I hope you get angry while you read this.
Listen to the audio version here.
There are many ways to describe what’s causing the tension and turmoil in the United States and elsewhere. We can say the middle class is going away, or that automation is taking over, or that white people are upset about changing demographics.
All those are probably true, but I think the clearest way to describe things is to imagine the world being sorted into two different countries—a Green country, and a Red country.
I’ve written about this repeatedly over the past several years, and Peter Temin has a phenomenal book on the topic called The Vanishing Middle Class, but the idea is the same. Basically, physical countries will become unimportant, what will matter is not where you live, but what class you’re a part of.
Soon the Red and Green will refer to the zones of safety in physical space as well, with Green zones requiring filtering to enter.
People in the top 10% of income/wealth live in Green Country. They are educated, healthy, likely working in finance or technology, and live interesting lives of travel and leisure. Their primary concern is finding ways to be more fulfilled in their work and their projects, and to spend more of their time meeting their other Green Country friends all over the world.
People in Red Country work to ensure the happiness of those in Green Country.
Those in the bottom 80% of income/wealth live in Red Country. They probably didn’t go to college, they likely work in the gig economy or in other highly-precarious job situations where they have unpredictable hours and few benefits. Most importantly, their primary job purpose is maintaining the infrastructure and services that allow those in Green Country to enjoy their lives.
This is perhaps the clearest and most cynical way to look at the gig economy. It’s marketed as a way to provide the freedom of extra income to anyone, but I think it’s going to quietly become the default for all but the elite.
There are many companies trying to bring gig mechanics to every industry.
Companies love gig mechanics because they let you keep only the best workers, pay for only what you use, and flex your workforce on demand when things expand or contract. Even companies that have not yet moved to gig options (because they don’t yet exist for that industry) are already moving heavily to contract work.
The Uber of X already exists, it’s called servants.
There’s a fascinating irony in only the west finding servants problematic.
Indi Samarajiva makes a great point here. The rest of the world already has servants, but the west considers it (for good reason) to be offensive in some way. I’m not an expert, but I’m sure it involves some composite of our focus on equality and our colonialist guilt.
Well, that’s about to end. We’re about to smuggle servants into our workforce through the cover of “work when you want to”, which—as it turns out—if you have few options a hungry family, is all the time.
Think about what the gig economy does, and how that compares to what servants do. Drive me here. Wash my clothes. Bring me food. Make me food. Take care of the kids. Clean the house. These are all tasks that people in Green Country complain about having to do, and needing to “get help with”, or “outsource”.
Indeed. It sounds damn convenient. But we have to be aware that we’re “outsourcing” to someone who can literally only do that thing. They’re not doing it because that’s what they enjoy. That’s a rich liberal fantasy. No, they’re doing it because that’s their role in this society, based on the options available to them. Just like servants.
So what do we do about it?
Well if you’re conservative—or a liberal who thinks like one without telling anybody—there’s nothing wrong with this at all. Sounds amazing! When I can I get this? I want to start a non-profit startup to help people escape poverty, so I can talk about it on Twitter, and I just need someone to take care of Kyler.
The cognition is dissonant, and smells of hypocrisy.
But if you’re someone who does actually care, there are four things you should be doing.
- Look this beast right in the face, and be aware of it all around you.
- Do your best to make sure everyone you care about ends up in the Green.
- Do your best to affect societal change that eliminates the Green/Red divide.
- When you interact with people in the Red, have sympathy and empathy, because you didn’t pick your fucking parents. You got lucky, and they didn’t.
In short, this is happening. This is the two-sided reality we’re entering into. Tell everyone you care about that they need to go to school and do what it takes to make it to the right side of the fence.
But never forget how lucky you got. And when you spend your Friday nights, in the big city surrounded by your Green Country friends, talking about your trip to Iceland and submitting a manuscript, spare a CPU cycle for the human person serving the food.
They might have two other jobs where they’re also ignored by people like you, which they drive 90-minutes to get to. And all they did was roll different dice in this life.
Never forget that you didn’t pick your parents, and that even work ethic is a privilege of a good upbringing.
And most importantly, vote and/or get involved in changing how society works. Support policies that will address this situation, such as universal education and healthcare.
Nobody can realistically ask you not to partake of your gifted position, or to advocate that others do the same. But we can ask that you remain aware. That we recognize how strange and random it is that you’re on this side and they’re on the other.
And we can ask that you try to make it better.
- Before anyone asks, I am not implying that people who made it into the Top 10% didn’t work hard. I’m aware of the arguments. But everything you used to work hard were also gifts. Your intelligence and your work ethic were given to you by your parents, your genetics, and your environment—none of which you made for yourself. So yes, well done, you built something nice. But the only reason you were able to do any of it is because of the tools you were given. Work ethic is also a privilege that comes from a good upbringing, and even if you can work hard to improve it, the tools that allow you to do so are also advantages. There are not really people who, if given the choice, would choose not to have self-discipline. Think of it more like being tall or having supportive parents. You can work on those things, but most of it is luck.