We Are Living in the Begging Economy

The government shutdown is highlighting what is already a reality for many of us: Using the internet to beg for money we need to survive.
Image: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

As the government shutdown nears the end of its fourth week, 1,500 GoFundMe pages have been created by furloughed government employees looking for financial help.

In Davis, California, a family of four with another baby on the way living off the single income of a biologist with the United States Geological survey asked for $4,000 on GoFundMe to keep the lights on, and were humbled that they were able to raise more than $8,000. The New York Times highlighted the plight of 20-year-old sophomore Cartonise Lawson-Wilson, who's unable to submit the paperwork required for a grant that will cover her tuition at the University of Michigan-Dearborn because the Internal Revenue Service is closed. At the time of writing, her GoFundMe campaign has raised $2,866 out of her goal of $7,512.


There is nothing wrong with asking for help. There's also nothing wrong with giving money to people who need it. If you can afford it, and want to, please donate to whatever GoFundMe campaign you’d like. If you’re an eccentric and generous millionaire, go ahead and fund all of them. Maybe it will make your day more interesting. We’ll probably write a blog about you if you do. But know this: while it is nice and arguably good that an internet platform like GoFundMe is making it easier for people in need to ask for and receive donations, the fact that a government shutdown drove 1,500 people in one of the richest countries in the world to publicly beg for money in order to survive should make you sick to your stomach.

We can survive this way, yes, it's true. A furloughed government employee with nothing but crushing debt to their name can beg for a few bucks on their Ko-fi account and buy lunch. The problem is that an increasing number of us have to rely on begging because all other, better, more dignified alternatives have been taken from us.

Our social order is maintained by a series of ongoing negotiations and compromises. We give something up, we get something in return. Ronald Reagan busted America's unions, but some of us get free soda at work now. Our wages have been stagnant for decades, but a Netflix subscription, filled to the brim with all the 4K entertainment that will fit into your brain is only $13.99 a month—wait, no, it's $15.99 now, but still worth it! Life expectancy in the US is going down for the first time in half a century, but you can fuck literally whoever you want in virtual reality thanks to consumer-grade headsets, robotic fleshlights, and deep learning-powered fake porn. An increasing number of Americans don't have traditional, salaried, full-time jobs with retirement plans. But that's okay because 35 percent of the total US workforce (and 50 percent of millennials) is freelancing. Going freelance is easier than ever thanks to gig economy platforms like Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit, and Fiverr. These are the compromises foisted upon us by powerful corporations and the politicians they own.

Having a gig in the gig economy is like having a normal job but without any of the benefits. Being freelance is like having a job without any of the benefits and sometimes you don't get paid for the work that you do. The uptick in GoFundMe pages as a result of the shutdown shows what could come after the gig economy, a natural next step in the total and utter debasement of the working class in the service of technocapitalism: The begging economy.

In this new paradigm, workers still have to work, but they don't get paid at all. Instead, they beg for money on social media. It's like replying to your viral Tweet with a link to your Soundcloud, only if you don't go viral you have to ration your insulin (one third of GoFundMe's campaigns are already for medical costs). This has been the case for many government employees for the entire duration of the shutdown, including the TSA employees who are supposedly there to prevent the next 9/11. It’ll be the case for the thousands more starting soon, so the Interior Department can continue to sell oil and gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Come to work, do your critical, high stakes job for literally no money, go home, open a GoFundMe, and beg other people—many of whom are in the same predicament, for enough money to pay rent, pay the bills, and buy food. How long are we going to put up with this pilot begging economy program? It depends. What is Netflix going to cost next year?