In some ways we seem to be heading back towards the 1880’s, 1890’s. One class of people (the gentry) simply don’t do menial tasks. They employ everyone else to do the menial tasks for them, and that outsourcing of menial tasks constitutes a big chunk of the national employment picture. It’s an economy, of a kind… but it’s a feudal-style economy, seems kind of quaint to someone born when I was (about 60 years ago).
True, the gig economy and distributed routing and “traffic control” remove the more personal aspects of feudalism, like co-habiting with one’s servants; this could be seen as more or less humanising, depending in which aspects of traditional domestic service you feel like remembering. Maids and cooks who visit the apartment only when the master/mistress is away, are less likely to experience harassment and rape. Score one for the gig version of domestic service. But equally, today’s employer almost certainly doesn’t set aside wealth for the furnishing of a few cosy cottages on the estate that the aged, faithful family retainers can retire to in their final years. The “paternalism” of a feudal society was a kind of social contract, albeit a one-sided and unreliable one. What we’re looking at here is an absence of social contract, a service economy built strictly on a short-term transaction basis. Who cares if this week’s Alfred is a different actual person from last week’s Alfred?
We could say that this return to a domestic service economy was predictable. We can make a pretty good case that the end of the domestic service economy Mk I was brought about by the proliferation of factories and higher-paying menial tasks in industry, which lured away the workers who previously had done lower-paying menial tasks in wealthy people’s homes. “You just can’t get good help nowadays,” was the sad story of the aristos at the ramp-up of the fossil/industrial age. Fast forward to today, with offshoring and automation devastating the factory floor labour ecosystem, eliminating jobs daily, plus an upward concentration of wealth unparalleled since the days of the railroad barons and the Gilded Era… as jobs vanish and inequity soars, the economy re-absorbs those displaced persons as domestic help, but according to a new, distributed, internet-enabled, atomised model. History never repeats exactly, but it does seem to rhyme.
One thing I’m pretty sure of: an economy heavily based on car travel and internet/cellphone connectivity is insanely fragile.