future of work laber Sharing Economy

Crowdfunding a Basic Income, First in Germany, Now in US

Crowdfunding a Basic Income, First in Germany, Now in US

What would you do if you had a guaranteed income of $1,250 a month?

A social-enterprise-marketer-slash-Lyft-driver recently started something called the My Basic Income project, a crowdfunding campaign to financially support one person (or more) for one year. Inspired by an existing project in Germany with the same premise, if the crowdfunding campaign is successful, the My Basic Income project will hold a raffle to determine who will receive $1,250 a month for twelve months. As part of the project, people signing up for the raffle would be asked to say what the income would allow them to do.

The project was started at the Basic Income Create-a-thon, which ran from November 13 – 15 in San Francisco. The Create-a-thon was put on by the Universal Income Project, a new nonprofit sponsored by the Roosevelt Institute. Interest in basic income has been rising worldwide, but the recent Create-a-thon and the resulting projects indicate that at least a small number of Americans are ready to stop talking and start taking things into their own hands.

This video was produced over the course of the Create-a-thon.

Cameron Ottens, the Lyft driver and small business owner who helped start My Basic Income, is fairly new to the idea of a basic income. He tells Civicist he first started reading about it six months ago. Once he was sold on the idea, however, he realized he realized we shouldn’t “hold our breath” waiting for our government to get to it.

“I thought the crowdfunding they were doing in Germany was a great idea—to just start, instead of waiting for a gatekeeper or politician to do it,” Ottens says. (The founders from the project in Germany actually attended the event.)

“The ultimate goal is to spread the idea of this from a personal angle,” Ottens says, which is why he is asking people to share what they would do if provided with a basic income. Ottens thinks that it will help dispel the belief that a guaranteed basic income would make everyone (else) lazy.

In the introduction to the crowdfunding campaign, Ottens writes:

Imagine if you could give someone $1,250 per month with no obligations, no limitations, and no strings attached for one full year. How would that change their life?

We want to find out! What would happen if everyone had an amount of money that covers their basic needs? Would people be lazy or would they use it to take on new risks? Would they waste it in one night or invest with intention in their futures? We don’t know, but what if we funded a full year of basic income for a complete stranger, to find out?

I asked if there would be some kind of report at the end, to prove the success of projects like My Basic Income. He acknowledge the inherent contradiction in requiring someone to do something in exchange for no-strings-attached cash—his hope is that recipients (if not all than some) would be moved to help spread the word.

The Basic Income Create-a-thon was attended by more than 60 people actively working on various projects, and more than a hundred came Sunday to see the final presentations (with another 350 watching a livestream). Jim Pugh, one of the organizers of the Create-a-thon, tells Civicist that organizers in Los Angeles and Minneapolis, Minnesota, have already reached out about conducting Create-a-thons in their respective cities.

Jim Pugh, the CEO of Share Progress, says that he connected with other advocates for universal basic income earlier this year, and the Create-a-thon is the result of their conversations. They originally came up with the idea of hosting a hackathon but as a group decided they didn’t feel comfortable having it be exclusively tech-focused. A Create-a-thon allows for input from artists, writers, filmmakers, and other non-techies.

“I haven’t worked specifically in the arts space before but recognize the value of those people involved if you want to make an emotional appeal for a new idea,” Pugh says. He tells Civicist that, as a Bay Area resident, he realizes that a more automated future is almost guaranteed, and the basic income is a feasible solution for when “full employment isn’t feasible or necessarily desirable.”

As for Ottens, he says that with a basic income he would spend a little less time driving, and a little more time growing his business.

Civic Hall Election 2016 future of work Sharing Economy



Marco Rubio weighs in on the on-demand economy, innovation and disruption, money in politics, and platform cooperativism.

This morning Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio dropped by Civic Hall to deliver a prepared speech on the on-demand economy, followed by a Q&A with Civic Hall founder Andrew Rasiej. In his speech, Rubio touted the advantages of the on-demand economy, including upward mobility, flexibility, and independence. He argued that all of the “best innovation is happening in the unregulated space” and said his proposed tax reform plan would make the tax code more welcoming to the on-demand economy. Many of Rubio’s prepared comments tracked with other speeches he has given on the subject, although this one was without any explicit jabs at fellow candidates.

Rubio highlighted New York-based Handy as an innovative startup facing overregulation, and said another entrepreneur he met recently asked him not to name his company publicly to avoid drawing the attention of legislators.

Rubio called for a new category of worker, pointing out that those with W2 status have more protections but fewer of the freedoms that characterize the on-demand economy, but if employees are categorized as independent contractors, employers are prevented from training them or otherwise dictating how something is done. Rubio argued that a middle ground is needed, pointing out Germany already has a third category for “dependent contractors.” He added, “Whether or not this model is the best for America is something we have to figure out.”

