oConomy
April 19, 2010 by Alex Hornbake

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:

Imagine a future in which millions of families live off the grid, powering their homes and vehicles with dirt-cheap portable fuel cells ... Faced with the burden of financing the decades-long retirement of aging boomers, many of the young embrace a new underground economy, a largely untaxed archipelago of communes, co-ops, and kibbutzim that passively resist the power of the granny state while building their own little utopias.

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.

cubicle_prison

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.


Alex Hornbake

Freelance Tech Writer

Alex Hornbake is one of several freelance writers on the oDesk Blog team. He joined the oDesk marketplace in 2009, and brings more than a decade of technical expertise to his clients. Alex shares his point of view to help you make informed decisions for your personal and business technology choices.