It’s May Day, a worker’s holiday and an ancient festival, but throughout these millennials little seems to have evolved in the basic hierarchical structure of production. Sure, there were kings and slaves, lords and serfs, now employers and employees, but can new technology empower us to keep the vast majority of our own profits from our productive work?
With the rise of the knowledge economy, a trend is underway, especially in America. Some 54 million now work as freelancers or are self-employed. They charge per project, serving numerous clients, consulting, free to take time off whenever they please or work at weekends as they may like.
This option isn’t available to many who have to commute for hours, working 9-5, earning enough to pay their mortgage and other necessities, as well as perhaps enjoy a holiday. But that might become a relic of the past due to the rise of automation and its reliance on the knowledge economy, from data analysis, algorithms, report compiling to make sense of it all, and so on.
That means a continued trend of freelancing and self-employment, but can these atoms join forces together to form molecules, organs and then an entire body? Instead of working on their own or 9-5, can they combine the benefits of both and become owners of their own organization?
It’s the early days, but that’s what some in ethereum’s community envision. Because smart contracts allow for value to be transferred in a codable manner according to specified unbreachable rules, a Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) can be created which can act as a glue for all the freelancers, allowing them to combine their specialties.
The way it works is by creating a smart contract with certain rules where anyone can send some eth, a digital currency currently valued at more than $80. These funds are then held by the code in a secure manner and in a manner that has to comply with the rules as coded. They are further converted into a token which sort of acts as shares.
One simple rule would be for token holders to decide through a vote how much is spent on what. A marketer, for example, can come with a proposal saying I need x for y marketing. The token holders then evaluate the offer, accepting or rejecting it as they see fit. If accepted, the funds are automatically incrementally released based on progress.
In this way the workers combine their capital, becoming a merger of capitalists and workers in the process. They are now the CEOs and the board of directors, but they can also be the freelancers offering their service with their peers evaluating it.
You can imagine here a website which facilitates the processes with a business analyst or HR expert or other management positions bidding to offer their service to projects. Thus forming a company which is constantly judged by the market through the appreciation or deprecation of their token values, while each employee is kept in check roughly through the same methods as today, that is the token holders might fire them if they do not perform.
This is somewhat new and somewhat old. Co-ops already exist, with John Lewis, a middle class clothes store, and the Co-Op, two examples in Britain. Both are highly rated by customers and employees.
What is new is the way money is held by a smart contract, rather than given to management, thus keeping management fully to account while making considerably more difficult any cheating or fraud. Moreover, the whole process would be transparent to participants as well as require their consent, ensuring fairness throughout.
All of this would, of course, be initially very much experimental and would most probably experience set-backs, but it may address Marx’s critique by making workers capitalists through combining their capital rather than their private properties.
All, of course, would be very much voluntary, without any requirement of systemic changes or really any changes to the way things currently work. It would simply be an alternative method of organizing as anyone may please, thus potentially incrementally improving current processes to adapt to a new knowledge based economy, increasing productivity and efficiency in the process.