To cut down on innovation-stifling regulation, Rubio proposed a cap on the amount that regulations can cost the economy, saying current compliance costs approach $70 billion. Rubio singled out regulation lobbied for by incumbent interests like the taxi and hotel industries for hindering competition.

When Andrew Rasiej pushed him on the root issue that makes it possible for established interests to have their way—money in politics—Rubio first said that small government is the answer: If unlimited regulation is an option, he argued, incumbent interests will “find a public safety argument and use that to put up a roadblock.” In response to Rasiej’s follow up question, again about the influence of money in politics, Rubio said that the American people should “stop electing” people susceptible to that. But he didn’t offer any ideas for how to achieve that.FullSizeRender

Citing the impact of Airbnb on the housing market, Rasiej asked how the government could minimize the collateral effects of the on-demand economy without regulation. Rubio responded that he’s not against all regulation—he’s glad that his drinking water isn’t poisoned and that someone is checking on the planes he flies on—but added that “structural change in the economy has always been very disruptive” and pointed out that the industrial revolution brought about a number of new issues, including child labor, that had to be resolved.

Rubio repeated himself somewhat when a member of the audience—an independent taxi driver—asked whether new companies and drivers should have the same access to the market that he has, but without paying the same fees. Rubio first replied that he doesn’t think it’s the same model, but reiterated that innovation is always disruptive, citing the impact of the car on the horse cab driver. Rubio said that it is the role of government not to prevent innovation, but to help people affected get access to the new innovative economy, whether through education or other means.

Rubio was dismissive of the potential for worker-owned cooperative platforms to compete with other startups, saying, “I don’t think you’re going to get innovation that way…people aren’t driven to do it if they don’t see the opportunity to make money.”

Finally, when asked by Rasiej whether he would continue to support the U.S. Digital Service if he were elected president, Rubio said, “If it proves that it’s something that is effective and that it can attract the brightest minds to improve how government works, then that’s something we should definitely continue.”

future of work Sharing Economy



Of the witnesses, only one pointed out that lumping these companies and issues together as the “sharing economy” was a mischaracterization and a problem.

Yesterday, as part of the ongoing “Disrupter Series,” the House Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee held a hearing on the “sharing economy” entitled “How Sharing is Faring: Growth and Adjustment in the Sharing Economy,” although it was evidently later retitled “How the Sharing Economy Creates Jobs, Benefits Consumers, and Raises Policy Questions.”

Witnesses included a vice president of Intuit, a personal finance software company, an assistant vice president of Property Casualty Insurers, a driver-partner with Uber, the chief economist at Thumbtack, an online marketplace for specialized services, the president of the Internet Association, a trade association representing Airbnb, Intuit, Lyft, Uber, and others, and the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Of the witnesses, only one, Jon Lieber, the chief economist at Thumbtack, pointed out that lumping these companies and issues together as the “sharing economy” was a mischaracterization and a problem.

Lieber said:

A quick note on terminology – because these services are essentially connecting people to other people, they have attracted a variety of ever-changing terms to describe them. One popular term – the “sharing economy” – is particularly inapt due to the fact that the one feature each of these services has in common is that money is being exchanged for a service. There is no actual “sharing” in the sense of which we learned about in preschool. The gig-economy, 1099-economy, collaborative consumption, peer-to-peer, on-demand… these terms confuse the issue of what is actually happening with the changes we are seeing in how people are turning their time and effort into money.

He went on to explain why this has policy implications:

Being precise in how we talk about these issues is important because the differences in the business models raise different sets of policy considerations. To take two prominent examples, Uber and Airbnb have both figured out how to take underutilized resources, private cars and private dwellings, and create productive assets out of them by enabling people to “share” them with others for a fee. But saying they are both part of the same sector totally obscures the radically different policy issues raised by both. Airbnb doesn’t have the labor issues that Uber does, and Uber doesn’t have the zoning and other issues that Airbnb does.

In spite of these points, it seems likely that the tyranny of the phrase “sharing economy” will continue, since statements by other witnesses and from the Energy and Commerce Committee use the phrase without question or air quotes.


Michael Beckerman answers some follow up questions.

Michael Beckerman answers some follow up questions.

“These companies have an extraordinary story to tell,” said Michael Beckerman, the president of The Internet Association. “Their story is about job creation, economic growth, opportunity, and life changing flexibility.” His breathless testimony invoked the metaphor of the “tale of two cities” to describe the difference between states and cities that have tried to regulate new companies (“growth is stifled, and opportunities are lost”), and those that have not (“consumers and the local economy have seen job creation and growth”).

