10 minutes at their desk because you gotta maximize the amount of time in the office is frankly shitty management and is almost certain to result in people recapturing their lunch hour through other mechanisms.

The simple fact of the matter is that humans need to break up the day in order to maximize productivity and expecting people to work through lunch or pull over in the middle of traffic to answer a work email is a sub-optimal use of resources but unfortunately about 95% of managers operating in the tech sector have absolutely no clue as to industrial psychology and still continue to do crap like crunch-time sprints in order to meet stupidly optimistic sales release schedules and project timelines even though research consistently shows this is a suboptimal management methodology.
posted by vuron at 7:48 AM on January 8, 2016 [20 favorites]


VTX: If these companies were really smart, they'd get together and lobby hard for socialized health care.

And they could even team up with Small Business Councils and whatnot, because small businesses actually face hurdles to staying competitive while providing benefits for their employees. But "benefits" have been re-spun as "entitlements" in political discussions, so the first hurdle is re-framing the discussion before even getting to why a single-payer system would save the economy SO MUCH MONEY in real money, as well as cost-savings from more people getting preventative care (and thus having more "productive time").

Meanwhile, in New Mexico: Uber is welcomed to the Albuquerque airport in a 6 month trial deal -- "We want to be a city of innovation; we want to be a forward-thinking city," [Mayor] Berry told reporters Tuesday. "Uber has contracts and agreements with cities all over the United State and all over the world. There’s no reason Albuquerque, N.M. should be in a situation where we can’t provide the opportunity for the citizens here."
posted by filthy light thief at 7:48 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I should add, I think the reason that teachers are leaving the city and delivery drivers are proliferating is not because delivery pays any better

Another factor is that teachers are like nurses, doctors, and other credentialed professionals: their education and experience are highly portable and they can relatively easily go anywhere in the country (or world) where a school district is hiring for their specialty. People who for whatever reason can't easily leave (perhaps because they lack that credential, or they need to stay for family reasons) or simply like the city and want to stay will do what is needed to make things work, including taking on whatever informal work is available.

When I was in grad school a hot area of study was the informal economy in cities like Lima and Jakarta -- the millions upon millions of people who are gainfully employed but in less than entirely formal settings, largely outside of the oversight of worker safety laws and minimum wage requirements, and without benefits. Most people involved saw the likely future as one of increased protections for those workers and the gradual incorporation of that informal economy into the formal one in those places; I don't recall predictions instead of this rapid growth of informality and insecurity in the US economy.

We already have long-term tent encampments in many places. I predict that within a decade we will start seeing shantytowns popping up, along with more tenements and other informal housing for the poor. What would be a better match for the gig economy than gig housing?
posted by Dip Flash at 7:51 AM on January 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


(Can't speak for Uber, I do hear some tall tales about the money you can make there.)

One way companies like this take advantage of the human cognitive biases is to throw out things like $26/hour salary--knowing that everyone will compare it with a regular salaried position @ $26/hour, when that is actually not a valid comparison at all (as I detailed at length above).

Another way is, people tend to come up with best-case scenarios and then extrapolate from there.

I am quite sure there are cases when Uber drivers have been able to make $75/hour or maybe even $200-$300/hour or whatever. Thus, tall tales that are "true".

But making that once in a while for an hour or two is a far cry from being able to make it consistently, day in and day out.

People remember the one hour last week when they made $50/hour and assume they can do that 20 hours/week and make $1000/week. Sweet!

And a result of our cognitive biases ignoring a few facts, such as that we actually made $50/hour for two hours and $7/hour for most of the rest, and also that there are a bunch of expenses we forgot to factor in.

Business people spend their entire days thinking about ramifications like this--they are well aware of expenses, variability of income, etc etc. They have relatively sophisticated financial analyses at their fingertips.

The average person uses a few mental shortcuts and their feeling about how things are going, and ends up getting screwed big time because their feelings for this sort of thing are wrong.

"Exploiting human cognitive biases for fun and profit" could probably describe the entire economy in some ways, but it seems a particularly apt fit for this so-called "sharing" economy.
posted by flug at 7:52 AM on January 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


Frowner: I sure hope we have a few more years in flyover country before we catch whatever moral disease is going around out there.

If "flyover country" is anyplace between the coasts, Nashville has already gotten that disease, and fast. And I know that Nashville isn't the only between-the-coasts city that people from the coasts are fleeing to in order to escape the cost of the coasts.

polymodus: Not sure what pains me more, that smart people out of most likely Stanford and Berkeley are the ones enabling these exploitation technologies, or that intelligent people from Stanford and Berkeley haven't been more vocal in articulating criticism and proposing alternatives.

Some intelligent people from Stanford and Berkeley are likely proposing alternatives, but there are likely others who are just in it for themselves (see Existential Dread's comment above) and/or trying to survive the high cost of having attended Stanford and Berkeley.
posted by blucevalo at 7:54 AM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


nooooooo Albuquerque is my secret dream location for when I'm finally forced out of SF

I can't move there anyway for complicated family reasons but don't ruin my fantasy

(Honestly, if Uber et al ever somehow did manage to pull off single-payer healthcare in the US, I would gracefully accept the fact that they chewed up the city of my birth and spit out the husk, thank them, and quietly move to Sacramento.)
posted by sunset in snow country at 7:55 AM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


My considered opinion is that if your time is so valuable the world would be split in twain should you walk to Chipotle and stand in line, you should probably consider inventing a bold new technology to let you bring a prepared meal from home and keep it cold at the office until you're ready to eat. Call it Frdg.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:17 AM on January 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


So, what is funding this magical VC faucet?
posted by Slackermagee at 8:30 AM on January 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


The author claimed to be a "free-lancer filmmaker". You bet.
If he wants to live in an expensive city and have some sort of nonstandard career, he might be advised to think about how he's going to afford that. Delivering burritos is a far cry from coal mining or working on a fishing boat or digging ditches.


This argument can make sense on the individual level, but it breaks down in the aggregate. If this "free-lancer filmmaker" wished to make enough to afford to live in his expensive city, how does he do that? A "practical career?" So, what's that?

The stock answer - and I don't know that you were implying this, necessarily - is programming. It's in demand! It pays well! You can sign up for a bootcamp! But not everyone can be a programmer, not everyone wants to be a programmer, and not everyone should be a programmer. And you know what? If everyone were a programmer, programmers would be paid a lot less.

It always grinds my gears when I hear stuff like that - "you want to be a freelance writer? How about you study engineering? Get a practical STEM degree!" But if everyone got a practical STEM degree and was in the market for a practical STEM job, guess what? Even if those people were truly qualified (a big if), those jobs would pay shite. That's supply and demand for you. Somehow the sages who dispense this advice miss this incredibly crucial point.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:33 AM on January 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


Venture capital. The San Francisco economy is slowly(?) transforming into an extremely complex mechanism whereby app developers give each other money via "independent contractors" while seeking to minimize the cost of making such transactions.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:34 AM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I have mentioned Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London on the Blue before, but for some reason certain passages like this one (about hotel dishwashers, called plongeurs) keep coming back to me.
Suppose it is granted that a _plongeur's_ work is more or less useless. Then the question follows, Why does anyone want him to go on working? I am trying to go beyond the immediate economic cause, and to consider what pleasure it can give anyone to think of men swabbing dishes for life. For there is no doubt that people--comfortably situated people--do find a pleasure in such thoughts. A slave, Marcus Cato said, should be working when he is not sleeping. It does not matter whether his work is needed or not, he must work, because work in itself is good--for slaves, at least. This sentiment still survives, and it has piled up mountains of useless drudgery.

