Why The Sharing Economy Isn’t

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So a couple of months ago Douglas Atkin, head of Community and E-staff Member at AirBnB, took to the stage of the Le Web conference in London (video) to announce the formation of Peers: “a grassroots organization that supports the sharing economy movement.” I like grassroots organizations and I like the co-operative impulse, but this… Well here is his speech in its entirety (in italics) with comments from yours truly.

I joined AirBnB about four months ago, but I’m going to talk about a different organization.

He means Peers.

In fact I’d like to talk about a movement for the sharing economy. By “a movement” I mean exactly that. I mean huge numbers of people, with a shared identity, mobilized to take action to do two things: to grow the peer sharing economy, and to fight for their collective interests against unfair and unreasonable obstacles.

A grassroots organization with 40 corporate “partners”, with unspecified but significant funding, formed with guidance from a set of high-profile “thought leaders”, without local chapters, and with nothing much for the grassroots to do, but with an Executive Director on day one.

Andrew Leonard from Salon has been following the story, and tells us that funding comes from “mission-aligned independent donors”. So that’s wealthy backers with a financial interest in the sharing economy. This is not grassroots, it’s astroturf.

If there is one thing that makes me angry, it is people appropriating the language of collective and progressive politics for financial gain. And that’s one thread of what’s going on here. As we shall see. It does seem that Executive Director Natalie Foster’s heart is in the right place, but that’s one of the tragedies of the sharing economy: well-intentioned people end up contributing to immiseration and injustice when they think they are doing the opposite.

So what we’re talking about here is not just people sharing their skills, or their apartment, or their car, but also their collective power to expand the sharing economy together, and to stand up against entrenched interests who stand unfairly in their way. So “people power” if you like, or more accurately “peer power”.

And what we’re not talking about here is venture capital. Going through Crunchbase tells me that the total funding for the 40 partners is over $600M. AirBnB has received $120M, including funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Jeff Bezos, Ashton Kucher. You know, people standing up against entrenched interests.

At the end of this post I’ve added a table of what I could find. It tells us that almost all the funding is going to the Bay Area or New York. The non-profits in this organization are being taken for a ride by the appealing anti-establishment language of Silicon Valley . They need to take a look at who their bedfellows are and what the real agenda is.

Venture Capital funds are not interested in people power, they are interested in an investment with a good return. The fact that Douglas Atkin doesn’t once mention the financial motivations of the forces behind the sharing economy is either dishonest or unbelievably self-deceiving.

Now why would there be a need for such a thing? The sharing economy seems to be barrelling along pretty happily. Why do we need another organization? Well, firstly the opportunity. This was brought home to me a week ago in San Francisco where I attended a meeting of sharing economy participants. So there were drivers, passengers, hosts, guests, and tour guides from RelayRides, Lyft, AirBnB, Vayable and Sidecar, and they were literally bouncing up and down with enthusiasm about the opportunity to collaborate together — with each other.

So they were developing ideas — brilliant ideas actually — to share customers with each other, across verticals. One person even suggested that there could be a peer economy currency — maybe Bitcoin. Or even points to encourage people to cross verticals and recruit new people into this new economy.

The language changes, the mask slips. Participants become customers, sharing becomes buying. The phrase “across verticals” reminds us that Douglas Atkin is an advertising executive. Now the sharing economy is about loyalty programs and cross marketing? Not the kind of sharing I want to be part of. I don’t have a problem with commerce, but what I do object to is commerce wrapped up in, and appropriating, the language of solidarity.

These people were incredibly impressive, with their passion and their eagerness and creativity to work together locally to expand the sharing economy. So that was the opportunity. It was incredibly exciting to see that. And I did a couple more of these types of meetings, with people from different verticals in the sharing economy in New York, where the same thing happened. So there’s the opportunity.

The Peers organization came together, then, in San Francisco and New York – the well-heeled, well-funded districts of the sharing economy movement.

Secondly, though, there’s the challenges. It’s unlikely, I believe — and I believe this because I used to work for them — that the entrenched interests of the old economy are going to stand idly by as their business model of the past seventy years is challenged by the new economy.

Billion-dollar venture capital funds are out to undercut people who run licensed bed and breakfasts, and he’d have me believe that it’s the B&B owners who are the “entrenched interests”. If this is your idea of a revolution (and it is, unbelievably enough: that comes later) then brother don’t you know, you can count me out.

