A current pet peeve: the “sharing economy”. It seems to me that two quite different things are being lumped together under this label, and it muddies the debate.
The first group is stuff like the Toronto Tool Library1 and car sharing services like AutoShare or Zipcar. They offer a solution to situations where individual ownership isn’t practical, whether for economic reasons or just the space constraints of city living.
The second is black market operations that are profitable because they flout existing regulations—UberX, Airbnb. These services are incredibly popular because, compared to cabs and hotels, they are cheap and ubiquitous. But the reason they are cheap and ubiquitous in the first place is that nobody is paying for municipal licenses, insurance, or employee wages and benefits.
Slick words like “app”, “sharing economy”, “disruptive”, “innovation”, etc., obscure what’s really at stake. This isn’t about stuffy “conventional” industries failing to adapt to a new era. It’s about the growing number of (whiter, tech-savvy, middle-class) people relying on precarious and illegal side work. Are these really the best jobs our economy can create? Are we just going to give up on job security and worker protections? Before we toss away those cumbersome regulations, it’s worth remembering why we implemented them in the first place.
I suspect we’re going to go through this:
the best part about bitcoins is that you get to watch libertarians slowly discover why financial regulations exist to begin with
— SKELETON PRESIDENT (@porn_horse) February 18, 2014
But, you know, for everything.
Anyway. Please stop calling unlicensed, uninsured cabs/restaurants/apartment rentals/daycare/dog-walking/etc. the “sharing economy”. You’re not sharing shit.
Adapted from Twitter.
- Full disclosure: I have a membership. I totally borrowed some garden tools the other day. ↩
4 thoughts on “Hot Take: The “sharing economy””
Suzie Cagle did this better than anyone
Dammit, you’re right.
Pretty good piece. But what I do not understand is this – once unemployment gets low, then shouldn’t labour get scarce and more people can reject precarious work and ask for higher wages? Not that it solves the problem but here in Toronto unemployment is much higher than SF and there is surplus labour to keep wages low and keep the terms of unemployment at the advantage of owners of businesses/capital.
Can you come up with another name for essentially businesses using personal assets (homes, cars, etc) based on internet/app technology that eliminates the need for middlemen and brokers?
Frankly, I loathe the idea of some company with a “Winner take all” benefit of these technologies taking 20% or more of revenue while the people using their cars make little or nothing per hour and just don’t realise the full costs of providing this service. Meanwhile the taxi industry in Toronto has been horrible – remember about 15 years ago when they finally tightened the rules because most cabs were unsafe former police cars that were dirty and falling apart?
Some degree of licensing and regulation is important, the the taxi plates were never meant to be investments for retirees and the idea was not to limit competition so that the value of these plates were preserved by limiting the issuing of new plates. Toronto is one of the most expensive cities for taxis in North America, the customer loses and Adam Smith is turning over in his grave that we allow such regulation that hark back to the things he complained about.
The deal worked out with Uber seems to benefit Uber and plate owners, and doesn’t help taxi drivers or protect consumers (it lowers training for drivers)… the worst of both worlds.