I believe that this instinct to perpetuate useless work is, at bottom, simply fear of the mob. The mob (the thought runs) are such low animals that they would be dangerous if they had leisure; it is safer to keep them too busy to think. A rich man who happens to be intellectually honest, if he is questioned about the improvement of working conditions, usually says something like this:

'We know that poverty is unpleasant; in fact, since it is so remote, we rather enjoy harrowing ourselves with the thought of its unpleasantness. But don't expect us to do anything about it. We are sorry for you lower classes, just as we are sorry for a, cat with the mange, but we will fight like devils against any improvement of your condition. We feel that you are much safer as you are. The present state of affairs suits us, and we are not going to take the risk of setting you free, even by an extra hour a day. So, dear brothers, since evidently you must sweat to pay for our trips to Italy, sweat and be damned to you.'
posted by Gelatin at 8:52 AM on January 8, 2016 [13 favorites]


Here in New England, the aptly-named cable company Cox is running an ad for their new high-speed Internet access offering. The tagline is, "What will you do with the Gig Life?"

Every time I see or hear it, though, I think of a "gig life" in the sense of all work having gone to the sharing economy. In other words, a life that consists of constant hustling, universal instability, the inability to make long-term plans, and a pervasive sense of uncertainty that comes from never knowing where the next job, meal, or payment will have to come from.

This terrifies me, and it makes me so scared for the future my children will inherit.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:55 AM on January 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


The idea that disabled people should just eat Meals on Wheels and wait for their Access-a-Ride and not be able to use money to participate more fully is just shitty. There is nothing inherently wrong with hiring people to do services for you, be it driving, food delivery, cleaning, laundry, whatever. This fetishizing everyone never outsourcing labor would leave some of us high, dry, and in hell.
posted by corb at 9:06 AM on January 8, 2016 [12 favorites]


Man, I wish it were that easy to get that taxi driver who wanted to make me his second wife or the one who said they won't drive me home at night because it was "too dangerous" fired just by rating them.

I have a friend who picked up a gig with Lyft to make some extra money to make ends meet. It wasn't netting her a lot of cash, but she was doing her best to make a go of it because she really needs the additional income. She was "fired" (or whatever you call it when you get dropped as a "contractor") after putting in a lot of effort to run fares on New Year's Eve, for low ratings. She didn't receive any kind of feedback as to what the problem was. Her car is pretty new and nice, and she's a nice person. So, now that's ruined for her, and what recourse does she have? Hooray for something I guess.
posted by trunk muffins at 9:19 AM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


The idea that disabled people should just eat Meals on Wheels and wait for their Access-a-Ride and not be able to use money to participate more fully is just shitty. There is nothing inherently wrong with hiring people to do services for you, be it driving, food delivery, cleaning, laundry, whatever. This fetishizing everyone never outsourcing labor would leave some of us high, dry, and in hell.

One of the many ways the “sharing economy” is toxic is that it leads us to equate the idea of paying people to perform “everyday” services like fetching lunch or doing laundry with a concerted effort to drive down wages, employment conditions and overall standard of living for the people doing the work – and to assume that such services are catering to entitled laziness rather than an actual inability to do those things for oneself unassisted.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:42 AM on January 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


So, what is funding this magical VC faucet?

The way I've seen it explained, the VC-funded startup economy is best understood as a kind of distributed R&D. Investors put their money in a whole bunch of different startups and wait to see which ones succeed; they can afford to throw gobs of money at the 19 failures because the 20th nets them an obscene return -- which usually happens when someone like Google buys the company, either to acquire their product/personnel or to eliminate a competitor.
posted by Gerald Bostock at 9:47 AM on January 8, 2016


If he wants to live in an expensive city and have some sort of nonstandard career, he might be advised to think about how he's going to afford that.

The thing is, in less than 8 years this has gone from the kind of thing you could realistically do and have say, a small studio apartment in a semi-crappy but ok building on like, a ~ 25 hour/wk part time grocery store or food service job. At least in seattle, which is becoming one of the most expensive cities in the damn country. Rent has probably gone up around 100% since ten in my observation.

Raising wages on those kinds of jobs that much does not amount to a princely sum, nor would it destroy the viability of any of those services. Despite what i've seen a bunch of people vehemently argue, you're not going to destroy any of these services by paying everyone like... $18/hour or something.

The fact of the matter is it used to be totally realistic to work a job you didn't really care about to support being a part time filmmaker, and now it's something that's basically only possibly with serious sacrifice of lifestyle(like being 30 and living, by choice, in a basement bedroom of a share house 9 other people live in with a postage stamp sized window in an awkward location. and a really sketchy car, or none at all) or as the after-work hobby of someone with a "middle class" job.

And people wonder why a lot of my musician friends barely make music anymore. The ones who do are REALLY dedicated
posted by emptythought at 9:48 AM on January 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


Private enterprise does a lot of things well, but one thing it doesn't do well is ensure service to everyone who needs to be served. We needed the ADA because market forces generally didn't compel companies to provide equal access to the disabled, just as we needed a US Postal Service that guaranteed delivery to any address even if it wasn't profitable to do so.

The companies that make up the so-called sharing economy have very little accountability to the public, and when their expansion comes at the expense of existing services that have much greater accountability to the public, the result is a net loss of public service except to those who can afford to pay whatever the service providers demand.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:59 AM on January 8, 2016 [22 favorites]


The fact of the matter is it used to be totally realistic to work a job you didn't really care about to support being a part time filmmaker, and now it's something that's basically only possibly with serious sacrifice of lifestyle

I think I need to send your comment to my grandmother who yells at me every Christmas for not being a rich photographer/writer/theater person. She's 95, I don't know how to explain to her that it doesn't work the way she seems to think it does.
posted by dnash at 10:09 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]



Private enterprise does a lot of things well, but one thing it doesn't do well is ensure service to everyone who needs to be served. We needed the ADA because market forces generally didn't compel companies to provide equal access to the disabled, just as we needed a US Postal Service that guaranteed delivery to any address even if it wasn't profitable to do so.


It's worth pointing out that in many places, Uber's ADA compliance strategy is...to funnel those requests to existing ADA compliant livery services. Much like how FedEx and UPS use the USPS for last mile service in many areas.

Which in a way is worse - they don't want to replace all of the livery industry, just the most profitable bits.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:17 AM on January 8, 2016 [10 favorites]


I rode for Postmates. It was actually really fucked up and awful, and it's partially responsible for me ending up homeless again. Because I jumped for the wrong rope. Because Postmates pretty clearly stated hourly earnings in the 20-25 an hour range both in their wanted ads and in the training.

And this simply wasn't true. I know two other riders that jumped at the same dangling rope that also lost their apartments because the amount of hours and physical energy also kept them from finding other jobs or earning other income, and all it takes is about two weeks (or one paycheck) of that before you're screwed, especially after investing your own money in your own supplies and gear to be able to ride and deliver for Postmates.

I worked really hard to try to make it work. I actually really liked the idea of getting paid basically to bike around town playing an augmented reality real world video game. I tried stacking multiple orders, tried making sure I was regularly scheduled to qualify for priority dispatch and orders and more. I was a strong rider with good customer service skills.

