A Disturbing Emerging Trend

Do you sometimes wake up to a sinking feeling that things are just not headed in the right direction? Maybe, you worry about your debts, children’s college tuition, housing rent or child-care. Or maybe you are frustrated by not being able to maintain a decent lifestyle despite working hard. Do you fret and blame yourself for this situation? Think again: you are actually a victim of a trend which is deviously shifting money away from the middle class to elites at the top end of income distribution.
While the middle classes continue to fear for their future, a tiny percentage of our population is becoming much wealthier. This overly privileged class is eating up almost the entire national income and even managing to squeeze concessions, tax-cuts and bail-outs from governments.
Despite many Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives, leaders of companies do not always see socio-economic responsibility as a priority. Free trade agreements have opened new avenues to profit maximisation not only through access to cheap-labour markets and massive customer bases but also through securing monopolies over their intellectual property: patents, trademarks and copyrights.
Technology companies such as Apple – through absolute control of IP and over-hyped marketing – have consolidated their brand monopoly and continue to earn obscene profits without paying commensurate taxes. There are hundreds of such companies.
New trade agreements signed after 1980s are robbing the middle-class of jobs and lowering their real income. According to Economic Policy Institute, the North American Free Trade Act alone cost the U.S. almost 700,000 jobs.
Slowly and steadily trade unions have lost their power to protect workers as corporations have lobbied governments in their favour. In the absence of options and bargaining power the middle class are taking up jobs which call for longer working hours and provide lower incomes.
Against this background a new ‘sharing’ economy has emerged which lures desperate middle-class people to monetise extra-hours through on-demand jobs. In theory this sounds like a great idea: utilise your resources when they are not being used. So you can use your car to sell transport services (competing with taxis), space in your home or office (competing with hotels) and your free time to provide labour. There is no regulation, competition with the normal economy is easy. In practice, however, these sharing economy companies are arguably devious and unethical in the way they do business, subverting minimum standards for wages, safety, security and working conditions.
Uber, Upcounsel, Healthtap and other such companies are flourishing by pocketing hefty percentages of the fees charged to their clients, leaving minimal income for those who actually provide the service. For these fees, they match customers and suppliers (workers) via software, nothing more. They don’t provide risk-cover, benefits or insurance to workers or customers.
If you follow emerging trends, you’ll have noticed that across the world and across culture, the middle class is shrinking and that income disparity and inequality are rising. Aristotle once said, “Where the middle class is large, there are least likely to be factions and dissensions.” History has shown that when inequality is great, civilisations fall. Isn’t this an early warning sign that we should do something about?

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