Editor’s Note: Check out a podcast I did as a guest of Erik Torenberg, alongside Jason Crawford, talking about the need to appreciate the achievements of capitalism, how our failure to grasp the scope of human progress distorts our thinking, plus a defense of Ayn Rand and of course a plug for my book on Atlas Shrugged.—RWT
1. The Law of Intended Consequences
California recently passed a law aimed at Uber and the “gig economy” of freelance workers. When it was announced, a bunch of us were wondering whether it would also apply to freelance writers. It turns out we were right.
California-based freelance writer Arianna Jeret recently learned about Assembly Bill 5 and is now concerned she and her colleagues in CA may soon be speaking about their jobs in the past tense.
Jeret, who contributes to relationship websites YourTango.com and The Good Men Project, says freelance writing has helped support her two children and handle their different school schedules. Her current gigs—covering mental health, lifestyle and entertainment—allow her to work from home, from the office and even from her children’s various appointments. “There were just all of these benefits for my ability to still be an active parent in my kids’ lives and also support us financially that I just couldn’t find anywhere in a steady job with anybody,” she says.
Jeret is now coming to terms with how her lifestyle will change come Jan. 1, when AB 5, California legislation aimed directly at the gig economy that was signed into law Sept. 18, will go into effect.
The bill, which cracks down on companies—like ride-sharing giants Lyft and Uber—that misclassify would-be employees as independent contractors, has been percolating through the California legislative system for nearly a year. It codifies the 2018 Dynamex decision by the State Supreme Court while carving out some exemptions for specific professions.
But the exemption for freelance journalists—which some have only just learned about via their colleagues, press reports, social networks and/or spirited arguments with the bill’s author on Twitter—contains what some say is a potentially career-ending requirement for a writer to remain a freelancer: If a freelance journalist writes for a magazine, newspaper or other entity whose central mission is to disseminate the news, the law says, that journalist is capped at writing 35 “submissions” per year per “putative employer.” At a time when paid freelance stories can be written for a low end of $25 and high end of $1 per word, some meet that cap in a month just to make ends meet.
The 35-article cap won’t just hit the hacks who churn out clickbait. It would hit anybody who publishes an article more than once a week. It would hit me—if I were so foolish as to live in California.
The absurdity of this law is childishly simple to grasp. The law’s legislative sponsor claims that its goal is “to create new good jobs and a livable, sustainable wage job.” But it works on the same principle as plans to raise the minimum wage to $25 an hour: the idea that the government can create the jobs or the extra wages simply by willing them into existence.
The reason publications hire freelancers is because they can’t afford to pay them full-time wages with benefits, not to mention all of the regulatory burdens California and the federal government have already piled on top of full-time employment. I was going to attribute this to the “demonetized” digital media of the Internet era, but frankly I think this has always been the case. So if you mandate that publishers have to provide these benefits or not hire anyone at all, guess which one of those things will happen? It is utterly predictable that instead of creating new jobs, this bill will destroy them.
But notice that this is what the bill was always intended to do.
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