In the month and a half or so that I worked there, the 'management' turned over twice (!!), and they were all very hip, energetic mid to late 20 millenial generation types that walked and talked like parodies of characters from Portlandia to the point that it was very, very clear that they weren't selected for their management skills but to sell the brand to the delivery riders/drivers as a lifestyle.

The offices were all very sparse-posh, startup style, and nearly paperless, held in a hip looking old loft with lots of minimalist sandy-blond pine veneer office furniture

If you averaged out how much I actually made per hour, we're talking less than a dollar per hour. That's gross, not net, before any wear and tear on the bike is calculated, the calories i spent mashing it up and down hills or the risk of bodily injury rushing hot food or coffee through traffic. (And that average is significantly and unfairly skewed due to a couple of rare large tips from customers for speedy service.)

The majority of that income is supposed to come from tips. But people basically never, ever tipped, because they assume that the delivery fee is the tip or more than fair enough, because, yeah, why should they tip above and beyond the delivery fee? I mean, when you order a pizza, you tip the driver, right? The price of the pizza pays for the driver's base wage, and the tip is for good service. Wait, you mean you have to pay full price for the meal, then the delivery charge, then tip the delivery-person on top of that? That's lame.

It is not only not communicated to the customers that the deliverers relied on those tips, but the tip part of the sign-off screen on the app was so tiny and below the signature field that few people ever noted it. The few people who did tip would usually ask if they can tip through the app while they were staring right at the screen that has the field for tipping.

And, no, we were not allowed to point out the tip field or bring attention to it, or talk about it in any way, despite these things.

Note that no where in this chain of fees and tips is a method for tipping out the restaurant workers. Postmates real business model seems to involve stealing/arbitrating these tips away from the actual producers of the goods and putting them in the pockets of their delivery riders through their "service".

I quickly learned that the restaurants pretty much universally absolutely hated Postmates.

They hated that Postmates dispatchers would call in their orders too late or too early, or that there was frequent mis-communication between customer, Postmates dispatch, and rider. They hated that the Postmates riders/drivers basically couldn't afford to tip out. They hated that there was some sweaty, grungy bike courier dirtbag pacing around their lobby or in front of their store fussing with their other orders, or constantly pecking at their phone trying to land and line up their next run, and needfully having to pester them about the order they were trying to pick up because the clock was ticking, and they had to keep rolling ASAP like five minutes ago to keep the orders and runs flowing.


My favorite, fastest run involved an order for like 8 bags of kale chips from the Westlake Whole Foods. I was at Cal Anderson park up on Capitol Hill, Seattle. The order came in at 9:58 PM. Whole Foods closes at 10:00. I accepted the order and bombed down from Capitol Hill via Pine to Olive, traversing neatly down Capitol Hill via smaller side streets and alleys. I think I ran at least three red lights. My top speed probably hit 50 mph. (That kind of speed isn't unusual for me on a bike on a good downhill.)

I made it to the front door of Whole Foods at just under 10:01, including locking my bike, just as someone was closing the doors. I begged my way in, assuring him I only had to grab an armful of kale chips for a delivery run. He thankfully let me in. I sprinted through the store, grabbed the kale chips, checked out, and was back on my bike rolling towards SLU by 10:02.

The kale chips were delivered and signed off on just under 10:08 PM. That's under ten minutes from accepting the order to pickup to delivery. For that effort, speed, social hacking and negotiation I received about $3 and a $1 tip.

I remember I kind of broke down and cried after getting away from the building, and I signed out and walked my bike home. I was actually kind of shaking with a mix of frustration and adrenaline, and thinking very clearly "So, you just risked your life and broke multiple traffic laws and biked like a total asshole AND you prevented some workers from going home on time for... what, $4? So someone could have some fucking kale chips because they were too thoughtless or lazy to walk 15 minutes to Whole Foods before it closed? What the fuck are you doing?"

And that was a good run. The bad runs involved whole loads of groceries picked and packed and carried by hand. No tip.

Or the lady who got 8 different hot coffees and hot chocolates delivered cold because the place purposefully made and set them aside to cool for some insane reason, making me wait before trying to bike these damn things up an insanely steep hill in the dark and cold of winter without sloshing them to pieces or freeze solid before they got there. (Yeah, they were cold on arrival. I got a shitty review for it and my rating severely dinged.)

And about the time that I wanted to quit, I noticed that the riders I started with were all quitting or had quit, and that the riders that were there before me were basically all gone, and there was a fresh new crop of inexperienced riders already trying to eat my lunch, and that this turnover was a constant thing, like it was carefully planned.

And the thing is, it doesn't have to suck this bad. It could be a fun living wage job. The Postmates app and platform could be smart enough to negotiate linked runs that were sane, not all the way across town and back again three times in a row. The app and platform could be made bike-friendly and aware of hills and dangerous routes.

But its not. It's very, very clearly gamified against the riders for the purposes of some very fucked up labor arbitrage.

Please don't use Postmates. It's a shitty company that treats their workers like disposable widgets. It lies about potential earnings, and perverts labor rights and labor law and the definition of 'independent contractor" so far that it might as well read "de-facto slave labor."

And you're going to get some broke, desperately hungry rider killed or grievously injured over your lunch because you think your time is too valuable to get or make your own food.
posted by loquacious at 10:51 AM on January 8, 2016 [97 favorites]


To be utterly clear about it, these companies are exploitative and mistreat their "contractors," should be regulated, etc. I am just way burnt out on public dialogue in Seattle that shunts all rhetorical blame for this economic shift onto a supposed class of entitled infantilized bad-mannered tech bros, as though nobody else uses Uber, as though we were all given a choice to reject or accept the new "sharing" economy before it was upon us and only the weak capitulated. And I'm probably projecting that onto the thread here.

Sorry, but as someone who has one foot in the "techbro" industry(i'm in IT support/network engineering/back end stuff) and friends in dev/etc, some who work for startups and some who even moved to the bay... And the other foot in well, all my old friends from high school and college and beyond and their friends, including a bunch of people who ride for postmates and prime now and stuff....

It's true. Yea the discourse can get annoying, but it's true.

You might use these services a couple times and week and go "but everybody does it!", but the comment up thread about how you spend your 120k is completely true. "Techbros" use these services multiple times a day. There's a SIGNIFICANT number of people who get all their groceries delivered, or order 2-3 or even more times per day from postmates, take lyft/uber to work, to the bar, and then home, then to work again... etc.

Sometimes i see photos of the ridiculous things people order. People who live their entire lives in these services.

Saying everyone is part of the problem is like saying you're guilty for driving a diesel car when there's container ships, or ignoring agriculture in california water use, or something.

I'm not saying these delivery-of-everything-at-starvation-wages services necessarily wouldn't be viable with only the Average Person not making Big Tech Bucks using them, but i'm saying that all of us out there making 50k or less are just not the people primarily pumping this handcar or making it a booming thing where these are all multimillion dollar startups.

Pretty much, if you use these services once in a while you're a loogie in the ocean. It's like getting bent out of shape over stopping in at walmart during a road trip and supporting the ~evil corporation~. There's people who drop like $100 a day, if not twice that on these services in aggregate. You need real money, or a very decent paying job and to be a single young person with no real outside expenses or commitments to afford that.

