A Philosopher's Blog

The Sharing Economy III; Resources (Human & Other)

Posted in Business, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on July 28, 2014
Olathe Human Resources

Olathe Human Resources (Photo credit: City of Olathe, KS)

In my previous two essays I wrote about the new sharing economy, focusing on regulations and taxes. In this essay I will cover resources (human and other). As noted in the previous two essays, the new sharing economy is exemplified by companies such as Uber and Airbnb that serve to organize transactions between individuals. In the case of Uber, people can serve as drivers for Uber selling rides in their own cars—without (as of this writing) all the usual costs and regulations of operating a cab. In the case of Airbnb, people can rent out property and (as of this writing) generally avoid the usual regulation and taxes associated with running a hotel.

For the people providing the goods and services, the new sharing economy makes it easier for people to make money. In general, the new sharing economy involves three parties. The first is the person who provides the actual good (apartment, for example) or service (a ride to the airport, for example). The second is the person who uses the service and the third is the company that provides the organizing service (often via an app) While this is an old model (people have long offered services and goods via things like newspaper ads), technological advances have changed the scale of this once informal economy. It has also served to blur the traditional roles somewhat. To be specific, those who provide the goods and services are not actually employees of the organizing services and those using the goods and services are not exactly customers of the organizing services. There are some advantages and some disadvantages in regards to these roles.

In the case of those providing the services and goods, one of the obvious advantages is that they can make money. While they could do this without the organizing service, the service obviously makes this easier and provides other advantages.

One of the advantages of not actually being an employee of the organizing services is that the provider has a high degree of autonomy that is usually absent in the traditional employee-employer relationship. The provider can (within the constraints of economic need) work as little as desired and is free to stop at will. This level of autonomy certainly has considerable appeal to some people—especially people who are looking for a more traditional job while making money to pay the bills. In some ways, the situation is somewhat like being a temp.

Of course, there are some disadvantages to being a provider. One is that doing this is rather like being self-employed in that there are typically no benefits and no job security. Also, the risks and costs tend to fall heavily on the provider. For example, if someone crashes into the company truck Sally is driving, then the company handles the matter. But, if Sally is freedriving for Uber and her car is hit, this is most likely going to work exactly as it would if Sally was just driving to Starbucks for a latte—that is, it is on her.

Another point of concern is that the organizer might be in the position to set rates or impose other limits—much like a traditional boss can. For example, Uber can set what drivers are paid on its own

But, this is nothing new—people who do freelance work or are self-employed in the usual sense face all these problems. After all, being the worker is generally not an optimal situation and being what amounts to a temp or freelancer can be even less optimal in terms of security and pay.

There are numerous advantages to the organizing companies. One is that they have people doing the actual work for them (for example, driving people) who are not employees. They also typically have people providing the resources (cars, gas, houses and so on) that are used. While the companies do incur costs in terms of running the organizing functions, they are able to avoid (or significantly reduce) the usual costs of running a business. For example, a hotel needs to have hotel employees (maids, etc.) and an actual hotel. Airbnd does not—the providers provide the services and buildings. As another example, a service that organizes drivers does not need to buy cars, maintain them or insure them—thus resulting in considerable savings.

In essence, the new sharing economy splits management from what would traditionally be the resources (human or otherwise) of a company. The organizer takes on the role of management while avoiding the need to have traditional human resources (beyond the administrative aspects of the business) and the need to have the material resources (beyond those needed for the administrative aspects).

Some companies do operate in something of a hybrid mode—having workers as well as material resources owned by the company while also having a sharing aspect to the business. This is, clearly enough, a variation on the old model of a company hiring temp workers, freelancers and contractors.

This model can, apparently, be very profitable—in large part due to matters of scale. After all, getting a slice of thousands of sales can result in a nice profit. Also, many of these companies benefit from internet inflation—the almost magical overvaluation of companies with business models based on the internet.

Given the apparent success of companies like Uber and Airbnd, it is reasonable to expect other companies to spring into existence to create what might be a new internet bubble—the sharing bubble. Of course, there are some clear limits on what sort of companies can exist—for example, airlines and heavy manufacturing are not really fit for the sharing economy. However, additional advances in economy might see some new realms for the sharing economy. For example, if 3D printers become truly viable, light and specialized manufacturing might become part of the sharing economy.


