The more that this logic of privatization pervades a society, the greater the likelihood that all the “free lunches” will be eliminated and any externalities encountered in the public realm will be negative, as when heavy industry collects profit and leaves pollution. But the tech sector too offers so many prominent examples of this approach that it can seem like its core strategy. The various incarnations of the “gig economy” — in which every individual worker, small business, or piece of property is a monetizable asset from which a much larger company can extract maximum value through a flexible contractor relationship — depend upon this arrangement: Ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft and food-delivery platforms like DoorDash externalize as much risk as possible by transferring it to the contractors who do the driving; those contractors, in turn, face an incentive structure that frequently pushes them to do that work recklessly (making public space itself more dangerous) to meet platform-mandated goals or secure the customer ratings necessary to keep working. The variable earnings as well as costs like vehicle maintenance are borne (or not) by the individual contractors, while the platforms themselves reap a portion of those workers’ aggregate revenue no matter what. In a similar way, social media externalizes the negative effects it creates: Facebook and other platforms cultivate content that maximizes user engagement while refusing to assume responsibility for its consequences, which have ranged from misinformation to reinforcing bias to violent social unrest.

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