The phrase Dropout Economy (made popular by Reihan Salam in the recent Time Magazine article) tells a tale of community activism and radical thinking -- sparked by a rejection of traditional norms that revolve around working for "The Man." In a time when corporate profits are privatized and losses are socialized in the form of unemployment and bailouts, it's not so hard to imagine that the people bearing the most hardship might reject the traditional socio-economic framework and seek out an alternative Dropout Economy.
Remote Workers: The Road Warriors of the Information Superhighway.
Mad Max references aside - as independent contractors working remotely, are we considered members of the Dropout Economy as laid out by Salam's article? Are we amongst the tame, corporate-friendly folks who've voluntarily traded in benefits packages to have the freedom to work without a tie, be home to see the kids after school, go for a hike on a Tuesday afternoon, or have the freedom to build and grow businesses without slow-moving bureaucrat overlords?
Of course we are. But I'm not sure if our future is as gritty and post-apocalyptic as Salam makes it out to be:
But, Salam does bring up a few good points...
A Better Way
The idea behind the Dropout Economy may be a bit hyperbolic, but it reflects a growing rejection of the status quo work/life balance. The concept of balancing work and lifestyle choices is one on many people's minds. For some, that scale gets tipped to the side of remote work -- either through their current employer or as freelancers. For good reason too, having the freedom to work from home can be an invaluable boost to both productivity and family relationships.
Not all companies are stuck in the cubicle mindset either. Many companies manage to create open, relaxing, healthy environments for their workers. For some examples of progressive work environments, see Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For.
The corporate rejection of a traditional office is just as significant as a worker's decision to "drop out". It represents a shared experience of the problems facing the workforce at large. In addition, the integration of teleworkers into the traditional work environment shows an understanding of the value of remote talent. This survey from Microsoft offers more insight into the support for remote work in the workplace.
We're All Dropouts
We all make choices as to how we're going to fit in to the marketplace, and sites like oDesk strive to make it easier for remote workers to capitalize on their skills. It's really about increasing the efficiency of connecting forward-thinking businesses with skilled remote workers.
The idea of dropping out of the economy is a bit outlandish. We are the economy. While dodging taxes and living off the grid may be choice to limit participation in the traditional economy, it's still a part of a fringe economy and an indicator of the overall health of a larger, and so far, self-correcting system.