What’s more, outdated laws and new laws which have been badly conceived, with unintended consequences, really threaten the growth of this nascent new world economy.

The laws that he is talking about are licensing laws and other laws put in place to protect employees, customers, and neighbourhoods. These laws are not all perfect. But the sharing economy has nothing to replace them beyond magical thinking about “trust” (with little accountability).

How much better would it be if citizens banded together to grow and protect their interests in the sharing economy rather than companies wielding their power?

How about banding together to protest when a TaskRabbit customer posts a job to do four loads of laundry and it’s actually 10 or 15 loads covered in cat diarrhea? No: if you do that, you’re fired. The company (a partner of Peers.org, natch) also takes steps to prevent its TaskRabbits from meeting because “They don’t want us unionizing”. I’m sorry, what was that about citizens banding together against companies?

So I’m here to tell you about some plans which will enable people to create a member-driven movement for the sharing economy. If you like, a new kind of union for a new kind of economy. And I’m also here to ask for your support. So if you’re a platform: help your users create this organization and join it. If you’re a thought-leader, blogger, or conference speaker: champion it. And if you’ve got some ready cash, please help fund it.

A new kind of union? What, me and Peter Thiel, billionaire investor in TaskRabbit? Sorry, I won’t be handing over my cash any time soon.

Now why should you do this? Well it’s the right thing to do. We literally stand on the brink of a new, better kind of economic system, that delivers social as well as economic benefits. In fact, social and economic benefits that the old economy promised but failed to deliver. As Julia, an AirBnB host, told me just last night, “the sharing economy saved my arse”.

The sharing economy is not an alternative to capitalism, it’s the ultimate end point of capitalism in which we are all reduced to temporary labourers and expected to smile about it because we are interested in the experience not the money. Jobs become “extra money” just like women’s jobs used to be “extra money”, and like those jobs they don’t come with things like insurance protection, job security, benefits – none of that old economy stuff. But hey, you’re not an employee, you’re a micro-entrepreneur. And you’re not doing it for the money, you’re doing it for the experience. We just assume you’re making a living some other way.

The old economy has largely failed us. Most people are not experiencing the economic independence and the happiness that mass production and consumerism promised. Partly, in a way, because the old system centralizes production, wealth and control. That’s just the way it works. And in a sense, that’s largely to blame. The peer sharing economy is a new model, which distributes power, wealth, and control to everyone else. Best of all, the very things that have become the casualties of the old economy — things like economic independence, entrepreneurialism, community, individuality, happiness — are actually built in to the very structure of this new economy. You can’t do sharing without building community, without creating individualized experiences.

The sharing economy is the centralization of global casual labour. Investors invest because individual sharing economy companies have the potential for global reach, collecting a little from each of millions of transactions around the world, and funnelling it to California.

We’ve had this ridiculous debate for the past thirty years ago in this old economy about a work/life balance, because the honest truth is life gets squeezed out because of work. As Rachel says: doing jobs we hate to buy shit we don’t need. But in this sharing economy, life is built in. So Etsy producers get to know their consumers and sell individualized goods. Whenever I take a Lyft or a Sidecar — which are ride-sharing organizations in San Francisco — I always ask them “So why are you doing this?” And their first response is “To interact and meet with new and interesting people”. And then secondly, the flexible hours and a bit of extra cash. It’s the community they are most interested in experiencing.

Trashing consumerism appeals to many environmentally-minded, social-justice oriented people. But if you displace taxi drivers and replace them with casual labour, you’re not improving the work/life balance of drivers, you’re making them poorer.

Fred Mazella was a genius when he named blablacar blablacar, because he’s actually naming what happens in the car. He named his organization not after the transaction, which is ridesharing, but because people communicate and go “bla bla bla” to each other in the car. He correctly identified what the real benefit of the sharing economy is, which is these other social and economic rewards.

You know, I talk to taxi drivers too. Some of them are interesting people. You should try it sometime.

So there’s a nascent organization which is about to bloom. It’s independent, it’s member-driven, it’s global, it’s not a trade association, it’s not a lobbying group. It will use peer power and collective action to grow the sharing economy and overcome unfair obstacles.