$100 a day isn't that unrealistic either. Lets say that's every working day plus some weekend days. That's what, 25-30k a year? That's not that ridiculous if you're young and not saving.
posted by emptythought at 10:52 AM on January 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


On topic, and I know it's an unpopular opinion around here, but Uber etc exists because taxis, by and large, were bad. They were bad for the drivers and they were bad for the customers. This may not be universally true, of course (here's that defensive writing again..), but in my large metro area, as recently as 5 years ago, if I called a cab, there was about a 5% chance it would show up within an hour.

I don't think most people who disagree with Uber have a problem with that statement, and probably support it. (Other than this whole moralistic derail on what is an acceptable service to pay for and what isn't.) The problem is, and has always been their business practices. The Uber app is a great technology and was really quite innovative when it came out. The problem is, instead of say selling the idea to cab companies and selling a product like a normal company, or actually buying a fleet and hiring drivers for their service, they instead deciding to milk people for as much money and profit they can.


You can look at that six dollar price tag and immediately know that there's no way that any employee is being paid enough.

That's not true at all. That same delivery person can be collecting 4 or 5 orders at the same time. As always, all of the problems with these services are their employment practices, not the economies of scale. A grocery delivery service that actually had infrastructure, an investment in the community (including local business partners), and proper subjugation of labor (some people are packers, some people are drivers, etc.) Could easily charge $6 per delivery. Probably even less if they could get enough base customers.

The problem is we have these apps and services that basically go "Here you go! Make this happen! We developed this app and run a web-server so we deserve all of your money now."
posted by mayonnaises at 11:07 AM on January 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


If these companies were really smart, they'd get together and lobby hard for socialized health care.

The Uber guy actually got a lot of shit for talking about how good ACA was for them and I had a fairly popular comment here about how I thought that was misguided. But then until they're putting up money to lobby for socialized healthcare it doesn't really mean shit does it? And would they feel the same if their taxes were raised to pay for it?
posted by atoxyl at 11:12 AM on January 8, 2016


The problem is we have these apps and services that basically go "Here you go! Make this happen! We developed this app and run a web-server so we deserve all of your money now."

Also, they're being designed for people whose time is "too valuable" to spend taking care of themselves, meaning Goal One is to force costs as low as they can possibly go and quality, personalized service delivered by a well-trained and enthusiastic staff is Goal Fuck You, Peasant.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:14 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


And you're going to get some broke, desperately hungry rider killed or grievously injured over your lunch because you think your time is too valuable to get or make your own food.

"That's a great story. What do you call it?"

"The disruptocrats!"

(In all seriousness, loquacious, thanks so much for sharing your story here.)
posted by tonycpsu at 11:20 AM on January 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


It's not sustainable or healthy. Perhaps a contributing factor to the company you worked for going belly up 18 months after you joined it?

To clarify my prior comment: I am not at all claiming that the "compress time with money" thing is healthy. I can say with no doubt whatsoever, that it is absolutely standard.
posted by andreaazure at 11:28 AM on January 8, 2016


I'm amazed the taxi/limousine companies haven't been able to force regulations on Lyft and Uber somewhere.

In Boston, there have been picketing protests by the taxi drivers, complaining that Uber et all is eating into their business. Which it is. And there's been some backlash, in that some of the taxi owners are gouging their drivers. And that the airport is gouging the taxi owners. All of which gets passed onto the consumer. The prices of cab rides have been ridiculously high, and now the playing field has been leveled. The city councils are making noises about having more regulations for the app companies, but it's been slow because they're lazy they're recognizing people's complaints about high taxi prices, and want to do something about it.

Which is a good thing. I like to think that the checks and balances in government are working.
posted by Melismata at 11:33 AM on January 8, 2016


I am quite sure there are cases when Uber drivers have been able to make $75/hour or maybe even $200-$300/hour or whatever. Thus, tall tales that are "true".


Also as far as I've been told (and is noted in the article) driver pay has been cut repeatedly from the early days. This is one of the aspects I identified as scammy (along with arguably worse things like encouraging drivers to take out sketchy loans to get new cars).
posted by atoxyl at 11:38 AM on January 8, 2016


I'm amazed the taxi/limousine companies haven't been able to force regulations on Lyft and Uber somewhere.

Here in Pittsburgh the local cab companies have abused their monopoly so badly over the last fifty years that they've found that they had almost zero friends when when Uber and Lyft came in. So even if people have qualms about the new companies, they hate Yellow Cab so much that anything seems better in comparison.
posted by octothorpe at 11:40 AM on January 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


And you're going to get some broke, desperately hungry rider killed or grievously injured over your lunch because you think your time is too valuable to get or make your own food.

I really wish people could find empathy for each other.

I don't usually talk about the shitty parts of my personal life here - for a lot of factors - but in this case, I think it's important.

I have severe PTSD, depression, and agoraphobia. I've been treating it for several years now, with varying success, but when I first got out of the Army and had some stressors hit, it was nearly crippling. Now, I lived in NYC at the time, so pretty much every restaurant had delivery people, but I definitely used the Seamless app for it.

I used the Seamless app because I had a kid, and even if I didn't feel I was important enough to care about eating, I knew I had to feed my kid. During my worst month, I knew that I was completely incapable of leaving my apartment, that I couldn't even make it to the front door of the building without shrinking back. I definitely could not buy groceries. I could not even make it to the corner bodega, which was literally only three apartment buildings down. But what I could do was take out my phone and punch a lot of buttons, and get one or two giant meals a day delivered. I could use Fresh Direct, and punch a lot of buttons, and have hygiene and other supplies delivered. My kid could live like a normal person while I, as a single mother, was going through an enormously destructive breakdown.

The kale chips thing is extreme, but sometimes it's not just that people think their time is too valuable. Sometimes it's because people are teetering on the edge of sanity and are desperate to live, too.
posted by corb at 11:42 AM on January 8, 2016 [12 favorites]


I really wish people could find empathy for each other.

I think what most of us are asking for is merely recriprocal empathy for the casualties of the disruption, and given the near certainty that a vast majority of people using these services aren't in the position of needing the services to help cope with a disability, I think it's wrong to characterize that comment as lacking empathy for the people who need to use them.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:51 AM on January 8, 2016 [13 favorites]


I just want to know what real, concrete thing we expect people of color who can't reliably catch a cab to do instead of using Uber or Lyft, who they know will pick them up and drop them off, regardless of what they look like.

I'm as much of a radical as the rest of us, except when it comes to putting the onus of change on the people with the least amount of power in the situation--the person who just needs a ride to work, and is grateful they can finally get one.
posted by turntraitor at 11:53 AM on January 8, 2016 [10 favorites]


$100 a day isn't that unrealistic either. Lets say that's every working day plus some weekend days. That's what, 25-30k a year? That's not that ridiculous if you're young and not saving.

Especially if a person is in a field that (1) pays very well and (2) demands a lot of working hours. I'm thinking of i-banking, consulting, law, etc. If a person is banging out 80-100 hour weeks, suddenly his leisure time is much more precious, and the prospect of idly walking to Whole Foods or the burrito joint is a lot less appealing.
posted by theorique at 11:56 AM on January 8, 2016


given the near certainty that a vast majority of people using these services aren't in the position of needing the services to help cope with a disability, I think it's wrong to characterize that comment as lacking empathy for the people who need to use them.

