Like so many others nowadays, I am part of the ‘gig economy’, part of what Guy Standing calls ‘the precariat’. (There’s an interesting presentation on the precariat here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRNhtGtO9pg).
Due to the nature of the work I’m doing at present, I could in theory be a ‘digital nomad’, living anywhere in the world that has reliable internet access. There’s a catch though. At present, I am an Australian citizen living in Australia. While I live here – leaving aside the other conditions attached to the Australian welfare system, which make it extremely unappealing to apply for anyway – I do have some access to a ‘safety net’ in between gigs, should I need it.
If I lived anywhere else in the world, I wouldn’t be able to access any such ‘safety net’ unless (and until) I became a citizen and resident of another country which provides welfare for its citizens. And so, until I feel reasonably sure that I can support myself sustainably outside Australia, I stay where I have access to a safety net … even though I have skills I would love to contribute to the world which could be better utilised, more impactful, and even more desirable elsewhere.
This isn’t intended as a ‘hard luck’ story. There are millions of people in a similar situation, taking similar variables into account as they perform their own risk calculations, and in effect, contributing a lot less to the world than they might if they had true geographical independence.
And so, I would like to raise the question: Is this ‘social safety net’, based on geography, still fit for purpose in the world we live in today?
I don’t think it is.
Guy Standing argues the need for a universal basic income (UBI) as a safety net for the precariat, and I agree that something like UBI may well be what we ultimately need. In the short term, however, any implementations seem likely to be geographically restricted – so they won’t provide a safety net for digital nomads either.
Maybe there’s something else we can do?
Possible example: A precariat ‘insurance union’ in a commons structure, providing services to its members such as a job board, skills matching, training, and perhaps some social networking features, in return for a percentage-of-income ‘fee’ which goes back into the commons to pay for:
- the services provided by the union, and
- some basic income support for all members.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. [Edit - @Anna-M - just thought I’d nudge you on this post since we briefly talked about this commons-for-gig-workers thing last night …]