Ottawa Truckers and Work Apps & Part-Time Labor Markets

Sunday, February 20th, 2022

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What Happens Next is a podcast where an expert is given just SIX minutes to present his argument. This is followed by a Q&A period for deeper engagement.

Today’s topics are Ottawa Truckers and Work Apps & Part-Time Labor Markets.

Our speakers are Eric Kaufmann and Daniel Altman.

Transcript

Larry Bernstein:
Welcome to What Happens Next.

My name is Larry Bernstein.

What Happens Next is a podcast where the speaker gets to present his argument in just Six Minutes and that is followed by a question-and-answer session for deeper engagement.

Today’s discussion will be on two topics: What is going on in Ottawa with these truckers? And how have work apps fundamentally changed part-time work?

Our first speaker is Eric Kaufmann who is a Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College at the University of London. Eric has spoken on the podcast twice before where he discussed the lack of political diversity on campus, and why pollsters systematically underestimate the shy Trump Voter. Today, we will hear from Eric about what is going on in Ottawa with these truckers. Why is Trudeau escalating the situation and calling these truckers racists and misogynists and trying to implement martial law? Not everything is rosy in our neighbor to the North.

Our second speaker is Daniel Altman who is the Chief Economist at Instawork. Daniel is going to explain how these new work apps have fundamentally changed the nature of part-time work for hourly workers who can now move seamlessly between industries and positions to meet their flexible schedules. This is radical change in the labor market and may reduce structural and frictional unemployment for the better.

You can find transcripts for this program and all of our previous episodes on our website whathappensnextin6minutes.com, and you can listen on Podbean, Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Let’s begin with our first speaker Eric Kaufmann.

                                                              
 
 
 
 

Eric Kaufmann

Topic: What is going on in Ottawa and why are the Truckers Despised?
Bio: Professor of Politics at University of London’s Birkbeck College

Transcript

So, we’re here to talk about the Canadian trucker convoy, and we’ve got two conflicts. The first is straightforward conflict between those who want to end cross border vaccine mandates for truckers, so that truckers don’t have to isolate for 10 days and those who think these are necessary measures. Now, I don’t have a strong opinion on this. You’ve got to balance deaths against freedom and productivity, and I’m not an expert enough to know where that balance lies.

But what’s interesting to me is, the secondary conflict playing out here between rural, white working-class Canadians coming into Ottawa, colliding with a carefully curated image of Canada as a multicultural, politically correct, moralistic country. You see flags being waved along the route of the Trans-Canada Highway to contest the meaning of Canada from Liberal elite framed by Trudeau.

Canadian progressive elite has reacted in a disproportionate manner, and particularly Trudeau and even the media to this protest. Going back to September 2021, Justin Trudeau talked about anti-vaxxer mobs launching “racist, misogynist attacks,” something which has absolutely nothing to do with the whole vaccine question and with the trucker convoy, at all.

Trudeau essentially trying to inject identity politics into something that has got nothing to do with racism or sexism. That the convoy was led by “those that claim the superiority of the white bloodline, and equate Islam to a disease,” and this is a product of his fevered imagination.

No shame in applying these label to this protest. And the media focusing heavily on the one or two Confederate and Nazi flags that could be found in the thousands of protestors and trying to make those stand in for the protest.
What is the reaction of this, in public opinion?” this left-wing populist misinformation does work, if you look at some of the surveys, one poll showed that 57% of respondents said, “The convoy was not about vaccine mandates, but an opportunity for right wing supremacist groups to rally and voice their frustrations about society.” That’s 57% of people responded in that manner.

In a 2019 poll, I found that over three quarters of supporters of the left leaning Liberal, New Democrat and Green parties said that the People’s Party, which is the populist party, in Canada, this anti-vaccine mandate party, called it a racist party. 60% of the Canadian electorate leans left, a majority of that group is buying into these media narratives about racism.

This reflects a growing polarization in Canadian public opinion. If you look at support for Trudeau amongst Conservative and People’s Party voters, it is in single digits. Has been for a few years now. Switching between the Liberals and the Conservatives is very rare. That never used to be the case, but it is now.