I don't think anyone means to lack empathy for the disabled person who needs delivery, or the person who needs the cab to pick them up and take them where they need to go regardless of who they are. But putting the focus on entitled people making 120K+ getting kale chips who are looking down their nose at the peons beneath them makes it really easy to denigrate people who are using this service and others like it for necessities. And it's a short jump from there to taking away these services - which a lot of people are going to be using to survive - because who cares about those guys, right?

I'm sure that comment in particular was mostly out of frustration at some shitty experiences, but it was coming at the tail of some others that weren't, and it always sucks to feel like something crucial is being laughed at, especially when you already feel bad about needing to have someone else do these things in the first place.
posted by corb at 12:00 PM on January 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


I have no problem whatsoever with Uber et al, if they were simply required to a) comply with ADA and b) treat their drivers as employees. (Saying that is in no way a defense of taxi companies, which in my experience have been beyond terrible, though at least somewhat ADA compliant.) The delivery companies and other "gig economy" start ups can disrupt industries all they want, but should not be allowed to duck employee protection and minimum wage requirements in any way.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:01 PM on January 8, 2016 [12 favorites]


I just want to know what real, concrete thing we expect people of color who can't reliably catch a cab to do instead of using Uber or Lyft, who they know will pick them up and drop them off, regardless of what they look like.

People who have no better options should continue to use whatever good options they have. Skepticism toward ride sharing services and the like does not mean reflexive support for the shitty practices of yellow cab companies, and given the demographics of who actually use the sharing services, I find this constant refrain about the marginalized people who are being helped as a side effect of providing services to the affluent rather tiresome.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:03 PM on January 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


I feel like there's some talking-past-each-other going on that mirrors the fundamental insidiousness of how Uber, Lyft, Postmates, etc. treat their "contractors" - there is no reason at all a business that provides the services those companies do must necessarily screw its staff over as part of the business model. You can have app-driven taxi dispatch and decent conditions for your drivers. It's not the workers, or the people outraged on their behalf, who created this false dilemma.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:05 PM on January 8, 2016 [22 favorites]


there is no reason at all a business that provides the services those companies do must necessarily screw its staff over as part of the business model

Well, there sort of is. Absent things like proper regulation and collective bargaining, there is a race to the bottom among competitors that leaves little room for treating workers well and still maintaining the profits that investors demand. It's no surprise that these companies oppose proper regulation and collective bargaining, or that many of their most strident supporters also oppose these things. Were the regulatory regime equipped to deal with these companies, and were employees treated like, well, employees, it would be a different story.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:17 PM on January 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


People who have no better options should continue to use whatever good options they have. Skepticism toward ride sharing services and the like does not mean reflexive support for the shitty practices of yellow cab companies, and given the demographics of who actually use the sharing services, I find this constant refrain about the marginalized people who are being helped as a side effect of providing services to the affluent rather tiresome.

Especially when you consider that Uber gates its service behind two major hurdles: a smartphone and access to a financial vehicle such as a credit or debit card. The system doesn't have to actively discriminate against the marginalized, because the discrimination is baked into the system.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:46 PM on January 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


Corb: I'm not talking about you, or people with needs.

And you really should strongly reconsider whether or not that these "appsploitation" services are really justifiable to use regardless of your own issues or needs.

And with how personally you keep re-framing this, you're clearly dealing with some feelings of guilt, here, and projecting it back on the services you're using and the people telling their side of the story is pretty misplaced and un-empathic.

I made only one delivery out of hundreds to someone with any kind of mobility needs, and it was to someone who just got home from having an aircast fitted to their broken foot. Everything else was to posh 2-4k a month apartments and condos to people who were pretty obviously young, bright eyed, healthy and well paid, and part of the tech economy.

Not anxious or timid people dealing with PTSD or depression with cluttered, darkened messy apartments. Because, trust me, I know what mental health issues looks like, smells like and how it walks and talks, and it does not come bouncing cheerfully to the door with bright eyes, lots of eye contact and white, toothy smiles.

How about some empathy from you that I'm trying to do this insanely underpaid job because I'm desperate because I, too, was suffering from severe depression and PTSD because the rat race of trying to figure out the public health care and aid system kept failing me or leaving me in the lurch and far worse off than before each time it lurched and hiccuped.

I'm trying to muster some more sympathy and empathy here, but the fact you could afford those services when I could not, that what I did instead of ordering out for food was starve myself in my apartment or wait until about 3 am to scramble down to the 7-11 with my EBT card to buy crappy food that had practically no nutritional value because I had anxiety attacks trying to go to the food bank or grocery store in the middle of the day.

Look, most of the people who are desperate enough to ride for Postmates are probably significantly mentally ill and/or addicts themselves. They wouldn't be taking the job if they had other opportunities. The people I rode with were dirt fucking poor, living in the smallest, oldest apartments or rooms, struggling with some really dark shit.

Yeah, sorry, that's really harsh. I really do understand what you're talking about, but you're probably not seeing the other side of the equation, here.

I wasn't trying to do that job because I liked riding bikes. That job made me hate my bike. I was doing that job because I was fucking desperate and they were "hiring". Except they don't call it hiring, because that would mean it was a real job.
posted by loquacious at 1:49 PM on January 8, 2016 [18 favorites]


And with how personally you keep re-framing this, you're clearly dealing with some feelings of guilt, here, and projecting it back on the services you're using and the people telling their side of the story is pretty misplaced and un-empathic.

Wow...I dunno, but I'd say you're projecting your own un-empathetic behavior onto Corb, while we're psychoanalyzing behind the screen. Not a helpful post.
posted by turntraitor at 1:52 PM on January 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yeah, sorry. I'm bowing out. I'm actually having flashbacks to riding for Postmates in a major way right now. Like, I can hear all the stupid alarm noises that the app makes and everything, and I'm supposed to be getting ready for work at the job I don't actually hate, for my favorite shift of the month.

But it's personally kind of a cross-threaded, multiply-insulting thing that the very people doing that kind of work are generally dealing with similar issues themselves, but aren't in any position to have the luxury of ordering food in themselves.

The real enemy here is disruptive, careless VC fueling shitty job 'platforms' at any cost, because as indicated upthread, it's not really the product that's for sale to the VCs, it's the emergent technologies that come out of it that can be bought and sold like shiny widgets grown in and harvested from the fertile blood and bone meal soil of our crumbling and gone big-L Labor forces.
posted by loquacious at 2:03 PM on January 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


The real enemy, at the root of it all, is capitalism and human need. The only route around it is to work on growing our empathy as a species, and that's incredibly hard work.
posted by turntraitor at 2:06 PM on January 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


The kale chips thing is extreme, but sometimes it's not just that people think their time is too valuable. Sometimes it's because people are teetering on the edge of sanity and are desperate to live, too.

