Regulators need to accept the new future of work

7 January 2016 by Steve Blum
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Twentieth century government and twenty-first century entrepreneurship do not mix well. That was the top line consensus at a CES panel discussion this afternoon. Moderated by Julie Samuels from Engine, a tech policy advocacy group, it included two company reps – Laurent Crenshaw from Yelp and Marco Zappacosta from Thumbtack – and Arun Sundararajan, a business professor at New York University.

“Taxes are not the issue, small businesses care much more about regulation”, Zappacosta said. As businesses expand, so does the regulatory burden. “This is a big fear that causes businesses not to grow as much as they should”.

The problem is that the assumptions that drove the development of labor laws in the twentieth century no longer apply. The model then was that most people had a career job with a company, that provided a basic social safety net, such as disability, retirement and medical benefits. But now, “that will not necessarily be the best model for organising economic activity”, Sundararajan said.

“Atomisation of work is coming into tension with our regulatory state that assumes a lump of work”, said Zappacosta. “The path we see forward is to refashion our safety net so that it can be managed through individuals”.

There was little optimism that government regulations or regulators will adapt by themselves. But online communities can be self regulating. “Platforms like Yelp and others that basically create a feedback loop between the user and the business owner create a scenario that lets the business itself function ahead of the regulations”, Crenshaw said.

Those online communities can also apply political pressure. “We’re going to see a wide variety of new collectives that are giving consumers a new seat at the table”, said Sundararajan. “They’ll sit at the table in the same way that labor unions did in the past”.

“We’re having these fundamental questions in America about what is the nature of work and what is the social safety net and who is going to provide it”, said Samuels as she wrapped the panel up.