So, we’re looking at a very US-style polarized situation, and Trudeau has been an extremely polarizing leader. Most people do not support the convoy. Two thirds oppose it, and only 22% support. However, what’s interesting is that two thirds of Canadians say Prime Minister Trudeau’s comments and actions have worsened the situation, and that includes between 90 and 100% of right-wing voters. I would contest the view that this is going to be enduring, and why do I say that? Immigration is not a central factor in this protest, and if you look at the voters for, European right wing populist parties, or for Trump, that issue is central. The security and identity issues are really important.

Libertarianism, such as being against vaccine mandates, has a relatively shallow base within most publics. Most people are relatively conservative culturally, and lean somewhat to the left economically. So this is not likely to be something that endures. The pandemic is not going to last forever, it’s going to go away. And when it goes away, I think this issue is going to die.

However, I do think that the overreaction, and the identity politics-based reaction of Trudeau and the Canadian progressive media will deepen the cleavages moving Canada, in the direction of US-style polarization.

Eric Kaufmann Q&A:

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Daniel Altman

Topic: Work Apps are changing the nature of Part-time Employment and the Labor Markets
Bio: Chief Economist of Instawork, an employment app for hourly workers

Transcript

I’m Daniel Altman. I’m the first chief economist at Instawork, which is a flexible work app that brings together hourly professionals and businesses across the country in many different industries.

Today I want to talk to you about something strange that happened with the government’s surveys of workers. Between 2019 and 2021 the Labor department apparently lost track of about six million hourly workers, at least the counts went down by that much. In 2020 they were down by about nine million. But we’re still missing six million hourly paid workers. Where could they have gone?

Full-time employment has actually recovered to its pre pandemic levels while part-time employment is still six or seven percent below. So, does this represent a real decrease in the labor force or is there something else going on?
Well, surveys take place during a reference week every month. Now, if you haven’t been working in that week and you’re not employed on a salary basis or a full-time position then you won’t be counted as in the labor force. So, if you’re taking a little time off, you’re ill and work a few hours here and there. It doesn’t matter, you’ll be out of the labor force that week. Whereas someone with a permanent job who takes vacation or sick leave will still be counted as in the labor force. So, there’s some leakage from the surveys that the government conducts when people take time off from unconventional working arrangements.

Now, the government also counts self-employed people and you might think a lot of these six million may have become self-employed as so many did apparently during the pandemic. The government only counted 100,000 people becoming self-employed since the pandemic began. So, where did these people go. Well, there are a lot of people who work on a shift or task or hourly basis who wouldn’t necessarily count themselves as self-employed because they’re still working for other businesses. But millions of them have signed up for what we’re calling flexible work apps. That means they’re getting an app on their phone or their computer that helps to match them with businesses who value their skills and want to employ them.

These apps help the economy in several different ways. One is to reduce frictional unemployment. Now what’s frictional unemployment? It’s the unemployment that happens during the job search process. There are workers and there are businesses that are looking to find each other but they just can’t. It’s hard to find information about the workers you want. Well, these apps help to reduce that. And so by reducing frictional unemployment we allow the economy to employ more people and grow a bit faster.

We also help the quality of matching between workers and businesses because they find out about each other. A lot of these apps, including Instawork, have reputation mechanisms so you can grade the workers who work for you and they can grade your company as well.

Workers are able to evaluate many offers of employment by different businesses at the same time. And that gives them bargaining power and so it’s no surprise to see that workers share of national income has actually been growing through the pandemic.

When we look at the workers who are participating in these apps we notice a few things. First, we see that they value flexibility across three dimensions. They value flexibility in time, being able to work at day or at night or one week on, one week off, however they choose to do it. They value it across geography. We see workers who will work in different metropolitan areas at different times of the year. And they also value it across roles. We’ll see workers who work in different industries. They might work one shift as a busser and another shift as a warehouse associate. They have lots of combinations and they’re free to pick whichever ones they want.

This is really transformative for the economy because these people are carving out new ways to work and indeed to create a whole career. But it’s also transformative for policy because if we are successful in reducing frictional unemployment and getting rid of these other frictions in the labor markets then the economy may have a lower natural rate of unemployment. That means that we can sustain a lower rate of unemployment without creating a lot of inflation. Now that’s going to be big news for policymakers like the Federal Reserve. They need to know what rates of unemployment can be targeted without creating a lot of inflation.

Daniel Altman Q&A:

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