Down with the boss, down with the concert worker!
Napoleon did not make fun of the English as “a nation of traders”, although this expression is commonly attributed to him. In fact, it was Bertrand BarÃ¨re de Vieuzac, a French revolutionary who used it to attack the achievements of British Prime Minister William Pitt, the Younger.
I think Napoleon was too intelligent not to have understood that a nation of shopkeepers is a strong nation, and that if the English of the day were indeed a nation of shopkeepers, they would be a more formidable enemy.
A nation of traders, in my opinion, is an ideal: motivated people who know the value of work, money and business; and who are almost by definition individualists. So I regret the constant threats to small businesses from chains, economies of scale, high rents and some social stigma.
But above all, I regret that in our education system, self-employment is not celebrated and revered as equivalent to work in large companies. We define too many by where they work, not by what they do.
I have always thought that you have to aspire to work for yourself, avoid the temptations of the big enveloping company and start with all the skills you have to test them in the market and ensure that the customer, not the boss , tells you what to do.
Our education system produces people designed to be employed, not self-employed.
But things are changing. The concert economy was well advanced before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and now it’s roaring. Many employees found that the bondage of conventional employment was not for them.
The concert world differs from the small business world I described in that it is a small business refined down to its absolute core: a one-person business, truly self-employed.
Self-employment has many advantages for society and for the business community in general. Hiring an independent contractor is easier for a business because it doesn’t have to create a staff position and pay all the costs that come with it. Laying off an entrepreneur is not so traumatic. The worker is more respected, and asked to do things not ordered. The system becomes more efficient.
But if employers come to view the odd-job economy as just cheap and redundant labor, then the odd-job economy has failed.
The concert worker should not expect safety, but should be treated in a business-to-business environment. He or she must know how to negotiate and have the moral courage to ask for a fair contract that recognizes the intrinsic value of the working relationship.
I’m a fan of Lyft and Uber. They offer self-employment for anyone with a driver’s license and a car – and the companies will even put you in a car. But the market is one-sided. The driver has the freedom to work the hours he chooses, but not to negotiate the conditions of his engagement. It’s decided by a computer in San Francisco.
This concert worker cannot hope to hire other drivers and start a small business: he does not pass the concept of an employment contract. I have spoken to many carpool drivers. They revel in the freedom but not the income.
Concert workers can be anything from a plumber to a computer programmer, from a dog walker to an actuary.
But for the new free world of pay-per-view work to become part of our business fabric, the social structure must be adjusted by the government to allow the temporary worker to register for social security and charge their expenses to taxes. as would an incorporated business. Jane Doe, who makes a living designing websites, needs to know that she is a business, not just a freelance worker between jobs.
A friend who has been self-employed for many years recently told me that he was being considered for an important position. I told him to keep in mind that he was going to sacrifice a little dignity and a lot of freedom. It is difficult to get into a harness when you have been running freely.
I hope we will have many more workers on the loose. Napoleon would have understood.