This article was originally published at ValuesandCapitalism.com on August 20, 2012.
As I begin my last year of college, I think often about my post-graduation plans. Thinking often gives way to worrying, though, as the job market is weak and landing my dream job isn’t likely. So, like thousands of other frustrated Americans, I am considering freelance writing as a profession—at least temporarily. I have experience with it already, and it offers a relief from the incessant job-hunting that plagues so many today.
My decision, however, is not one solely of necessity. In fact, I rather like the spontaneity and risk involved with freelancing. I’ve enjoyed my experience with it so far.
But most importantly, I like the fairness of freelance work—merit-based reward that only freelance markets can offer. Indeed, working freelance gives me a deeper understanding of the fairness of free markets from a perspective others don’t necessarily have.
For most people, applying for jobs happens maybe once or twice every few years. For freelancers, it happens every day. Employers are always looking at their portfolios, evaluating their work, and deciding if they are good enough for the job.
It’s stressful. As a freelancer, I won’t necessarily know if I’ll have a paycheck next week. I won’t have a traditional long-term contract. No paid vacation time. No automatic raise after six months. If I decide not to work one day, I won’t get paid. But honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What I really love about working freelance is the knowledge that the better I do, the more money I will make, and the more successful I will be. Growing up, I did very well in school. My grades were about as high as they could possibly be. So working harder did not necessarily mean more reward. This was always frustrating.
But working as a freelance writer, I am rewarded according to how well I do my job, not according to whether I completed my tasks for the day. Reward is commensurate with quality. A job well-done makes the next one that much easier to land. And there’s no limit on how much or what kind of work I can do—there are always more articles to write, more work to be done, and more money to be made.
Will I ever be like Malcolm Gladwell or George Will? I doubt it. And like anything else in life, successful freelancing involves a bit of luck. But as a freelancer, I can have full confidence that the harder I work at being a better writer, the more successful I will be. People appreciate work done well, and they naturally reward those who do things the right way.
While the world of freelance offers a unique perspective on the fairness of free markets, don’t believe that the “permanent job” market is any different.
In fact, in a free market we are all freelancers—regardless of our job or title. We all try to sell our labor to potential employers, refine our skills to earn more money, and work harder in hopes of getting a promotion. If we show up early, we get rewarded. If we slack off, we lose our jobs (and getting another one becomes much more difficult). There really is no difference between freelance work and “traditional” work—freelancers simply switch jobs more often and receive their rewards (and penalties) more immediately.
So while freelancing offers an up-close view of the fairness of the free market, everyone—freelancer or not—has firsthand experience with this fairness. Success is earned in the free market, not granted arbitrarily.
Unfortunately, many seem to forget this fact and choose instead to blame the free market for economic inequality. Capitalism, they argue, leaves the masses in the dust of the super-rich and powerful. But in the course of their accusations, they wage war on the notion of earned success. They take for granted the idea of merit-based reward, and overthrow the principle undergirding their belief that good work deserves good reward. But of course, there is nothing as deceptive as an obvious fact. As long as our culture takes for granted the notion of merit-based reward, capitalism will be ever under attack.
In that light, maybe a little freelancing would do us all some good.