Winner of the William G. Bowen Prize
Named a "Triumph" of 2018 by New York Times Book Critics
Shortlisted for the 800-CEO-READ Business Book Award
The untold history of the surprising origins of the "gig economy"--how deliberate decisions made by consultants and CEOs in the 50s and 60s upended the stability of the workplace and the lives of millions of working men and women in postwar America.
Over the last fifty years, job security has cratered as the institutions that insulated us from volatility have been swept aside by a fervent belief in the market. Now every working person in America today asks the same question: how secure is my job? In Temp, Louis Hyman explains how we got to this precarious position and traces the real origins of the gig economy: it was created not by accident, but by choice through a series of deliberate decisions by consultants and CEOs--long before the digital revolution.
Uber is not the cause of insecurity and inequality in our country, and neither is the rest of the gig economy. The answer to our growing problems goes deeper than apps, further back than outsourcing and downsizing, and contests the most essential assumptions we have about how our businesses should work. As we make choices about the future, we need to understand our past.
This disquieting history of worker dispensability from Hyman (American Capitalism: A Reader), a Cornell economic history professor, tries to find cause for optimism in the emergence of the "gig economy," but will still leave salaried employees looking nervously over their shoulders. He carefully traces the growth of the temporary labor movement, from the temp secretaries of the post-WWII firms Manpower Inc. and Kelly Girl to today's freelancers hired through online services like Craigslist and Upwork. Hyman notes that, by the late 1960s, Manpower's CEO, Elmer Winter, was already envisaging a wholly temporary workforce. However, it took the corporate trimming, restructuring, and downsizing of the 1980s to make "leanness" a business ideal, in which companies shed workers like unwanted pounds. Hyman's examination of the evolution of work is thorough, thoughtful, and sympathetic, importantly not excluding the people immigrants, minorities, women, and youth largely ignored in the "American Dream" model for employment once all but guaranteed to white men. In the last chapter, Hyman lays out ambitious suggestions for how society can make "the flexible workforce and the flexible firm... work for us," such as through increased incentives for small business ownership, yet leaves it very uncertain whether this brave new world will usher in greater worker freedom or even greater instability.