Me inc.: Doing it all in the new economy

By Beverley Spencer Summer 2017


Do you ever wonder why everyone is so stressed? Blame the new economy.

Consider this: We’re not just juggling our responsibilities at home and work anymore; dozens of little micro-jobs have been added to our plates. We’re also bank tellers, travel agents, insurance claims officers, investment specialists, retirement planners, health-care co-ordinators, parking lot attendants and customer service agents. We scan and bag our own groceries and pump gas. Sure, it can be convenient, but no wonder people get grouchy.

The same forces that brought those changes are also transforming employment relationships. As a new book by a linguistic anthropologist suggests, workers are becoming personal businesses with their own brands and baskets of skills and experience to sell. It’s a fundamental change in economic organization that’s placing new demands on people and altering work life.

When employment is a business-to-business relationship, companies feel fewer obligations to employees; people-as-brands compete with one another instead of joining forces to demand better work conditions, Ilana Gershon writes in Down and Out in the New Economy. As reviewer Noah Berlatsky wrote: “When people think of themselves as brands, they are speaking the language of reputation, appearance and marketing. It’s hard to switch from that to a discussion of moral responsibility.”

This isn’t to suggest that there’s no upside to doing things for ourselves or taking charge of our own success. But there are consequences for individuals and society when paid work is shifted to consumers, personal brand management becomes yet another job and workers are treated like products.

When we’re embracing change, we can’t afford to ignore what it all means for our daily lives. And we should ask: Who’s really benefiting? 

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