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Transition Savings Incentives

Posted in Humor, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on February 7, 2014
Social Security Poster: old man

Time for transition? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Faced with the coming Boomsday, Cassandra Devine suggested a modest solution to the problem of funding Social Security: incentivizing voluntary suicide among the baby boomers. The gist of the proposal is that if a person voluntarily “transitions” at age 65, those inheriting the person’s estate pay no taxes. The incentives for transitioning later are lower, of course. Given that Boomsday is approaching rapidly, it seems the proper time to revive Devine’s proposal. The challenge is, of course, to properly sell it so that it can become a reality. Since American political ideology splits neatly into two camps, the liberals and the conservatives, the sale is made easier.

For the conservatives, the sales pitch is obvious: incentivizing transitions is a way to reduce the number of takers taking from the makers. This idea thus sells itself. There are, however, two potential worries here. The first is that some conservatives have religious objections against voluntary suicide and will vehemently oppose anything that smacks of voluntary euthanasia. Two solutions are proposed. One is that conservatives like the death penalty and killing people they regard as being in need of killing. As such, these takers could be cast as being punished for being a threat to America, freedom, and security and perhaps as criminals of some sort. The other is that conservatives are generally fine with heroic sacrifices, at least when those sacrifices are made by others. As such, the transition can be cast as a great heroic sacrifice.

The second worry is that many conservatives are old people. Hence, incentivizing them would reduce the number of conservatives. The solution is to emphasize that this solution is for the poor and pass a special exemption for the wealthy. By casting the poor as takers from the makers, people will embrace the idea of the poor needing to die to get what the rich get for nothing. Since this is the natural order, it makes perfect sense.

On the face of it, this would seem to be a harder sell to liberals. This is because one primary objective of liberals is to ensure that the takers get as much of the makers’ money as possible for as little effort as possible. However, there are two ways to sell the liberals. The first is that liberals are liberal with other peoples’ money and not their own. After all, Liberal Lucile drives her Prius to Starbucks to Tweet, blog and post on Facebook her rants against corporations using her iPad.  None of that liberal lifestyle comes cheap. If Lucile knows that she’ll get her parents’ wealth without having to pay taxes herself, she’ll write a rant about that and Tweet it.  The second is that liberals really like to kill old people—as shown by the Death Panels of Obamacare to the liberal love of assisted suicide. So, this should be an easy sell.

As with any good idea, it makes perfect sense to extend it to cover everything. Why not extend this saving measure to other areas so as to trim the takers that are taking from the makers? One obvious area to address is the whole social welfare system beyond Social Security. People, regardless of age, could be incentivized into transitioning early—at least those who are takers rather than job creators. For example, spouses and family members could be offered a percentage of the benefits of each person in return for the person agreeing to transition at any age. Job creators could also be offered comparable incentives for transitioned employees—this would lower costs and provide new job openings. However, this program should not be pushed too hard: a reduced work force would increase the value of labor and be damaging to the job creators while assisting the unions. Since unions are almost transitioned, it would be tragic if they were revitalized.

Conservatives would surely embrace this proposal on the grounds that takers were being transitioned and jobs were being created. Liberals would, sadly, be more of a problem: as noted above, they are driven to ensure that the takers maximize their take from the makers and they want the poor to be able to lay around all day, watching TV and eating Cheetos. However, the liberal love of fattening the takers is exceeded by their greatest love: maximizing abortions. If this Radical Incentive Program is presented as a matter of a woman’s choice to have a very, very late term abortion, then the idea would be embraced by the liberals with great enthusiasm. However, great care must be taken when handling the conservatives: while they will gladly support any transitions for kids (to reduce the costs of school lunch programs, for example), they will balk at any suggestion of allowing any actual abortions. Conservatives must, as always, be sold by presenting the youth as takers and not makers. Fortunately, people have shown an inability to engage in rational examination of politics and will, as always, see what they wish. For examples, liberals reading this will be enraged at the accurate description of the villainous conservatives, but enraged by the descriptions of the liberals. Likewise for the conservatives.

Working together, we can transition everyone—thus lowering costs and taxes to zero. Transition now for a better tomorrow.