Beckerman also made an interesting clarification about the nature of the “sharing economy” platforms he represents:

But first, I’d like to put the sharing economy in the proper macroeconomic context. Sidecar, Uber, and Lyft are neither taxi companies nor transportation companies. They are technology platforms connecting supply and demand. Likewise, Airbnb is not a hotel or lodging company. It is a technology platform that connects supply and demand. In 1980, for example, if you wanted a ride to the airport, you might pick up the Yellow Pages and look up a phone number for a car service, then call to arrange a pickup. In that pre-Internet age, the Yellow Pages served a similar function that Lyft and Uber do today connecting supply (the driver) with demand (the rider).

Whatever Uber and Airbnb are, they are not merely the Yellow Pages.

Job growth and creation were front and center, and for the most part the “sharing economy” was presented as being unquestionably good in this area. In the background memo sent to the subcommittee members before the hearing, a section on “Observed Benefits” cited the “new income opportunities.”

“The reasons for seeking freelance work or renters vary widely,” the memo reads, “and individual success stories come in myriad forms, but it is clear that a significant number of Americans are taking advantage: one survey finds that about 34 percent are freelancing, and another report projects 40 percent will be “contingent” workers by 2020.”

Note the positive-sounding phrase “taking advantage,” when some cases must also be “falling back on” or “resorting to.”

Representing Uber driver-partners, Luceele Smith testified to the benefits of working for the company, praising the flexibility: “I have worked in traditional jobs before, but there’s nothing else out there where you can set your own schedule and set your own goals. Sometimes drivers ask me, ‘how much do you make?’ I tell them, ‘you can make as much as you want.’”

Reading through the testimony—of all the witnesses, not just Luceele Smith—it’s interesting to see how easily the benefits of self-employment and the “sharing economy” are conflated as one and the same.

David McCabe reported for The Hill that the questions that followed split along partisan lines, with Republicans expressing concern that regulation would hurt job creation and stifle innovation and Democrats raising questions about worker protections and rights, as well as the safety of consumer data.

McCabe writes that the “hearing represents the first move by Republican lawmakers to exert their authority over the issues associated with the on-demand economy,” and points out that Republicans in Congress are playing catch-up with the GOP contestants in the presidential primary in this regard.

The voice of caution in the proceedings was Dean Baker, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, who Politico identified as the “Democratic witness.”

He outlined a litany of risks and issues that arise from the so-called sharing economy, and his testimony should be required reading on the subject. The four categories of regulatory issues Baker identifies are: labor regulation; consumer protection regulation; property rights; and rules prohibiting discrimination in the provision of services—an issue which had received little to no attention from others.

Civic Engagement Civic Tech future of work



“I sensed that we needed to hear from people who were formerly incarcerated and that they might be less likely to have internet access.”

Always ahead of the curve, the city of Austin, Texas, launched an online community engagement portal in 2008. Called SpeakUpAustin, the platform is the cradle of the city’s bike share program and played a part in shaping a plastic bag ordinance. It allows anyone with internet access to publicly share their opinion on upcoming policy decisions without having to attend a public meeting. Although this was a leap forward in terms of accessibility and convenience, participation was still limited by one major constraint: internet access. This summer, however, the city took steps to change that by using a text-based tool called HeartGov in tandem with SpeakUpAustin to poll city residents about a Ban the Box initiative.

The Ban the Box campaign to delete the part of job applications that asks about previous convictions has been around since 2004. The campaign began seeing some success (in Minnesota, for example) in 2009. Since then, cities like Boston, Philadelphia, New York City, Atlanta, Chicago, and others have removed the question.

“The Austin city council decided to follow the lead of several other cities and jurisdictions in looking at what people are calling a fair chance hiring policy,” says Larry Schooler, the manager of Austin’s Community Engagement Division. “The idea behind it is really to try to help those with criminal records, with histories of being incarcerated have a fair chance at getting hired.”

“The policy could mean that employers would need to delay criminal background investigations until a conditional offer was made to an applicant, even a person with a conviction,” Schooler clarifies.

Schooler’s position was created in 2009, when Austin’s communications director decided to invest more resources in engaging the public in innovative ways. “I’ve sort of gone from being a person to come in and facilitate meetings here and there to someone who is really trying to design a new system of public engagement,” Schooler tells Civicist. “I’m spending a lot more time now creating tools and programs and doing trainings than I did at the beginning.”

HeartGov first came to Schooler’s attention after he saw a short piece I wrote last year for techPresident, about testing the tool in Brooklyn. He reached out to Asher Novek, who developed the tool as part of his master’s thesis at NYU’s Gallatin School, and they began discussing ways to use HeartGov in Austin. (Full disclosure: Asher Novek is a Civic Hall member and has done some contract work for Civic Hall assisting with marketing.)

