Nathan Barley blamed for global GDP slump

Clueless freelancers and the productivity puzzle

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Nathan Barley, the insufferable "self-facilitating media node" of Charlie Brooker's TV series, may be a prime culprit for Britain's lack of productivity growth.

Not Barley, personally, but as the number of self-employed has risen – particularly in media and tech – real output per hour has remained in the doldrums, notes Dhaval Joshi, investment strategist at BCA Research.

"There is a clear association between a rise in self-employment and productivity becoming becalmed. Reinforcing this pattern, whenever self-employment has picked up most sharply – for example, between 2011 and 2013 and in 2015 – productivity has taken a big hit," Joshi writes, singling out media and tech.

The "productivity puzzle" refers to the failure of employers to get more from their labour hours. The UK has one million more freelancers than a decade ago. Real output per hour rose 20 per cent from 1993 to 2000 but under 4 per cent from 2009 to now.

As Joshi explains, freelancers hit productivity because they're obliged to be experts at things they're rubbish at.

"This burgeoning group of people have to carry out tasks for which they have no particular skill. A newly freelance journalist has to spend time managing IT problems and accounts rather than actually doing the job for which they are best equipped."

A few sections of the economy have benefitted from freelancing: TED Talks, network meetups, authors of "counterintuitive" pop science books, or at least their agents – all provide that vital fuel to the zeitgeist-chasers' mill.

It does seem tough to lump in "tech" with Nathan Barley – but "tech" to London's media does not mean what you or I would call "tech". It encompasses many things that aren't actually tech at all, such as social media marketing, or the fugitive former columnist Steve Bong. ®


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