Another idea might be to bring back the fraternal societies of the late 19th century. Before there was a welfare state, there was mutual aid, as the historian David Bieto points out in a crucial book. So-called fraternal societies — think the Knights of Columbus, which originated as a mutual aid society to help Catholic immigrants — provided not only health care coverage and other forms of insurance, but also a sense of belonging and a social circle for workers going through an earlier definition of work wrought by industrialization.
Another analogue would be the compagnonnage, the traditional French elite apprenticeship system for the country’s best tradesmen. After years of intense apprenticeship, a compagnon is always a compagnon — the members of the informal guild help each other with business contacts, fellowship, and even mutual aid.
Of course, these sorts of institutions would have to look different in the 21st century. The closest analogue today to what I’m thinking of is theFreelancers Union, which, as the name says, helps freelancers get the sorts of benefits normally associated with stable jobs. Historically, the Freelancers Union has been an aggregator for health care coverage, allowing members access to America’s byzantine market.
It’s possible to imagine mutual aid societies, lodges, fraternal organizations, church-based organizations, and so on, that help people navigate the gig economy and find dignity in work. Maybe they own physical workspaces so lonely freelancers can have their watercooler. Maybe they set up meet-ups of members to exchange ideas and socialize. Maybe they have their own online training and education programs so that one gig economy job is a stepping stone to a higher-skilled one. Maybe they offer counseling of various sorts. Maybe they offer financial services — if everyone has to be a CEO, the organizations can be CFOs. And maybe they offer various sorts of financial programs, such as unemployment insurance and pensions, which might be subsidized by the government acting as a reinsurer on quasi-market terms.
Read the full story at The secret to fixing the gig economy: The Knights of Columbus