Wealth inequality is literally killing us. The economy should work for everyone.

This economy has us in survival mode, stressing out our bodies and minds.

ALISSA QUART: So, for some of the people I interviewed in 'Squeezed', when they were going through economic hardship they'd get sick physically, they would be psychologically troubled, they'd have to go on anti-anxiety medications—sometimes they wouldn't even have healthcare so that would be an added expense, and some of the subjects might experience something called 'decision fatigue' where they'd be unable to make decisions or choices in their lives—basic choices—because they've been so overwhelmed by the feeling of economic uncertainty. They were thinking constantly "How do I survive?" rather than "How do I lead a better life?" or "How do I get my kid on the best course?" And so that's commonplace, just that overwhelmed aspect when you don't have resources. That's all you're thinking about.

One of the challenges for people seeking employment in a gig economy is that they're disposable; they can always be replaced by somebody else, they may not have relationships with another human being at Uber or at Lyft, whatever. Supposedly it's this idea of independence, but it's often in fact this kind of free-floating quality where they're not clearly connected to a boss or colleagues. And I think that can be really dangerous, because then these peoples' experiences are not humanized to the people who are hiring them, they're just cogs in wheels, and we should really start thinking about that because I think it can be really debilitating. I talk about teachers who drive Uber in a chapter, and I think for many of them they were recruited by the company. They had a motto four or five years ago: "Uber—teachers driving our future." So teachers and nurses were attractive to Uber simply as middle class icons, but they weren't attractive enough to the people in their community who they were teaching or the politicians in their community to give them a wage so they wouldn't have to drive Uber on the side. So to me that's one of the dangers of the gig economy too, that the formally middle class can be used just as a symbol and a kind of respectability that they can be offering these companies while they're kind of riffling through these once-stable professions for solid people that they can exploit.

Many of the people I wrote about are not in organizations or even in corporations or contingent, which means that they work part time, on contracts, they work gigs, which is now a huge amount of the population, or they work too-few hours to be counted as employees. So I'm not sure it becomes an organizational thing most of the time, but in terms of what we're doing at Economic Hardship Reporting Project we're trying to pay journalists who have fallen on hard times a dollar a word plus expenses. And that's just like one small way to keep them afloat. We have people writing for us who were living without heat, on food stamps, on government medical care, they were really struggling, and this is one thing that I've noticed has been interesting lately—I call them sort of white collar alt-labor, this is like white collar unions, almost, for journalists, for other employees in the past who're not necessarily unionized freelance journalists. And what we're doing is part of that, but there's all sorts of other things cropping up. There are collectives for caregivers that I've written about, so they're sort of working together, they're owning the apps where they rent out—where they try to get customers for housecleaning or nannying. And so I think, what can organizations do? Organizations can try to empower their poor workers by giving them resources, both economic and from the companies themselves—for instance, like an app that they themselves would own a part of rather than just simply the company owning the app and the worker just this teeny piece of teeny "task rabbit", they would instead be a part of the app.

Cooperatives is another way I think that we can start to think about that, especially web-based cooperatives. That's becoming really important given the concentration of wealth where we have a teeny number of people owning these companies and just hundreds of thousands of people working for them driving Uber, cleaning houses, et cetera. We can start talking about people owning a share of the digital economy and the gig work that they're doing.

  • Economic hardship is linked to physical and psychological illness, resulting in added healthcare expenses people can't afford.
  • The gig economy – think Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit, Handy – is marketed as a 'be your own boss' revolution, but it can be dehumanizing and dangerous; every worker is disposable.
  • The cooperative business model can help reverse wealth inequality.

Credit: Willrow Hood / 362693204 via Adobe Stock

The distances between the stars are so vast that they can make your brain melt. Take for example the Voyager 1 probe, which has been traveling at 35,000 miles per hour for more than 40 years and was the first human object to cross into interstellar space. That sounds wonderful except, at its current speed, it will still take another 40,000 years to cross the typical distance between stars.

Worse still, if you are thinking about interstellar travel, nature provides a hard limit on acceleration and speed. As Einstein showed, it's impossible to accelerate any massive object beyond the speed of light. Since the galaxy is more than 100,000 light-years across, if you are traveling at less than light speed, then most interstellar distances would take more than a human lifetime to cross. If the known laws of physics hold, then it seems a galaxy-spanning human civilization is impossible.

Unless of course you can build a warp drive.

Keep reading Show less

Just when the Middle Ages couldn’t get worse, everyone had bunions

The Black Death wasn't the only plague in the 1300s.

By Loyset Liédet - Public Domain, wikimedia commons
Culture & Religion
  • In a unique study, researchers have determined how many people in medieval England had bunions
  • A fashion trend towards pointed toe shoes made the affliction common.
  • Even monks got in on the trend, much to their discomfort later in life.
Keep reading Show less

Pupil size surprisingly linked to differences in intelligence

Maybe eyes really are windows into the soul — or at least into the brain, as a new study finds.

Credit: Adobe stock / Chris Tefme
Surprising Science
  • Researchers find a correlation between pupil size and differences in cognitive ability.
  • The larger the pupil, the higher the intelligence.
  • The explanation for why this happens lies within the brain, but more research is needed.
Keep reading Show less

Lobsters, jellyfish, and the foolish quest for immortality

Being mortal makes life so much sweeter.

Credit: Justin Sullivan via Getty Images
Personal Growth
  • Since the beginning of time, humans have fantasized over and quested for "eternal life."
  • Lobsters and a kind of jellyfish offer us clues about what immortality might look like in the natural world.
  • Evolution does not lend itself easily to longevity, and philosophy might suggest that life is more precious without immortality.
Keep reading Show less