Posted by: patenttranslator | March 6, 2016

Welcome to the Gig Economy Where All Men and Women Are Not Created Equal

A few days ago when I cast my vote in the Virginia primary, I saw that all the signs in front of the voting station were for only one candidate: Donald Trump. I live in Eastern Virginia near the Atlantic Ocean, a Republican part of Virginia where Democrats basically have no chance of winning any election. I’m not even sure why I am still voting in presidential elections since in a winner-takes-all system, my vote makes absolutely no difference.

I remember that in 2004 when I was driving back home with my sons from Dunkin Donuts three days before the presidential election, (in order to bond with my children, I made a family tradition of getting high on sugar and chocolate every Sunday morning when my kids were small), the road was lined with dozens of big posters for Bush everywhere and there was only one sad little sign for Kerry. I was pretty sure at that point which way the election would go.

I think I can read political tealeaves at least as well and maybe better than most professional pundits. Unless something unforeseeable happens in the unforeseeable future, Trump will be my new president. If the Democratic elites put Hillary on the ticket, (a perfect representative of the fat establishment cats) and the Republican elites are not able to prevent Donald Trump from being the candidate who will be going against Hillary, I predict that he will win over her quite easily. Many people are afraid of Donald Trump, but many more are very distrustful of Hillary and don’t believe anything she says.

The elites don’t understand why people are really mad about the way the fat elite cats rigged an economy that until a couple of decades ago was nicely chugging along when it used to work more or less for everybody, including the middle class, and transformed it into what is now called the gig economy.

The gig economy works really, really well for fat elite cats who get paid more than 200,000 dollars plus for a short speech. Isn’t America great? Yes, it is, but only for some people.

While well-paid economists are churning out official monthly economic statistics, many people have figured out by now that the official numbers in these statistics about key categories like unemployment and inflation are pure and unadulterated fiction.

Official statistics state that unemployment is below five percent, which is supposed to be a really healthy number. But the real number, which nobody really knows for sure, is over 10 percent because these statistics ignore people who gave up looking for work since they have not been able to find any, and count people who work only part-time as being employed full-time, although they need a full-time job to be able to pay their bills. The real unemployment rate would need to take into account what is called the labor participation rate, which is a measure of the active portion of an economy’s labor force, including the number of people who are either employed or are actively looking for work. Incidentally, this number, ignored in official statistics so that people who are fed official statistics won’t even know that this category exists, is now at less than 63 percent.

Official statistics say that inflation is only 1.5 percent, but these statistics count only categories that fit the official interpretation of what inflation should mean, while ignoring for example healthcare costs, which have been going through the roof for more than a decade. Other inconvenient categories are also ignored: for example food costs (the official explanation for this egregious omission is that food costs are “volatile”), and the incredibly high costs of medication, which are usually hidden and become clearly visible only occasionally.

Recently this happened when a greedy young one-percenter by the name of Martin Shkreli secured a monopoly for himself with a life saving drug and then promptly raised its price by 4,000 percent from $13.50 to $750 per pill while stupidly boasting on TV what a great and smart businessman he was.

Things like that often happen in the pharmaceutical industry because the US government is prevented by law (!) from negotiating drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry. The problem in this case was, this is not how prices are raised by mature business leaders in Big Pharma. Of course you can raise the price as much as you want when the government has your back, but you have to be careful about how you do it. All you need is a little patience – jack up the price in stages, over a period of a few short years, keep your mouth shut and everything will be just fine.

Unlike in the pharmaceutical industry where price inflation has reached almost unimaginable proportions, in “the translation industry” we now see the opposite trend: rates for translation, at least those being paid to translators by translation agencies, have been steadily going down for more than a decade. Or at least that is what translators are being told by “the translation industry”.

Because “the translation industry” uses mostly freelancers, it is pretty much the definition of what “the gig industry” is all about. Because I am a freelance translator, I have been working in the gig industry for a long time now. I’ve never had a contract guaranteeing me a continuous supply of work since April, 1987, when I ceased being an employee, as none of the work that I do comes with the guarantee that more work will be coming later.

Since I had dozens or hundreds of gigs every year, (the average number of issued invoices per year would be around a hundred), I’ve had to rely on many thousands of gigs, from very small ones to pretty big ones, over a period of 29 years. And yet, for almost three decades, this gig worker has been able to support a family, originally four people, now only two, on a single income.

I believe that despite its disadvantages, the gig economy also offers quite a few advantages to gig workers.

1. Unless they themselves choose to treat suppliers of gig-sized work orders as their bosses, gig workers don’t have a boss. Unlike employees, they can fire their customers – if they are able to find new ones.

2. Gig workers who work for a number of suppliers of gig-sized work orders can’t really get fired. If they get fired by one gig-sized work order supplier, they just need to find another one, which is much easier than finding an employer, especially in the current situation where so many employers are converting their original employment system so as to be more compatible with the gig economy.

3. It used to be the case that unlike gig workers, regular employees were entitled to a whole range of benefits, including vacation time, health, dental, vision and life insurance, and a pension. I had all of that when I was an employee for several years, in several countries, from 1980 until 1987.

But over the last 30 years or so, Wall Street and their friends in our government, (both Republicans and Democrats) for the most part have destroyed these benefits. Monthly health insurance premiums, co-payments and deductibles for employees are at an all-time high and keep going up, and defined private pensions have been turned into a stock market plaything for Wall Street, while for the most part, they’ve disappeared for regular employees. The difference between gig workers and regular employees is now very small also in the area of employee benefits.

4. Unlike regular employees, gig workers can choose where they live. Regular employees often have to live in high-cost areas of major cities and commute on congested highways because that is where major employers are often located. Gig workers who commute only on the Internet can avoid high-cost areas and move pretty much anywhere they want, including, in the case of translators, to a different country. Of course, this becomes more difficult as gig workers age, get married and have children, but it can be done. Many gig workers seemingly don’t realize that this important variable can be used to their advantage.

5. Gig workers even have some advantages that are built into the tax system. Unlike employees, gig workers like translators can write off computers, smart phones, tablets and other gadgets and toys, including the cost of data services, from their taxes. Employees, on the other hand, can deduct very little from their expenses, not even the cost of commuting, which is a major expense.

As the gig economy is increasingly attacking the traditional employment system on all fronts, the advantages of traditional employment are disappearing at an astonishing pace.

Some of these advantages were of course mostly an illusion in the first place. Officially, employers pay 50% of their employer’s Social Security taxes in the United States, while gig workers have to pay the entire amount of the Social Security taxes on their own.

But who are we kidding here? Since employers obviously take into account the cost of taxes when they calculate the cost of a new employee, the salary they are paying to the employee is simply reduced by this amount. Just like official statistics about unemployment and inflation, this arrangement is just a scheme to make the amount of Social Security taxes appear smaller than it really is. In reality, both employees and gig workers pay the full amount of their taxes.

Whether we like it or not, the gig economy is here to stay. It’s up to us, gig workers who call themselves translators, whether we will meekly agree to the restrictive conditions that “the translation industry”, or more precisely a certain segment of “the translation industry” is trying to push down our throats.

If we accept the notion that there is nothing wrong with having to do a “free test” for a translation agency that is not very likely to even be qualified to evaluate such a test, we are acknowledging in this manner that we ourselves consider our work to be basically worthless.

The same is true about new inventions like “fuzzy matches” and “full matches”, or the obligatory use of CAT tools designed to ensure obligatory discounts, which is another word for the term “labor theft”, or “Non-Disclosure Agreements” from hell stipulating that a translation agency even has the right to invade our homes, ostensibly to see whether we are complying with all the conditions in the “Non-Disclosure Agreements” which are full of clauses that would be simply illegal in most countries, with the possible exception of North Korea.

Those of us who meekly accept all of that as a condition of having some work, any work at all, will not fare well in the gig economy.

But those of us who take great care when making a decision about which suppliers of gig-sized work we want to work for are in a much, much better situation than employees who have just been fired from a job in which they have been working for many years, sometimes for decades, and who have no idea how to go about retooling their skills and finding work in the gig economy.

We will never be offered hundreds of thousands of dollars for a short speech, of course, because these are just bribes that are offered to corrupt politicians for favors rendered in the past and favors to be rendered in the future.

But if translators play their cards right, which is to say if we choose the suppliers of gig-sized work very carefully, ignore most of what is called “the translation industry” and concentrate instead on direct clients and translation agencies that treat us as professionals instead of treating as indentured servants, we can still make the gig economy work for us instead of against us.

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