I don’t know if he’s lying or if he believes this stuff, but take a look at the website of Peers.org and tell me you believe it.

I personally want to see the sharing economy grow to become the dominant global economic model in the world, because of the social and economic benefits which are built-in, because of the distributed wealth, control, and power which it represents. It has the possibility of transforming the world for the better. So if you want that too, especially if you’d like to see members champion it for themselves, rather than the usual suspects, come and see me afterwards and I can tell you how you can help. Or talk to Leah, who is the founder of TaskRabbit and Fred from blablacar or Lisa Gansky. We can all tell you a little more about it.

So Vive La Revolution, and thank you very much.

When all jobs are Taskrabbit jobs, how does anyone earn a living?

Appendix

Here’s that table of Peers.org partners.

Company Funding ($US) Location Investors include…
AirBnB 120M San Francisco Andreessen Horowitz, a $2.5B fund
Airtasker Sydney, AUS
Bay Share
Blablacar 10M Paris
Car Next Door
Carpooling.com 10M Munich Daimler
City Car Share non-profit San Francisco
Chegg 195M San Francisco (many)
Collaborative Fund (VC) New York
Collaborative Lab
co:NYC New York Members include AirBnB etc
Cookening Paris
Divvy Australia
Farmigo 10M Palo Alto Sherbrooke Capital
General Assembly 14.3M New York Maveron, a $780M fund
Getaround 19M San Francisco Marissa Mayer
Green Spaces New York
The Hub Vienna
ioby New York
LiquidSpace 12.2M Palo Alto Greylock Partners, a $1.73B fund
Lyft 82.5M San Francisco Andreessen Horowitz, a $2.5B fund
Maker Media San Francisco
Meetup 18.3M New York Omidyar Network
Mesh (book)
Mosaic 22M Oakland Spring Ventures
Open Shed Australia
OuiShare non-profit France?
ParkAtMyHouse UK BMW
RelayRides 13M San Francisco General Motors, Google Ventures
Scoot Networks 1.65M San Francisco Lisa Gansky
Shareable (magazine) San Francisco
Side.Cr (Sidecar) 10M San Francisco Lisa Gansky, Google Ventures
Skillshare 4.65M New York Union Square Ventures, a $200M fund
TaskRabbit 37.7M San Francisco Lightspeed Ventures, a $2B fund
TimeRepublik South Africa?
Vayable San Francisco SV Angel, an $89M fund
Yerdle San Francisco
WeWork 6.85M New York
Zaarly 15.2M San Francisco Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
Zookal 1.46M Sydney Filtro Private Equity
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82 Comments

  1. Wow. You’re astoundingly naive if this sort of thing actually makes you angry.

    • And you’re a beacon of intellectual light.

      I loved the astound critique of this piece, so much depth, so much insight. You have a new fan, dear foo@example.com

    • Or he is a decent human being, and not a cynical wretch, and he can still be angry about stuff others bend over backwards and take for granted.

  2. (astounding*)

  3. “If there is one thing that makes me angry, it is people appropriating the language of collective and progressive politics for financial gain.”

    I think it’s kinda funny that you think that the only possible way for there to be “collective” action is at the point of a gun. Or that “progress” is what happens when a group of people advocate using violence to tax others for their own profit.

    It’s sad that leftists don’t believe in free choice, and wish to use the violence of the state to make people act according to their dictates…. you would think that, knowing the history of the past century you might recognize the danger of that.

    But it’s beyond intellectually dishonest to presume that the only “collective” action is the death march. That people getting together *voluntarily* to do something might be working to do something good for society.

    But it hits the fundamental contradiction in your politics– you don’t want to help people, you want to exploit them for profit, and rather than being intellectually honest and accepting this, you pretend as if those who VOLUNTARILY come together to fight “entrenched interests” (namely government regulations that block companies like AirBnB and Uber) couldn’t possibly be benefiting society at the same time.

    Here’s the reality: When you renounce violence and let people work together (eg: sharing rather than stealing) you will find that both parties profit. AirBnB profits and their customers profit both, because AirBnB makes money and the customer saves money.

    I know this concept is beyond the grasp of socialists..but it is economic reality.