This is a fantastic argument for proper social services, or at the very least, decent delivery and taxi services subject to sensible regulation and with decent employment conditions. It is not an argument for Uber, Lyft, Postmates, etc. I recognise that it is an argument for the use of those services in the absence of decent alternatives as a necessary evil, but it'd be good to see some acknowledgment that that is the case, rather than as an argument in support of Uber, Lyft, Postmates, etc per se. Because Uber etc are inherently problematic - they rely on circumventing regulation (including regulation intended to broaden access amongst marginalised communities - Uber competely fails wheelchair users, for example, and the smartphone/credit card requirement to even access these services has already been noted). It's fine to rely on Uber or Postmates or what have you, if you have to. It's a problem to lionise them or shoot down or oppose any criticism of their unsavory practices because society has failed to provide non-exploitative alternatives when we easily could.
posted by Dysk at 2:16 PM on January 8, 2016 [16 favorites]


Since I fed the flame on disability & use of services, I'd like to just interject here and say that Dysk articulated what I was driving at much better than my initial spazzy, disjointed angry post.*

I didn't use to object to Lyft & Uber and all of that, in general, until I discovered the worker treatment and the whole business model. Gettting a taxi in the city is tough, true. I initially liked the idea of Lyft, it seemed great for independents and consumers- but then I realized I didn't have the whole story. If these companies were properly regulated and workers providing the bulk of the service (not just the app) would be treated as employees comprising the work of the company, as was the angle of the Shannon Liss-Roirdan post and thread, I would not be opposed, and I don't think other people would be either.

But the idea of making services cheaper for accesssiblity, while totally justified for the consumer, is problematic when the workers already have to shell out for gas, insurance and the app owners are not compensating them well. Where is that cut coming from when app owners already don't give a damn about expenses on the end of the worker? I don't trust them. Then you get this liberatarian angle of "Well, we need to underpay people because consumers need these services, and many of them are disabled". The liberatarian rationalization angle of underpaying & undercompensating is what lit me on fire and I did not articulate that well. My emotions got the best of me and I didn't form a line of reasoning well.

The solution is not of course, eliminating services in private sector or letting public services wither in hopes of a privatized solution, but having both options. Funding both the public sector, and regulating this new private sector of services so that workers are not stuck in an endless cycle of hustling.

This gig economy is ok for young people, it seems, but if it's starting to replace old secure jobs, then something has to be done to promote security and equality.

*(For the record, I didn't really say I ordered a pizza while psychotic, but if I did, man that pizza would rock).
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 2:17 PM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]



You might use these services a couple times and week and go "but everybody does it!", but the comment up thread about how you spend your 120k is completely true. "Techbros" use these services multiple times a day. There's a SIGNIFICANT number of people who get all their groceries delivered, or order 2-3 or even more times per day from postmates, take lyft/uber to work, to the bar, and then home, then to work again... etc.

THIS. I know people like this. My partner worked for post mates between jobs, 99% of her deliveries were to young white dudes in fancy ass condo buildings. People who order literally everything and have every chore outsourced through these apps. One time she delivered to a very pregnant woman. Once. That was a notable day for her because it was definitely the exception to biking burritos across town for almost no money.

Whoever said above that these apps are a way for startup employees to give each other money while minimizing the transaction costs is 100% right.


This thread mirrors a lot of conversations ive had with friends and family who don't live in the bay. They don't "get" the bigger picture and it devolves into "but uber is so convenient and cab companies suck anyways"The issue is not should you use these services, the morality or ethics of hiring burrito deliverers, it's about how this tidal wave of VC money is concentrating wealth among the owners of these apps at the expense of the rest of us who work and can't have every latte biked across town.

posted by bradbane at 2:17 PM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I should also clarify, the liberatarian angle of replacing public sector services with private sector gig-economy services.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 2:21 PM on January 8, 2016


This gig economy is ok for young people, it seems, but if it's starting to replace old secure jobs, then something has to be done to promote security and equality.

Why is it okay to mistreat young people specifically? This kind of ageism comes up repeatedly in these threads and it bothers me immensely every time. Why should young people be paid less? Why should their working conditions be worse? Why is something that is exploitative for a thirty or forty year old absolutely fine to expose a twenty year old to?
posted by Dysk at 2:23 PM on January 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


Link on thread re: regulating app economy: http://www.metafilter.com/155947/Heard-it-all-before
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 2:27 PM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Why is it okay to mistreat young people specifically?

Because those damned millennials would just be sitting around playing their XBoxes in their mom's basement anyway.

{hamburger}, of course, but that's where it's coming from -- fellow Gen X-ers internalizing the "fuck you, I've got mine" ethos that the boomers taught us.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:28 PM on January 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


I wasn't meaning that it's ok to treat young people badly but rather that if you're in school and maybe living at home, working flexibly on piece-work would be ok for you. Perhaps I'm taking the notion of college crap jobs for granted, and maybe that's not good. I'm just used to that model. I was thinking in terms of job security, as older people want that and generally younger people treat part time work as transitory. Some workers seemed to express that they liked the flexibility a lot- that seems more like a youth thing than an old thing. For me I was cool with flexible piece work as a student, but not so much now that I'm 50.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 2:30 PM on January 8, 2016


And perhaps young people wouldn't treat the jobs as transitory if they were worth hanging onto. Yeah, I guess there's many broken things to fix here.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 2:34 PM on January 8, 2016


I think that's part of the problem - the economy that makes people desperate for jobs that aren't very stable, rather than the jobs themselves. Being a part time deliveryman would be awesome for a teenager trying to manage an afterschool job - where most of their expenses are paid and it's just for fun money. Like babysitting used to be. In fact, most of the 'delivery' type services used to be handled mostly by that 16-22 agegroup - they certainly did when I was younger, at least. And yeah, I do think it's less of a big deal if someone who's living at home and supported by their parents and going to school isn't earning the full time pay of an adult, because they're doing it for pocket money.

The problem isn't that people can order delivery services via app, or that people can have delivery services at all, or even that people are doing piecemeal delivery work. The problem is that people who desperately want full time jobs aren't able to find them, and so resort to taking these jobs because they have no better options. And I don't know how to fix that. But I do know you can't fix that by making piecemeal work illegal.
posted by corb at 2:39 PM on January 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


to further add - I'm not responding to the emotional content not because I don't see it but because I am still mulling over how to get my response out.
posted by corb at 2:41 PM on January 8, 2016


The problem is that people who desperately want full time jobs aren't able to find them, and so resort to taking these jobs because they have no better options.

This is the core of the issue right there and that's what freaks so many of us out.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 2:42 PM on January 8, 2016


But I do know you can't fix that by making piecemeal work illegal.

There's a lot of room between "making piecemeal work illegal" and regulating it properly, but the ideological priors of sharing economy defenders generally make them pull the straw man of a total ban out any time someone dares suggest that the services as presently-constituted aren't ideal.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:42 PM on January 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


the economy that makes people desperate for jobs

The "economy" is capitalism, or at least the form of rentier capitalism that's being foisted upon us. It's not accidental or natural that this is happening. It is something that people are doing to us deliberately.
posted by Grangousier at 2:44 PM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Also, it wouldn't be so hard to find full-time work if every "disruptive" business didn't consider the idea of hiring employees to be heresy on par with taking a crap in the Pope's hat.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:50 PM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Speaking for myself, I kind of got started on the wrong foot with this thread because a lot of the early comments talked about ordering food or a ride like it's a frivolous luxury, and sometimes it is that and sometimes it isn't. Being compared to whiny six-figure-earning jerks who want servants just because I like takeout once in a while got me all defensive. But I hear what y'all are saying, that Postmates et al. are exploitative companies that run their workers ragged and this is bad for all of us.
posted by thetortoise at 2:59 PM on January 8, 2016


I used the Seamless app because I had a kid, and even if I didn't feel I was important enough to care about eating, I knew I had to feed my kid.

