Elizabeth Warren Gets Job Security and the Uber-ization of the Economy Completely Wrong
Speaking at the Re-Code conference in Silicon Valley this week, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) gave a powerful and uplifting answer to a question about how the ultra-wealthy have taken over the U.S. government.
Her remarks in response to moderators talking about the rise of Uber-style contract-based part-time work were less inspiring. She dismissed these concerns as primarily about technology, not the nature of work, and then later failed to answer a question asking if Uber-style contract workers should be classified as full-time employees, which would give them greater rights.
MODERATOR 1: A lot of what's happening in tech is reducing jobs. It has the potential to reduce jobs. Has the potential to, the instant gratification economy—
MODERATOR 2: Taking the job of the cab driver and letting someone who has another job maybe happens to have a car work as an Uber driver —
MODERATOR 1: How do you look at this changing econom?
MODERATOR 2: This is a big part of Silicon Valley right now. [...]
WARREN: That really is the heart of it. Our only chance for survival is to innovate our way out of it. We're not going to stop tech so lots of people can work. That's like saying, Oh, let's get rid of heavy equipment and have everybody dig with a spoon when we're going to try to, that way lots of people will be employed.
QUESTION: Do you think these contractors should be classified as employees?
WARREN: I think it's hard to do the generalization, but I think there's two things we have to acknowledge. The first is that work is changing in America. The old notion you work for one employer forever and ever, that's just gone. People are going to piece together a lot of work and a lot of different kind of work over the course of a career. […]
Warren then pivoted to the need to reinforce Social Security and invest in infrastructure and education.
Watch the exchange:
Warren is first misunderstanding the issue by portraying it as one of using technology versus not using it. The wider issue is a lack of job security, something that has little link to technology; advanced economies in Europe, for example, have the exact same technology we do, but far more job security. Of the 36 OECD countries (developed nations), the United States ranks 26th in job security.
The followup about infrastructure, Social Security and investments in education highlights important issues, but none of those things can replace the jobs that people do. Warren's refusal to offer serious comment about the way companies are using contract workers to evade just compensation shows that she is unable to take on Silicon Valley's attack on job security.