    What does hurt people, though, is when people like you claim to be speaking for “the collective” and then impose your unilateral regulation on them, socializing the economy and we end up with the full spectrum of hurt– from the USSR to US regulations that make it illegal for Tesla to sell directly to consumers, or for AirBnB to enable individuals to VOLUNTARILY lease out their apartments.

    So, just admit it- your objection is that they aren’t using violence, but are, in fact, opposing violence.

    Damn straight they are not “progressive” since that word has been coopted by people who believe in the regressive politics of absolute state control.

    It’s really amazing just how actively people like you work to delude themselves and hide from reality… the reality of what you advocate, and the reality of what others are doing.

    • Did you forget to take your meds again, Engineer?

    • You learned well the lessons of the righties. You are repeating exactly the same garbage I ever hear of those funny righties who call workers who *freely* want to get united to defend their interests as “totalitarians” “marxists” or even “violents” or “killers”.

      Please, stop using the words “free” or “freedom” while you are talking about banning the freedom of workers to be united and to defend their own interests, which are being paid for their jobs and have a deserving lives, against yours, which basically are taking more money from their working force, reducing them to poverty in your own benefit.

      Hope I was enough clear and you don’t come back with the recursive argument of “you are a communist”.

      • I think it’s kind a funny that, in response to me saying that people choosing to join together voluntarily is a good thing, you would go on some rant about how I don’t want “workers who want to get united”.

        “Please, stop using the words “free” or “freedom” while you are talking about banning the freedom of workers to be united and to defend their own interest”

        Which is, of course, something I never said.

        But I guess, if you can’t address what I actually said, it is sufficient for you to simply erect a strawman and knock it down?

        Such cowardice! Why not engage in critical thinking and address the actual issue I brought up?

    • Chill out there for a second. Put Atlas Shrugged down for a moment and holster your copy of Philosophy, who needs it.

      Flipping the tables once in a while is fine, and I get that. If I read an article that’s just a smear against everything I believe in, I’m taking it apart, piece by piece. I make sure my arguments hit where it hurts, and everything.

      But loosing it every time the term “collective” comes up is…unnecessairy at best, but most likely it damages the cause your out for.

      Especially if it isn’t used like Rand was using it, and here it clearly isn’t.

      I recommend you go back to studying the material before trying to use it. Reread her philosophical works, and hang around the ARI a bit. Rand is not a bad starting point, but trying to use her as a lethal weapon is going to get you shot down really hard.

      • Once again, I didn’t mention Ayn Rand at all, but you presume, because I’m not a leftist, that I must be a randian.

        It’s sad that you guys cannot engage in intellectual discussion, and instead resort to these kinds of dishonest and pathetic attempts at insults.

    • Well said, Engineer,

      Socialists are terrified of the sharing economy because it’s likely to starve their Glorious State of tax revenue and regulatory control over society. They think that people aren’t smart enough to organise themselves, or that where money is involved, some evil force is at work.

      I’m glad that the sharing economy will hurt the interests of socialism. We should be working towards people-to-people transactions, personal responsibility and an economy based on trust. Not centralised state monoliths with grimy anti-capitalist unionisation.

      • You might be right.

        If you think about it, AirBnB refutes leftist ideology.

        When I rent a room on AirBnB, I get something better than a hotel at less cost than a hotel, so I win. The person renting the room, gets money for an unused room that otherwise would be empty, so he wins. AirBnB gets a cut of the transaction by simply providing some web pages so they win.

        All three parties in this transaction profit from it,

        That totally blows out of the water the ideological zero-sum game that leftist operate under, where in order for one person to profit another person must lose.

        So, you may be right they may fundamentally hate the idea of a sharing economy.

        • Completely wrong. Lots of leftists like the idea of sharing economies because we believe in people working together and don’t like being ripped off by big business who then use their superior money and influence to deprive individuals of their basic rights, so its reasonable to look at who is pushing this idea and wonder why they are doing it.

      • Socialists are terrified of an economy that will drive down wages, and this sharing economy will do that, primarily by lowering barriers to entry into the market.

        Often, market barriers are erected because there’s insufficient demand or excessive supply of labor, and wages and profits get driven down. In these situations, all parties band together to restrict entry into the market, hoping to raise prices.

        If the sharing actually accomplishes actual sharing, that’s a different thing. All this so-called sharing economy does is allow people to either sell things more easily, sell their labor, or rent their capital.

