The Post-Employment Economy: Will We All Be Freelancers or Entrepreneurs One Day?

  • April 9, 2009 by Corbett Barr
  • 8 Comments
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During economic downturns and recessions many people turn to freelancing or starting a business after being laid off from a regular job. It’s part of a natural cycle. Then, when the economy picks up again, some of those people return to the workforce because they weren’t successful as an entrepreneur or because they prefer the security of employment.

There are longer-term forces at play, however, and people who become self employed during this recession may be more likely to continue to work for themselves after the economic recovery. This is due to a progression towards something academics call the “post-employment” economy that we appear to be in the midst of.

Just what is the post-employment economy anyways? Will we all be freelancers or entrepreneurs one day?

The “post-employment” economy refers to a growing shift of the labor force away from working as employees towards a preference for being independent agents. Richard Hooker has an excellent multi-part series defining the post-employment economy over at Shoestring Venture.

Essentially, the nature of production has changed steadily over the past 100 years. During the 20th century, the middle class was built around the concept of getting a “job.” This was because the foundation of the economy was manufacturing and other capital-intensive ventures. Firms had to become large to realize the benefits of economies of scale inherent in their businesses.

The economy now has become much quicker to innovate and more volatile as manufacturing and other labor-intensive businesses have moved offshore. As Mr. Hooker puts it in his essay:

In a highly volatile, hyper-innovative economy in which the means of production, distribution, and marketing are relatively inexpensive and available to anyone, the race goes to the fleetest of foot, not the biggest of bulk.

That’s why the layoffs and downsizing of huge corporations we’re seeing now might not be temporary. It’s harder for big companies to compete in the new economy. Smaller, leaner, quicker companies have the advantage.

Smart people are realizing that big corporations can no longer afford to pay them what they’re worth. Combine that with the inherent flexibility of being self employed and it’s easy to see why we are indeed moving closer to a post-employment economy.

We may not all be freelancers or entrepreneurs one day, but those of us who aren’t will probably be working for smaller companies.

What are your thoughts on the lasting effects of this recession and the broader changes in our economy? Tell us in the comments!

photo by morgantepsic

Written by . Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.


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mark ryder April 9, 2009 at 12:04 pm

The entire concept of a “job” is really pretty new in human history. People, for good or for bad, had a role in their society. Other than the “security” issue I think most people would garner more satisfaction in working for themselves. And looking at today’s economic outlook “security” is very elusive.

Corbett Barr April 16, 2009 at 4:01 pm

Hi Mark, I agree about people garnering more satisfaction from working for themselves. There are numerous surveys and reports with suggest that self-employed people are happier than employees. Take away the “security” of a regular job and it’s no wonder that so many people are becoming self-employed. Thanks for reading.

Neil Matthews August 16, 2009 at 2:27 am

I gave up my big corporation freelancing work to concentrate on working with solopreneurs and small companies at the start of this year, and it feels excellent.

When I was working (usually onsite) for large companies and financial institutions, even though I was a freelancer I felt the pain of the crushing rules and other corporate nonsene; the meetings, the policies and procedures, the clock watching, the bringing together of people who don’t like each other in a confined space.

When you work with smaller companies or micro businesses, they are more appreciative, you get a sense you are making a difference to their business and they will sing your praises to anyone and everyone, when was the last time a big corp client gave me a testimonial – never.

My recipe for success and contentment, work for yourself as a solopreneur, work with other micro businesses whenever possible.

Galina March 11, 2013 at 8:51 am

I totally agree, Neil!
What matters ultimately is that we work with other like-minded people who have similar values and ethics.
Nice website!

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