3/09/2015

The sharing economy is bullsh!t. Here’s how we can take it back.


The sharing economy is bullshit. Airbnb is a rental broker. Uber and Lyft are unregulated cab services. Taskrabbit and similar “servant economy” enterprises let well-off people pay less well-off people to do their chores — without providing anyone the benefits and security of traditional employment.

“Sharing” has been appropriated and stripped of all meaning by people trying to sell you things, much like sustainability was. Once “green” became hip and important about a decade ago, corporate bigwigs started preaching about sustainable profits and misleading eco-labels got slapped on single-use disposable plastic water bottles. These days, share-washing is the new greenwashing.

A recent piece in The Nation indicted the so-called sharing economy on multiple counts:
The sharing economy is a nice way for rapacious capitalists to monetize the desperation of people in the post-crisis economy while sounding generous, and to evoke a fantasy of community in an atomized population. … 

[I]t sees us all as micro-entrepreneurs fending for ourselves in a hostile world. … You may lack health insurance, sick days, and a pension plan, but you’re in control.

Of course, platforms like Airbnb and Spinlister, an app for sharing bicycles, dodemonstrate something positive: People are willing to share, even with strangers.

And sharing, real sharing, is important. Sharing more could allow humanity as a whole to consume less, hopefully shrinking our economy’s voracious appetite for materials and energy. Thus far, resource use has accelerated in tandem with economic growth.

Sharing can help us achieve economic degrowth in consumption and production — and the wastes that come with them, like carbon emissions — while maintaining quality of life, or even improving it with more social interactions and stronger community relationships. (Watch degrowth explained with orange juice.) One reason I like the term “degrowth” is that it isn’t likely to be co-opted by profit-oriented companies anytime soon, since enterprises are mostly forced to grow or die in our fiercely competitive economy....more