Schooler decided that the public polling period for the fair hiring policy, which ended at the end of August, was the perfect opportunity. “One of the reasons I wanted to use HeartGov on this one in particular is because I sensed that we needed to hear from people who were formerly incarcerated and that they might be less likely to have internet access,” Schooler explains to Civicist.

Working closely with Novek, Schooler came up with three questions, one that asked what kind of companies should be subjected to a fair hiring policy, how the policy should be enforced, and how the city should implement the policy. City residents interested in providing feedback could text a local number and would get the questions one after the other in response.

The city solicited input on the hiring policy via email, text message (HeartGov), and an online discussion board (SpeakUpAustin), although Schooler notes that, because this was a relatively abridged public input period (less than a month), there was limited publicity. All told, the city received 150 online discussion posts, 175 texts (from 60 or so respondents), and a handful of emails.

“Some of [the texters] were obviously people who had been formerly incarcerated and had been dealing with this on a first hand basis,” says Schooler. “I’m not taking sides in the debate over the policy—but it was really gratifying to see people so directly affected by a policy be participating like that.”

A preliminary report Schooler shares with Civicist shows that the majority of text responses were in favor of the fair hiring policy, whereas the online responses were more mixed, even skewing against the policy.

“There were a couple people who posted online who did seem to have some history [of convictions or incarceration],” says Schooler, “but not nearly to the extent that the texters did.” More of the texters were employees, whereas there were greater numbers of employers responding online.

Without HeartGov, the city might have gotten a very different picture of local opinion on the fair hiring policy.

Schooler dreams of one day better integrating the text and online responses, so that participants online can see what people are texting and vice versa. He also has yet to figure out how to handle two-way communication with people using HeartGov. “I didn’t do any personal responses this time. There just wasn’t the bandwidth for me to do that, or the time,” Schooler says. “In an ideal world I would in some way respond—we did respond at the end, when we closed things out, to say thanks.”

The two-way conversation has always been what Asher Novek envisioned for his tool. For example, HeartGov continues to be used in some local officials offices in New York and he says he feels it is his responsibility to “nag” offices to respond to constituents reaching out through the tool, until it becomes a habit.

As for what’s next in Austin? HeartGov has already been pulled back into service, as part of a community forum on building equitable economic development in East Austin.

Civic Tech elections First Post future of work



Is Amazon’s grueling workplace the future? Can Lawrence Lessig fire up the Internet? How tech can help Asian language speakers navigate the voting process.

  • The Future of Work? In case you missed it, Amazon is a pretty hyper-competitive place to work, according to Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld’s long investigative piece for Sunday’s New York Times. Perhaps the creepiest revelation in their story is the “Anytime Feedback Tool,” an internal communications widget that “allows employees to send praise or criticism about colleagues to management” which “many workers” call “a river of intrigue and scheming.”

  • Amazon employee Nick Ciubotariu offers his rebuttal on LinkedIn. I found his faith in the company kind of charming. As he writes, “We’ve got our hands full with reinventing the world.”

  • And company CEO Jeff Bezos says, in an email to his employees first reported by John Cook of GeekWire, “I strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay. I know I would leave such a company.”

  • Tech and the Presidentials: BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray reports on how Republican front-runner Donald Trump is renting conservative email lists to fundraise for his campaign. She notes that Trump has said he doesn’t need to fundraise, but it’s just as likely that the billionnaire’s rental of lists from PJ Media, Newsmax and the Daily Caller may also be a way for him to buy favor with their owner’s.

  • Brigade is hosting a forum this Thursday in San Francisco with Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley and several civic tech leaders, focusing on “how public and private sector stakeholders can adapt digital tools to improve the impact of government, elevate marginalized communities, and tackle our country’s most pressing shared challenges.”

  • Jimmy Wales, the cofounder of Wikipedia, explains on Medium why he is chairing Lawrence Lessig’s exploratory presidential campaign committee.

  • In my humble opinion, Lessig’s plan for getting elected president and serving only long enough to pass fundamental pro-democracy reform through Congress (a laudable goal) reminds me a lot of the South Park gnomes episode–Step 1: Collect underpants. Step 2: ???? Step 3: PROFIT.

  • This is civic tech: Code for Africa has just received a grant of $4.7 million for the next three years from the Gates Foundation to extend its work supporting data journalism, focusing on three hub nations: Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, the organization’s chief strategist Justin Arenstein writes on Medium.

  • Asian-American e-activist group 18 Million Rising is raising money on Indiegogo for VoterVOX, an app that will connect multilingual Asian Americans with voters needing language assistance to navigate the voting process. According to a 2012 exit poll from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, nearly 1 in 4 Asian Americans prefer to vote with help from an interpreter or translated materials.