Ed Stanley: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Edward Stanley, Head of Thematic Research in Europe.
Julian Richers: And I'm Julian Richards from Morgan Stanley's U.S. Economics Team.
Ed Stanley: And today on the podcast, we'll be talking about a paradigm shift in the future of work and the rise of the multi-earner era. It's Thursday, May the 5th at 3 p.m. in London.
Julian Richers: And 10 a.m. in New York.
Ed Stanley: So, Julian, I'd wager that most of our listeners have come across news articles or stories or even anecdotes about YouTubers, TikTok stars who've made an eye popping amount of money making videos. But you and I have been doing some research on this trend, and in fact, it appears to be much larger than just people making videos. It's an entire ecosystem that can reinvent how people earn a living. In essence, what we used to call the 'gig economy' has evolved into the multi earning economy—the side hustle. And people tend to be surprised at the sheer extent of side hustles that are out there: from blogging to live streaming, e-commerce, trading platforms, blockchain-enabled gaming. These are just a handful of some of the platforms that are out there that are facilitating this multi-earning era that we talk about. But explain for us and for our listeners why the employment market had such a catalyst moment with COVID.
Julian Richers: With COVID, really what has fundamentally changed is how we think about the nature of work. So people had new opportunities and new preferences. People really started enjoying working remotely. Lots of people embraced their entrepreneurial spirit. And everything has just gotten a lot faster and more integrated the more we've used technology. And so you add on top of this, this emergence of these new platforms, and it's dramatically lowering the hurdle to go to work for yourself. And that's really how I think about this multi-earn era, right? It's working and earning in and outside of the traditional corporate structure.
Ed Stanley: And talk to us a little bit about the demographics. Who are these multi-earners we're talking about?
Julian Richers: So right now in our survey, we basically observe that the younger the better. So really the most prolific multi-earners are really in Gen Z. But it's really not restricted to that generation alone, right? It's pretty clear that Gen Z really desires these nontraditional work environments, you know, the freedom to work for oneself. But the barriers are really lowered for everyone across the board that knows how to use a computer. So, yes, Gen Z and it's definitely going to be a Generation Alpha after this, but it's not limited to that and we see a lot of millennials dipping their toes in there as well.
Ed Stanley: And how should employers be thinking about this trend in terms of what labor's bargaining power should be and where it is, and the competition for talent, which is something that we hear quite consistently now in the press?
Julian Richers: My view on this is that we're really seeing a quite dramatic paradigm shift in the labor market when it comes to wages. So for the last two decades, you had long periods of very weak labor markets that have just led to this deterioration in labor bargaining power. Now, the opposite, of course, is true, right? Workers are the scarce resources in the economy, and employers really need to look far and wide for them. And then add on top of this, uh, this multi-earn story. If it's that easy for me to wake up and go to work for myself on my computer, doing things that I enjoy, you'll need to pay me a whole lot more to put on a suit and come back to my corporate job. So Ed, with this background in mind, why should equity investors look at this trend now?
Ed Stanley: It's a great question, and it's one that we confront a lot in thematic research. And we think about themes and when they become investable. For equity investors, themes tend to work best when we reach or surpass the 20% adoption curve. And that applies for technology and it applies for themes. And after this 20% point, typically investors needn't sacrifice profit for growth, which is a really important dichotomy in the markets, particularly at the moment where inflation is is clearly high and the markets are resetting from a valuation perspective. So this multi-earner theme and it's enabling technologies have hit or surpassed this 20% threshold I've talked about. While this structural trajectory is is incredibly compelling, the stock picking environment is obviously incredibly challenging at the moment.
Julian Richers: So Ed, at the top, you mentioned that there are actually more of these multi-earn platforms out there than people might think. What's the ecosystem like for 'X-to-earn' and how many platforms and verticals are really out there?
Ed Stanley: So the way we tried to simplify it, given that it is so broad and sprawling and increasingly so, was to try to bucket them. And we bucketed them into nine verticals with one extra one, which essentially is the facilitators—these are the big recruitment companies who are also trying to navigate this paradigm shift alongside these 'X-to-earners, these multi-earners. And we lay this out from the most mature to the least mature. And in the most mature category, we have content creators. We have the e-commerce platforms. We have delivery, as in grocery and delivery drivers, and then we start to get into the least mature verticals. This is trading as an earnings strategy which has been very volatile and continues to be so. Gig-to-earn, where people are spending time doing small tasks which don't take up large amounts of time typically and can be done on the side of corporate roles. And then right at the most emergent, or least mature, end of the spectrum, we have play-to-earn. And these tend to be based on blockchain platforms where participation is rewarded, in theory, by tokens which are native to that blockchain. So incredibly emerging technology and one that we're, we're looking to watch closely.
Julian Richers: Yeah. So among those platforms, is there one that you think is particularly worth watching?
Ed Stanley: Well, I think actually it comes down to that that latter point, I think many of the ones at the more mature end of the spectrum are pretty self-explanatory. A lot of that, I think, is second nature, particularly for younger users who are trying to make money on on these platforms. But it's at that more emerging end of the spectrum, the blockchain enabled solutions, where a lot of this is incredibly new and the innovation is happening at a really quite alarming rate. That blockchain enabled solution essentially is a new challenge to legacy institutions who don't anymore have to compete just with these traditional earning platforms, but they also have to compete with the labor monetization tools that blockchains facilitate. And they'll also have to compete with the lifestyle that these tools offer, which essentially is that freedom to work for yourself and to earn multiplicatively.
Julian Richers: So, my last question ties back to the question that you had for me about how employers should think about this. What does this trend actually mean for corporates?
Ed Stanley: So, this is something that certainly seems to be inflationary in the short term and I think we both agree appears to be structurally inflationary in the longer term. The real question both corporates and investors seem to have is, 'what happens to all of this in a recession?' And the recession point is something that is obviously gathering traction in the markets. It's gathering traction in the news. And a lot of this will become potentially untenable as a sustainable earning platform. And so these earning platforms cannot yet be assumed to be stable, sustainable revenue streams, particularly during downturns. And so, these are the kind of debates that are happening. But longer term, through a recession and out the other side, we still believe that the ability to scale, the low upfront costs, the low opportunity costs or perceived low opportunity costs of careers, are really what's driving this, and that is not going to go away just because of a recession. And so with that, Julian, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me.
Julian Richers: Great speaking with you, Ed.
Ed Stanley: As a reminder, if you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people find the show.