The New Tech Economy

People interact with a crowd-sourced digital projection titled ‘Project:Dome – OCISLY’ by Lawrence Loh and Sebastien Jurkowski during the Singapore Night Festival 2019 media preview in Singapore.

It’s not news that the tech entrepreneur economy is in full swing. From the online markets for banking, education, publishing, artistic productions and crafts, there is no shortage for uses of the internet for marketing freelance skills to the larger world market, irrespective of national boundaries and customs. One can buy hand-made items on Etsy or industrial-made technology from Japan with the click of a few buttons and international payment systems that ensure that items purchased will be guaranteed payment or reimbursement if not up to snuff for the seller and buyer respectively.

From the ability to offer individuals services that they might never have before been allowed access to, for many the internet democratizes access to markets and wealth that before were unattainable. Inversely, it has created a cultural maze of products from around the planet where in one moment people can be hailing a taxi in Delhi on one app or hiring workers on another app mean that technology has becomes its own economy in many senses. Where convenience trumps complexity, new technology is making a dent in how products are marketed, sold, used and designed. So too, is new tech facing challenges by the local need for economic and real life markets that might provide goods and services to those who rely on their postal code and not IP address dictating services.

Still, there is a burgeoning market of self-made leaders in the new tech economy who are changing how we interface our economies and cultures. One such person is an investment banker, investor, and entrepreneur whose career culminated at Morgan Stanley, Edward Parrish Whitaker IV, who found himself moving towards beverage business with a venture DrinkAde that cures hangovers. Whitaker’s placement in a market worth $785 million is quite a spectacle in a world where alcohol consumption is being met by alternative non-alcoholic beverages such as energy drinks. As our cultural shift towards tea dances and other “sober curious” events augments, so too does the tech market reflect these shifts.

Indeed, there are many types of businesses which have grown tremendously due to the digital markets, one such being the banking sector. In India, digital banking has doubled in the last three years and approximately 85% of Indian banking customers use digital banking in their everyday lives. Similarly, online monetary platforms are exploding with the likes of Lending Bee and various platforms for crowdsourcing consumer lending have become popular means of acquiring funds for startups and other economic needs. Where startup loans have been traditionally quite difficult to acquire for many working in non-salaried positions, today having access to funds to secure the building of a brand is a matter of having a good idea and solid business plan.

Even beyond alternative means for financing a business are now myriad online sources for acquiring home insurance, the Internet of Things (IoT) logistics market and many more types of products which exist today in formats specifically tailored to each individual client. CEO of the Home Service Club, Sam Zakarin, tells me that the internet has increased the home warranty market exponentially, stating, “We have seen our business multiply drastically in recent years because traditional advertising didn’t allow us to expand our market—it resulted in our “preaching to the choir” instead of reaching a wider audience. The internet means that we can hook into social concerns through new technology.” The internet has even given a boost to localization which under traditional forms of advertising is dwarfed by the speed of thousands of companies which adapt computer software and websites to different languages, regional/national peculiarities and technical requirements of local target client base.

British economist, Paul Cockshott, has worked on the history of technology in the banking and insurance sectors in a book co-authored with Lewis M. Mackenzie and Gregory Michaelson in Computation and its Limits (2015) in addition to Cockshott et al in Classical Econophysics (2009). Cockshott tells me:

Banking is entirely a matter of maintaining information that records property relations. It has this in common with for example land registry offices and patent offices. Since it has always only manipulated records, and since the basic social relation involved, debt, only exists in records, it is not surprising that it can be automated. Indeed the development of certain key computing technologies was driven by the need to automate. The rotating disk drive was invented by IBM in the fifties explicitly to meet the demands of financial and insurance firms. It was the spread of this technology in the sixties and seventies that made it possible to spread checking accounts and then credit cards out to the general population.

Given this use of technology in the fields of banking and insurance, it is not surprise that these are two of the primary markets where technology has been best put to use. Still, there are fields far from these sectors that are growing exponentially because of how new technology allows users to create profiles and access information integral to their sectors such as the new

While all things seem great in the world of tech jobs and online human and market relations, there is a facet that is vastly overlooked: That of workers’ rights. Despite the national unemployment rate dropping to 3.5 percent which is ostensibly the lowest in 50 years, many people struggle to find work according to a recent US Labor Department monthly report which cites that there were approximately 321,000 “discouraged workers” in September, people claiming that they hadn’t looked for a job for the past month since they didn’t believe there was a job for them. Add to this the disillusion of people who say that the labor market is not reflecting appropriate wage gains and that, overall, the unemployment rates are not a measure of their reality.

Where the gig economy appears to be the future of work to some, the reality is that workers’ rights have been plummeting within this economy. Yet, things are looking up for this market given last month’s passage of Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5) in California which will, as of 1 January 2020, ensure that gig economy workers in that state are at the very least entitled to minimum wage, workers’ compensation benefits and other advantages. Meanwhile, Google’s “shadow work force” is showing signs of crumbling as workers in Pittsburgh have recently joined forces with the United Steel Workers (USW) in unionizing.

Where the tech economy is allowing for greater access to goods, services and labor as well as the vast reach of a seemingly endless client base, our culture is responding to these shifts in how and where business is executed. The larger questions we must ask ourselves is if having access to the latest gadgets and novelty items from across the planet is worth some of the ethical sacrifices that are being made in the name of technological advancement. From the carbon footprint being expanded as urban streets are filled to the brim with DPD, FedEx and DHL trucks lining the roads to the impending decline in workers’ rights, we might ought to consider the advantages of the tech economy in tandem with its disadvantages.