There isn't really any comparison between GrubHub/Seamless and the services that are the subject of this FPP, though, is there? Seamless puts the consumer in contact with restaurants that already deliver to the consumer's location, and then the restaurant's own delivery people bring the order. No third party is contracted to bring your food. You just don't have to call the restaurant on the phone and ask for your delivery.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:25 PM on January 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


Dead horse but...

I made only one delivery out of hundreds to someone with any kind of mobility needs, and it was to someone who just got home from having an aircast fitted to their broken foot. Everything else was to posh 2-4k a month apartments and condos to people who were pretty obviously young, bright eyed, healthy and well paid, and part of the tech economy.

that was also my suspicion when I was saying I never used the services; I'm currently on disability and I suspect most folks on disability are not using these services, but government services and caseworkers. It wasn't so much to say "how dare you use this" but rather, yeah right, these companies are really doing it for us Crippled People who can't help ourselves. The feeling is more that some of us don't want to be Jerry's Kids for Uber*

*who by the way, has hired people with criminal records, and has had at least assault, so yes taxi drivers can suck but so can Uber drivers. I just don't think this is the solution we need.

and now I'll shut it.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 3:31 PM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Because, trust me, I know what mental health issues looks like, smells like and how it walks and talks, and it does not come bouncing cheerfully to the door with bright eyes, lots of eye contact and white, toothy smiles.

You're erasing a lot of people with this statement, people like myself and plenty of others I know who are able to put on a happy face just to get through the day but are falling apart inside. Why do you think "but you look so HAPPY!!" is a common refrain? This is where the lack of empathy comes in - we're so dedicated to assuming that consumers only look a certain way, that it's getting in the way of actually coming up with better solutions for consumers who are screwed over both by these apps and by Government services (either because they don't qualify for arcane reasons or because the process of getting those services is so complicated that using an app is easier by comparison).

Not everyone can afford to be ideologically non-hypocritical. As people have said, focusing on the small-fry customers isn't going to make that much of a difference overall.

trunk muffins: I'm sorry for your friend, but I don't understand what that has to do with my point about dangerous and dodgy taxi drivers working with impunity. Unless you're suggesting that nobody ever get rated at all, thereby taking away a measure of redress for the passenger, to make it more like the taxi system? At least when I've had scary rides on Lyft (not common but it happens) I've been able to talk to someone at Lyft about it, and - unlike any attempt I would have made with taxis, at least here in Malaysia where those two stories came from - they paid attention.
posted by divabat at 4:00 PM on January 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


Because, trust me, I know what mental health issues looks like, smells like and how it walks and talks, and it does not come bouncing cheerfully to the door with bright eyes, lots of eye contact and white, toothy smiles.

This is one of the more disappointingly dismissive things about mental health I've read in a long time.

You know who knows if the person receiving a delivery has mental health issues? That person.

Are you that person? No? Then you get to be quiet.
posted by dotgirl at 4:23 PM on January 8, 2016 [10 favorites]


There are far worse ways to earn your keep.

And this right here is the problem: the belief in the concept that a human being needs to compete for the right to survive.
posted by Automocar at 4:36 PM on January 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


The problem is that people who desperately want full time jobs aren't able to find them, and so resort to taking these jobs because they have no better options.

I do wonder sometimes if the "sharing economy" isn't just an insidiously designed ploy to keep people teetering on the edge of desperation from falling off, thus securing our economic overlords a few more years or decades of security.
posted by Automocar at 5:01 PM on January 8, 2016


I don't think anyone means to lack empathy for the disabled person who needs delivery, or the person who needs the cab to pick them up and take them where they need to go regardless of who they are. But putting the focus on entitled people making 120K+ getting kale chips who are looking down their nose at the peons beneath them makes it really easy to denigrate people who are using this service and others like it for necessities. And it's a short jump from there to taking away these services - which a lot of people are going to be using to survive - because who cares about those guys, right?

Let's suppose, for a second, that maybe a service for disabled people or people who otherwise NEED these services, not for whom it's a luxury:

1. Is, in and of itself probably not a profitable business model under the current pricing structure and general layout of these services

2. As such, should probably be subsidized in some way. As it is, it's subsidized by the other people using the service. I'm willing to side with the fact that the people who NEED these services should be allowed to use them at a below-market-value rate, since many of them are likely on fixed income or otherwise not financially secure enough to say, hire a private driver or personal assistant. That's fine!

3. That maybe, just maybe, if we're talking about a likely unprofitable service for marginalized populations who need it... that this should be a government subsidized operation? Or a 501(c) sort of situation collecting money from grants therein, or something?

Everyone is saying "uber should be forced to comply with the ADA and stock wheelchair vans" but wheelchair vans are fucking expensive front to back. Purchasing, specialized maintenance, all of that. Under the current driver-owns-car model that's hugely unfair to the drivers.

What i'm saying is that we need to separate the argument of "disabled people use these services" from the services themselves. Forcing these services to drastically change should include concurrently creating a service for that population. Transportation and food/household items delivery is something that could(and should) be covered by an expanded and app-ified version of something like for example king country metros "access" van service, which is currently next-day-scheduled.

Look towards creating better, nonprofit or government run solutions to this situation... Not preserving uber and postmates in amber because it serves these populations who need it.

Almost every major city has something like Access. Some of them have apps already! Many of them, however, have up to or even more than a 24 hour wait time. A drivers assistant that could pick up groceries and more fleet capacity to get that down to an hour or two at most would get you pretty close. Hell, a lot of cities already run smaller non-wheelchair vans for people who don't need fully accessible transport but for whom the bus still isn't an option. Expand that too.

But this feels like a pretty shitty reason to defend uber. How about tax the shit out of them to pay for those service expansions and regulate them to work with the other issues here.

Although i have a feeling some city trying to regulate uber is going to go to at least a states supreme court in the next few years.
posted by emptythought at 5:58 PM on January 8, 2016


And how would you resolve the paperwork problem? The appeal of these apps for some of us, flawed as they are, is that at least we don't need to fill in a zillion pieces of paper to prove that we're "disabled enough" or "resident enough".
posted by divabat at 6:02 PM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


The appeal of these apps for some of us, flawed as they are, is that at least we don't need to fill in a zillion pieces of paper to prove that we're "disabled enough" or "resident enough".

Replacing that with "monied enough" and "living in a dense urban profitable enough market" requirements doesn't strike me as inherently better.
posted by Dysk at 6:14 PM on January 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


Well no, but that's not what those of us on the apps-are-useful side are saying. We get that there's problems. Why won't any of you get that your solutions have problems too?
posted by divabat at 6:17 PM on January 8, 2016


And how would you resolve the paperwork problem? The appeal of these apps for some of us, flawed as they are, is that at least we don't need to fill in a zillion pieces of paper to prove that we're "disabled enough" or "resident enough".

That's the most onerous problem honestly. I'm definitely aware of the frankly kind of ridiculously tough requirements for what around here we call ADA paratransit.

The best answer i can give is make it more like service dogs. Maybe make people fill out a webform or something in the app, and accept that there will be a certain amount of cheating. Right now the low income bus passes are really easy to get and they've just accepted that because it helps people. You just fill out i think one form and get it pretty quickly(like within the week). Honestly, i think that anyone who arrives at the downtown office or applies online and puts in their basic information and says "i need this, i can't afford the regular option" should be handed one of those. And they should be handed this too.

