Cheering the Defeat of the Nanny State
While much of the nation lapsed into a frenzy of presidential vote-counting myopia during election week, I spent time quietly celebrating the passage of Proposition 22 in California.
I even came up with a private chant: “Up with the gig economy! Down with the Nanny State!”
I cheered because the measure turned back an effort by California’s heavy-handed legislature to classify gig workers as employees instead of independent contractors.
I also loved that Prop 22 passed by a whopping 58-42 margin. Had Joe Biden pulled that kind of percentage in his race for the White House, the chatter about his landslide would have dwarfed the vote-counting hysteria that erupted the first week of November.
Ironically, I only learned about the California initiative the day of the election, while doing some research for an assignment.
The Reuters dispatch I read called Prop 22 the most expensive ballot campaign in state history. Companies like Uber, Lyft, Doordash and Instacart all threatened to shut down operations in California unless the measure passed.
Essentially, it cemented the status of drivers for these apps and others as independent contractors. This also threw a wet blanket on past attempts by California to interfere with the flexibility of freelancers.
As if to demonstrate the Law of Unintended Consequences, California’s Assembly Bill 5—which sparked Prop 22—had also placed restrictions on freelancers’ ability to write or edit for publishers and other companies.
The repercussions reverberated nationwide and, left unchallenged, might have inspired other states to try similar moves. The irony is that AB-5 actually harmed the very people the state was ostensibly trying to help. That’s one reason it was so gratifying to see California voters telling Nanny State legislators: “Back off!”
I sympathized with people like the 62-year-old retiree who told Reuters just prior to the election: “This debate is very emotional for me. I want to keep driving when I want and for whom I want. Everybody is super concerned about (the companies) leaving or raising prices and not being available in remote areas.”
Afterwards, she told the news agency, “I’m so, so happy. I know it’s right for the drivers, and I know it’s right for the people who use the services.”
Nanny State: Clash of Views
While I’m sympathetic to those who need to earn steadier and better wages, I see the ruckus over the gig economy as a clash between 21st and 19th century views.
The ability of self-employed people to earn a living by working on a flexible schedule and following a freer lifestyle than one afforded by traditional employment is something to be cherished.
Those who need a steady income and are willing to trade their flexibility for that kind of security are free to make that choice. But those of us who prefer flexibility, even if our income fluctuates, are free to choose that option.
So when state legislators try to chain people who don’t want a follow a regimented routine to wage-and-hour laws, they are demonstrating their roots in an Industrial Age philosophy whose time has long passed.
The efforts of lawmakers to turn gig workers into hourly employees reminds me of antiquated municipal laws (largely a historical footnote now) that insisted city employees live within the city limits.
While they made sense at the time, what worked in the horse-and-buggy age is no longer suited to a highly mobile world. That’s why I hope the groundswell of Prop 22 sends a message to state legislators and Congress: “Free enterprise is just that. Free. So keep your nose out of our business.”