Illustration by Tomasz Walenta for TIME
Illustration by Tomasz Walenta for TIME

Working From $9 to $5

Sep 11, 2014

Outsourcing used to be something you heard about only big companies doing. "We just outsourced our help desk," you might hear, or "We need to talk about outsourcing our design work."

I didn't write that paragraph. Because in the new economy, there is no need for me to ever do anything requiring any effort whatsoever. I figured this out when a food blogger invited me to a cool new Chinese restaurant, telling me not to worry about the long line since she "TaskRabbits that." This means that she goes to TaskRabbit.com and pays someone $35 to wait outside for two hours so she doesn't waste valuable time that could be spent blogging about food. At that moment, I understood that the revolution is coming very soon, and before I am publicly waterboarded with cold-pressed juice, I might as well TaskRabbit away.

After all, I was already paying Uber drivers to take me around for half the price of a taxi, and others to fetch my groceries through Amazon Fresh for a $4 tip. Now, through the magic of income inequality, Fiverr.com offers millions of services people will do for just $5. So I decided to contract out the only thing I still do myself: write this column. But as I scrolled through the hundreds of options of writers, trying to figure out who was best and worrying about supervising the work, I got exhausted. Hiring someone, I realized, is work in itself. So I TaskRabbited it.

I hired Macleish Day, a 28-year-old Los Angeles actor, to hire someone on Fiverr to write my column. For $15 an hour, Day offers writing and editing services, which I figured included this. He also charges $20 for babysitting, $25 for office administration and $31 for housecleaning. "Writing is a commodity that's not really in demand," he told me. I could not believe the new freelance economy was telling me exactly what my dad said when I graduated from college.

Day works about 35 hours a week, earning $30,000 to $40,000 a year, after TaskRabbit takes its 20%. "There are days I do feel exploited," he said. "If you take a day off, you have to work three times harder." Shortly after he agreed to help me hire a writer, however, Day bailed, saying it was against TaskRabbit protocol. Since one of the nine tasks the site touts on its front page is "Wrap my co-worker's desk in tinfoil," I found this hard to believe.

Nevertheless, I dragged myself to Fiverr.com and did the hard work myself. I hired Jeff Butts of Youngstown, Ohio, to write this column for me, the first paragraph of which I used above. He said it takes him about 15 minutes to write each piece, so he makes $20 an hour, before Fiverr takes its $1 per assignment and factoring in that writing requires four hours of procrastination per assignment. But Butts said he likes the work and that he's gotten to write about premature ejaculation, which he considers a plus and I consider just part of writing a first-person column.

Hiring Butts went so well that I spent another $5 for a couple from Argentina to do the illustration and got Robin Schroffel, a freelance copy editor from Canada, to proofread this column. I got the beautiful Ivona Vracevic from Serbia to take 25 pictures of herself modeling with a sign that says the awesome column by joel stein in a very classy way.

Then, like a robber baron eyeing a boat full of laborers, I really started making it rain $5 bills: I got a logo, a press release, a ukulele jingle, 500 copies posted around the University of Chicago, a translation into Chinese and a rap song by J.P. from L.A.: "Joel Stein is so funny/ You don't know what is coming/ This is no secret/ You should go read it." Sure, J.P. mispronounced my name, but for just an extra $5, I bet I could have gotten him to correctly enunciate Ivona Vracevic.

I felt a little guilty for paying people far less than what is considered legal in 50 out of our 50 states. But Ryan Heenan, my ukulele-playing jingle writer in Orange County, California, said the $5 is a loss leader that gets him bigger jobs. Fiverr helped him quit his job teaching preschool to focus on teaching ukulele, making artisanal peanut butter, self-publishing a book on how to make money on Fiverr and--I'm guessing--listening to vinyl records and conjuring risqué but respectful sexual fantasies about Zooey Deschanel.

In the new economy, you either run markets or you're run by them. You're either blogging for free for the Huffington Post or you're selling your website for $315 million; you're either driving drunks in your car for $1.25 a mile or running a business valued at $18.2 billion. This, if I am correctly remembering my Karl Marx from college, is called "capitalism." So before capitalism speeds up even more and runs over my career, I'm launching a mobile service to take the effort out of hiring people to do everything for you. I'm sure I can find someone to build my app for $5.

TO SEE THE FRUITS OF OUTSOURCING GO TO time.com/awesome

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