So yea, the answer is to make the rules more lax, and the process more simple, and just accept that the ridership of the service is going to be higher.

It's not like there's going to be many, if any at all people nefariously going out to "cheat it" and ride the likely somewhat slower subsidized/government service.

People are pretty readily auto-shamed by other people for parking in disabled spots. Who, who doesn't need it beyond some rounding error percentage will really want to exploit this? It's like worrying too much about EBT fraud. Give it to the majority of the people who ask for it.

This obviously isn't going to be like, one of those ideas that's super popular with republicans what with "giving people handouts" and all that, but it's the equitable solution here.
posted by emptythought at 6:19 PM on January 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


ok I lied, there's more...

Regarding services and paperwork, a disabled person can have a caseworker to help with that. In SF, that's what you'll get. Also, in using the services here for 30 years (every clinic in town pretty much) I never even had to produce an ID and for that, no id, no proof of residency, I got free meds, free therapy, free hospitalization. Now, granted, SF is very progressive and I'll bet services in many other towns really blow, but that is an infrastructure problem and I don't want to see social services privatized because the last time we let the private sector take up the slack of mental healthcare we got massive homelessness because community clinics didn't happen consistently on a national level. Reagan and liberatarians hijacked the cause of deinstitutionalization, saying 'government instititions are a waste of money' (money wasn't the problem, abuse was). So they let the Free Market take care of it and voila, massive homelessness of deinstitutionalized people.

I don't think that proving your disabled is discriminatory if you are applying for services. I do very much understand that when your brain is in a funk, paperwork is rough going. But if you have an attitude that you shouldn't have to, then people are not really going to go out on limb to help you. But if it's a matter that you know you need to but you just can't, that's what a caseworker should be helping with. And if they're not, then we can advocate for that.

I think where this convo got messed up was when it became fixated on "why are you getting burrito deliver??" and then "but I'm disabled, I need it" then it went downhill on the wrong track. That's not the important issue, I don't think, and way upthread I said food delivery's fine. By all means do what you need to do to live your life. But before we advocate for privatization of social services (if you are going that way in this thread) then not only read the Liss-Roirdan thread, but please consider the legacy of cuts to social services and the catastrophe that brought.

Also, rating vs complaining about a worker is really not an issue. If any worker, a taxi driver, a social worker, whatever, sucks, you can call/email a complaint to a supervisor. The numbers are on the taxis, and yes it may take a couple extra steps but recourse for bad service is not a new thing invented by appmakers. They just made it quicker.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 8:25 PM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Clearly you have never actually dealt with the Malaysian taxi system (where there is no one to call and even if there was it makes no difference) nor have you ever had to deal with bureaucracy as a non-citizen. It was sheer luck that I happened to need an emergency supply of meds in Oakland just as Obamacare came into being and was citizenship-agnostic at least in California; without it I would be screwed to high heaven because I was not an American citizen.
posted by divabat at 8:47 PM on January 8, 2016


But Uber is so innovative! Remember that time they invented the city bus?
posted by j03 at 9:06 PM on January 8, 2016


Are you that person? No? Then you get to be quiet.

Yep, sorry. To everyone, but to corb in particular. Please accept my apologies. None of my energy is directed at anyone who relies on these services to help deal with their own medical issues.

I have some complicated and very intense emotions regarding the topic of this post and where it intersects with mental health.

I mis-spoke in a huge way, and I forget how heavily mired I personally was in my own depression, so lately I've been feeling... I don't know... It's hard to describe, but I feel free of my own shackles of my depression and PTSD that I've been carrying around since, oh, I was a pre-teen or so. 20-30 years.

For me there was a very clear moment of getting the fuck over myself and my own issues and setting things down and moving on, and I want that very much for everyone dealing with similar. (And I do understand that 'getting the fuck over it' is not good advice at all and that's not implied as advice for others, but that was a huge part of it for me. YMMV.)

And in retrospect I've realized that some or many of those shackles were my own, and I forget that the solutions that I found aren't going to work for everyone whether logistically, emotionally or psychologically or in any way at all.

And that I'm really lucky to be where I am here and now doing so well, and I'm realizing I've been misdirecting some self-disgust and anger about these issues, because I kind of want to leave them all behind and stop thinking about them and forget so many years of pain and misery.

So, yeah, sorry. My anger is directed at depression itself, not people. I'm apparently pretty angry about the years I wasted feeling sorry for myself and doing little to take charge of any aspect of that, and I'm just kind of realizing that right now, that I have work to do to keep growing and set that aside, too.
posted by loquacious at 9:26 PM on January 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


(Honestly, if Uber et al ever somehow did manage to pull off single-payer healthcare in the US, I would gracefully accept the fact that they chewed up the city of my birth and spit out the husk, thank them, and quietly move to Sacramento.)

Yes, the "It's Uber, but for being Sweden" is an idea which I think on some conceptual level has legs, but I also am sadly sure will not happen.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:12 PM on January 8, 2016


Clearly you have never actually dealt with the Malaysian taxi system (where there is no one to call and even if there was it makes no difference) nor have you ever had to deal with bureaucracy as a non-citizen.

What a bunch of us are saying is, let's fix these problems, not introduce or set in stone an exploitative pay-to-play system like Uber or Postmates instead. Because the latter is at least as exclusive too (just in different ways) as well as the whole exploitative thing.
posted by Dysk at 10:22 PM on January 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


The End of the Taxi Era
posted by octothorpe at 5:42 AM on January 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


The problem isn't that people can order delivery services via app, or that people can have delivery services at all, or even that people are doing piecemeal delivery work. The problem is that people who desperately want full time jobs aren't able to find them, and so resort to taking these jobs because they have no better options. And I don't know how to fix that. But I do know you can't fix that by making piecemeal work illegal.

Part of the issue is that the very existence of some fraction of these jobs depends on a certain market demand, which in turn depends on "free delivery". Typically, someone who orders $15 of food from the local Chinese place is not going to want to pay $10 for delivery (or whatever delivery fee subsidizes a comfortable full-time wage and benefits for the delivery boy).

VC firms and other investors are typically willing to provide a certain amount of subsidy / eat some costs in order to build market share (although given the well publicized flame-outs of instant-delivery services in tech bubble 1.0 (such as Kozmo.com), they may have calibrated their financial models to be slightly less naive).

The point is, though, if a service is offering unsustainable, low prices in order to build market share, they are addressing an artificially large market. Some non-zero fraction of customers will leave once the "super low, low introductory price" is over.
posted by theorique at 7:18 AM on January 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's interesting that this article keeps asking Canada to beware of the influx of this sort of job from the new economy. Canadian labour law has a reasonably well-established notion of "dependent contractor" (a category of worker that I often fall into when I take cross-border jobs) that IIRC was established in cases where large (old economy) companies started replacing their employees with contractors in a bid to get around the labour rights that employees have over contractors. I think that a decent assortment of American jurisdictions have followed this lead and adopted similar ideas (though I've only checked the ones where disputes in my cross-border contracts would be resolved).

I'm not a labour lawyer (or a lawyer at all for that matter), but I'm pretty tempted to poke some acquaintances who are, in case there's some money to be made litigating this sort of thing.
posted by kiwano at 9:40 AM on January 9, 2016


« Older The Funny Thing About Abusive Relationships   |   The devil's in the details: handbag cakes Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments