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On Contact: The gig economy

Chris Hedges discusses the gig economy with Louis Hyman, professor of economic history at Cornell University.

After the end of World War II, two generations of workers in the United States were blessed with a period of unprecedented prosperity. Wages for the working class were high. Jobs were stable and came with benefits and health insurance. Unions protected workers from abuse by the business elites. Taxes on the wealthiest individuals and corporations was as high as 91%. The public school system provided a quality education to the poor and the rich. The nation’s infrastructure and technology were cutting edge and unrivaled. But by the 1970s, it all began to go south. Wages stagnated. Income inequality grew, until by 2008, the top wealthiest 10% of Americans received 87% of the economic growth, compared with 29% from 1933 to 1973. The good industrial jobs vanished. In their place rose the temp or gig economy, one where wages were low, the jobs were not secure and did not provide benefits, unions were emasculated, and the nation’s great democratic institutions, along with its infrastructure, crumbled into decay. What went wrong? How did it happen? And what does it mean for our future?

Louis Hyman is professor of economic history at Cornell University, and author of ‘Temp: The Real Story of What Happened to Your Salary, Benefits and Job Security’.