In the last couple of years, we have all heard a lot about “the sharing economy”, with considerable excitement and little precision. I don’t think there is complete agreement on what this term means, or what we want it to mean.
Benita Matofska (who brazenly identifies herself as “Chief Sharer” of the boldly-named organization, “The People Who Share”) offers a rather detailed definition of what her organization is aiming for. Addressing the question, “What is the Sharing Economy?“, she says the term encompasses a wide variety of socio-economic models. It is, she says, “a hybrid economy”. (I’m not sure what real world systems are not “hybrid” economies, but nevermind.)
Terminologically, she lays claim to a vast swath of current socio-economic thining and tinkering,
“It encompasses the following aspects: swapping, exchanging, collective purchasing, collaborative consumption, shared ownership, shared value, co-operatives, co-creation, recycling, upcycling, re-distribution, trading used goods, renting, borrowing, lending, subscription based models, peer-to-peer, collaborative economy, circular economy, on-demand economy, gig economy, crowd economy, pay-as-you-use economy, wikinomics, peer-to-peer lending, micro financing, micro-entrepreneurship, social media, the Mesh, social enterprise, futurology, crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, cradle-to-cradle, open source, open data, user generated content (UGC) and public services.”
Phew! Pretty much anything except pure profit-driven or state-driven economics, I guess.
She lists ten “building blocks”, which give us a good idea of the practical areas they are working on. The list is:
- Value & Systems of Exchange
- Shared Law
The main thrust of these is an emphasis on promoting social democracy and well being through active participation in all aspects of the economy. Several of the bullets describe conventional economic topics of production, distribution, and value; advocating not-very-new desires for locally and personally controlled transactions. (These are also imagined to be “efficient” and also ecologically sustainable, though those desiderata don’t necessarily follow from democratic control.)
These folks are not entirely naïve, as they place “power” and law on the list. The hope is to ensure real democratic participation, especially through technologically enabled direct participation. Provocatively, they assert that the Sharing Economy “enables the economic and social redistribution of power.” (However, I’m pretty sure that the powers that be do not really want power to be redistributed, so that is a problem.) (Also, direct democracy is scarcely a guarantee of benign social policy. See, for example, anti-immigrant movements everywhere.)
This definition is a bit different from some versions out there.
A number of corporate blood suckers (AirBnB is the first, Uber is the worst) talk about “the Sharing Economy”, but really are based on exploitation of workers and evasion of regulations. (The little people “share”, the big guys rake off their rent for arranging the gigs.) I think Matofska would rule a lot of these companies out of a true sharing economy, mainly on grounds that they aren’t remotely democratic. But, of course, similar services can be created with collective ownership models.
On the other hand, Sensei Claire Marshall looks at the actual experience of sharing. She tends to talk about the psychological dimension: sharing makes people happy. It may or may not be economically sustainable, or even democratic, but is it seductive. Of course, as she famously put it, aspects of “the Sharing Economy” are like a bad boyfriend: demanding much from you, and giving little in return. Ouch!
I suspect that Matofska’s “Generation Share” are probably driven partly by the social psychology articulated by Marshall. You probably aren’t going to get rich in this hybrid economy, but you might well make a happy home and community.
For myself, I tend to think more along these lines. People should try to live a humane and happy life, and one of the best ways to feel good is to share and help each other. I think Matofska and The People Who Share are doing useful work establishing theoretical and legal structures that may help people use contemporary technology to be happier, as well as publicizing useful tools and platforms. But honestly, the goal has to be to discover ways that sharing makes us happy, rather than to focus on the definition of putative socio-economic revolutions. Nobody was ever made happy by fussing with details or regulatory policy, or contract law, or all that other necessary but grungy stuff.
I say, “just do it”. Emulate Sensei Claire, and get sharing.
I think you’ll like it.
- Benita Matofska. What is the Sharing Economy? 2016, http://www.thepeoplewhoshare.com/blog/what-is-the-sharing-economy/.