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Downton takes place following the end of an oft-romanticized era, the Victorian era, where gains in productivity thanks to industrialization led to increased GDP heralded as the Golden Age in England and the Belle Époque in continental Europe.
These gains, while disproportionately accruing to the gentry, also led to the rise of the middle class, with home ownership and literacy becoming more commonplace, in part thanks to opportunities for social advancement such as butlering. Still, clear class distinctions remained, and the upper class, with their increasing wealth, enjoyed a plethora of luxuries and leisure.
For a while, this worked for everyone, but all seemingly good things come to an end. It turns out that butlers didn’t want to buttle. This realization was hastened by World War I, where Downton begins, with butlers and their masters fighting shoulder to shoulder in the trenches. Wars have a way of flattening notions of class.
Fast forward to 2009, when Uber started as a black car service for the 21st century gentry: lawyers, bankers and the like. Lyft even calls its version of black car service “Lux.” According to available data, there are 3-4 million rideshare drivers today. In addition to that, with some overlap, there are millions of delivery drivers making Amazon Prime’s recently announced one-day delivery possible, grocery delivery from services such as Instacart, and food delivery from DoorDash, Deliveroo and, of course, Uber Eats.
The prevailing narrative is that this is a good thing — that the gig economy creates new opportunities for advancement, allowing drivers to earn money while at the same time bringing these modern luxuries to the masses. However, these gains in productivity aren’t translating to leisure, but rather creating more hours in the day for drivers to drive and the opportunity for the wealthy to get even richer.
While it is unlikely that Uber drivers will fight in the trenches alongside their riders, Lyft and Uber’s recent IPOs will make today’s class distinctions incredibly transparent. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and while some rideshare drivers might also share in these IPOs as shareholders, the gig economy (also known as the sharing economy) might be on its last legs, with drivers walking away from the wheel. Who wants to share when one side takes more?
Forward-thinking mass employers such as Disney, Starbucks and Walmart are making fully subsidized college available to their workers. This allows Disney cast members, Starbucks baristas and Walmart greeters to earn their degrees while making modest wages. This give-and-get model seems imminently more sustainable than the gig economy, and I’d anticipate drivers will seek these opportunities in their rational self-interest. We’re already seeing evidence (paywall) that this is beginning to happen. I for one, am glad to see these drivers demand more from the sharing/gig/demand economy.
May 30, 2019 at 08:07AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs