Of all the ideologies spawned by Silicon Valley, that of techno-populism – the making of empty promises on the basis of seismic digital disruption – is the strangest. Promising a world of immediate and painless personal empowerment, techno-populism is ambiguous enough to unite big tech firms, startups, cryptocurrency aficionados and even some political parties.
In May 2016, after months of failing to find a traditional job, I began driving for the ride-hailing company Lyft. I was enticed by an online advertisement that promised new drivers in the Los Angeles area a $500 “sign-up bonus” after completing their first 75 rides.
Riders for the collapsed food delivery company Foodora have asked the federal government to sue the firm’s German parent after the administrators conceded the dispatchers were “more likely than not” employees.
Alongside the results of last week’s US midterms came the passing of San Francisco’s Proposition C, a measure that will tax firms with an annual turnover of more than $50m (£44m) to raise an estimated $300m extra a year to help address homelessness. Last Tuesday, 60% of voters backed it: though the proposal is now snarled up in a constitutional dispute, its approval marks a big moment for a city whose housing crisis has become a matter of urgency.
The administrators of now-collapsed Foodora Australia have admitted it is “more likely than not” their food delivery riders were employees rather than independent contractors – and are owed more than $5m in unpaid wages.