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Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on March 20, 2011
3 Muzzles

Image by ZORIN DENU via Flickr

Newsweek recently published “2,405 Shot Dead Since Tucson” that focused on gun issues. While I am not going to analyze the article, it did get me thinking about guns once more.

My own feelings (and I do mean feelings rather than thoughts) are decidedly positive towards guns. I grew up shooting, I have many good memories involving guns, and I must confess that I simply really, really like weapons. I appreciate the designs of fine weapons and the skill required to make and use them. Being a philosopher, I am well aware that how I feel about guns has no bearing whatsoever in terms of arguments relating to gun issues.

Of course, my feelings are not purely positive. When I hear of yet another senseless incident of violence involving guns, I feel (as all sane people do), rather bad. However, my bad feelings are not directed at the guns. They are, after all, mere things and not moral agents who can bear blame. I do, however, understand the fear and dislike that some people direct towards guns. But, being a philosopher, I am well aware that how they feel about guns has no bearing whatsoever in terms of arguments relating to gun issues.

Since my feelings are pro gun, I have to be very careful when considering arguments relating to guns. After all, these feelings can easily cause me to accept flawed arguments in favor of gun rights and reject good arguments for placing limits on gun rights.

As a general rule, I am wary of legislation aimed at limiting gun rights. After all, the right to be armed is a basic right and a key part of the right of self-defense. Of course, rights always seem to come with a price. For example, the right to drive costs us tens of thousands of deaths each year in the United States.

As with all rights, it is well worth asking if the right is worth the price and whether or not limits on the right are worth imposing.

For example, banning all private vehicles would greatly reduce the number of traffic fatalities. However, that step would be regarded by almost everyone as too extreme and too problematic. However, we do accept limits on who can drive and these presumably help keep the death toll down to levels that people are willing to accept. As such, we are willing to tolerate tens of thousands of deaths each year for the convenience of being able to drive to Starbucks when we crave a latte.

Banning all guns would, of course, reduce the number of fatalities involving guns. However, that seems to be something rather unacceptable (and unconstitutional). However, just as with driving there seem to be excellent grounds for limiting certain gun rights.

One matter that people have brought up is the restriction of certain types of guns (like assault rifles) or certain accessories (like 30 round clips). In support of this, people point to how the shooter in Tucson was able to fire off so many rounds because he had 30 round clips. It is assumed that if he had been limited to 15 (or 10) round clips, he would have been able to harm fewer people. People have also argued that there seems to be no legitimate reason to have such high capacity clips. After all, people do not need all that magazine capacity for hunting or self-defense.

This reasoning does have a certain appeal. After all, being able to fire more shots does increase the amount of damage a person can inflict without having to reload or switch weapons. However, it is worth considering how much of an impact such a ban would have in terms of saving lives. Naturally, it can be argued that since there is no compelling need for high capacity clips, even if their being banned saved only one life, it would be worth it.

If such a ban would save lives, then it would seem reasonable. After all, having to reload more often at the range seems to be a small price to pay for this. Also, with a little practice a person can learn to swap clips very quickly, thus making the lower capacity clips only a minor inconvenience. Of course, anyone who plans on going on a rampage can also practice swapping clips (or guns), thus making such a ban far less effective than some people might imagine.

Another matter that people have brought up is being more strict about gun sales. While there are already laws in place that are intended to keep people who are mentally ill or who have criminal records from getting guns, these restrictions are often not properly enforced or can often be easily bypassed. There is also the fact that even the best limitations and restrictions are not perfect. To give one obvious “weak” point: someone who has not done anything that would legally allow their right to purchase a gun  to be taken away can still buy a gun-perhaps the very gun they will use to commit murder. Of course, this “loophole” would be rather hard to close. It is comparable to the “loophole” that allows people to buy cars and get drivers licenses even though they might kill someone by driving drunk.  As such, short of banning all gun (or car) sales, there is no way to guarantee that someone who should not have a gun (or car) will not get one.

Of course, it would be foolish to expect a perfect system. However, this does not mean that we should not push for a better system. I do agree that the current system does need significant improvements and I am in favor of those that would do a better job of keeping guns away from criminals and the mentally deranged.

Of course, focusing on guns is merely to focus on the tool rather than the actual cause of the problem. We clearly need to do more than just restrict guns, we need to address the factors that create criminals and the deranged.

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