Waiting tables. Bartending. Hospitality, food delivery, beauty salons, rideshare driving. The service industry, as anyone who has worked in it knows all too well, is notorious for relying on tipping to undercut employee wages and deputize individual customers to determine how much money a worker should be able to take home. Amid increasing recognition of these injustices, a number of campaigns and new laws surfaced, pre-pandemic, to abolish or meaningfully reduce the practice of tipping.
But despite the best efforts of these campaigns, tipping remains the industry - and American society - standard. Indeed, the perverse logic of tipping has broadened into an ever-present 'snitch economy' - an ecosystem of tactics like mystery shoppers and Uber and Yelp rating systems designed to police the behavior of workers while outsourcing the costs of said supervision to customers and other workers.
In the process, our snitch economy pits those being surveilled against those doing the watching, and the judging. Through a ubiquitous public-facing network of rating and reviewing other people’s labor - and often the behavioral disposition they exhibit while working - people with otherwise very little power are elevated to temporary positions of authority over others, fostering a culture of surveillance rather than one of solidarity. The snitch economy serves the dual purpose of not only giving working people a false sense of power when they’re the ones being served, but also reducing millions of human interactions to opportunities for not only snap judgments, but subjective rewards and retribution.
In this episode, we detail how businesses in the service industry, bolstered by friendly media, use tactics like tipping, mystery shoppers, and ubiquitous ratings systems in order to turn us all into petty, mean, busybodies carrying out the agenda of capital with nothing to show for it but a fleeting sense of self-satisfaction.
Our guest is writer, editor and agitator Vicky Osterweil.