    • I think it’s kinda funny that you think that the only possible way for there to be “collective” action is at the point of a gun. Or that “progress” is what happens when a group of people advocate using violence to tax others for their own profit.

      I don’t think these either of things.

    • Violence? Do you get shot in America if you don’t pay your taxes or something?

      • If you don’t pay your taxes, armed men show up at your door and force you into shackles at gunpoint, then lead you off to a dungeon where violence is used as a disciplinary tool. If you take issue with what the armed men are doing, they kill you. So, yeah, sort of.

        I’m an unapologetic socialist, but I have enough anarchist tendencies to sympathise with a lot of what Engineer is saying. I think the other commenters are being unfair toward him or her.

        Tom has pointed out that the rhetoric of solidarity is being used to advance the interests of private capital. It’s a fair criticism. Engineer has counter-argued that a lot of these “sharing economy” services do in fact result in better outcomes for labour inasmuch as they 1) achieve efficiencies whose benefits are (partly) shared by labour (e.g. the empty room is now used), and 2) cut the State out of the transaction, reappropriating some of the wealth that would have gone to pay for e.g. drone strikes in Afghanistan and bailouts for investment banks, and vesting (some of) this wealth with labour.

        These are both fair points. It seems to me that the truth of one or the other is largely a function of the actual numbers. I suspect that Tom probably has the numbers on his side in a way that Engineer doesn’t, but I’d love to be proven wrong.

        • The state is cut out of licensing and possibly fees or taxes (though, generally, if you rent out rooms on AirBnB you’ll have to pay the hotel tax). The other party that ends up bearing the costs of sharing are the neighbors, if you do something which is counter to the zoning ordinance.

          One thing that’s really fascinating is that one of the professions without state licensing is computer programming. That function is largely privatized, but even the private certifications aren’t necessarily that valuable.

          Certification is a barrier to entering the market, but it’s also a way of allowing competition within a market because it commodifies the low-end of the market to the consumer. It can even serve to expand a low-end market by making it easier for casual consumers to buy services at the low end.

          On the other hand, if you go low enough, it’s almost worthless. There’s an IT certification called the A+, which basically says you can work for the Geek Squad at a little above minimum wage.

    • Hahahahahahahahahaha
      Hahahahahahahahahaha
      Hahahahahahahahahaha
      Hahahahahahahahahaha
      Hahahahahahahahahaha

      NO

  4. Great article. Being able to see through the fog and giving a fresh perspective. I’ve always found it funny that these anticapitalist types start a company and have to latch onto the nuts of some money bags that arbitrarily say they are viable.

    That was one thing that the capitalist market was great at. It was natural selection. Great companies thrives while bad ones died off. Now someone can come out with a bullshit slide deck and get $50M (barely earned) dollars and they think they’ve made it. It’s astounding.

    It wasn’t earned with a tested and tweaked businesses plan made over years, it was earned with some ball sucking with a smile.

    Do I want to start something, sure, but it’s not until I get a good idea, not the next asshole mash up of the week.

    • Plus, of course, a capitalist system gives people freedom.

      Freedom to associate, to buy what they want or to not buy it.

      Notice how the anti-capitalists are always going against freedom? For example, forcing people to buy health insurance on terms they dictate.

      Capitalism is advocated by people who are optimisitc and want freedom.

      Socialism is advocated by people who are pessimistic and want to use violence to force others to live the way they want.

      The position Tom Slee is making here is that “these people shouldn’t be alllowed to talk about sharing because they’re capitalist!”

      This is in the tradition of such previous complaints as “I shouldn’t loose my health insurance simply because I can’t afford to pay the premiums”…

      They whine and then eventually their whines become laws that oppress one group of people for their benefit.

      • I think you’ll find that he’s fine with people talking about it, so much so that he wishes to talk about it too, to let everyone know about their ideas, and what he thinks they mean. Some kind of freedom of speech, if you will

      • If you think forcing people to buy health insurance is an anti-capitalist move, you need to think harder. Yes, I know you’re talking about Obamacare. Fun fact: the left wanted single-payer insurance, with no private health insurers sucking medical spending away from care and toward profit. Obamacare is a complete giveaway to private industries, and proves the man himself is nothing but a corporate tool, well to the right of Richard Nixon (who, despite their shared obsession with leaks, at least did get the Clean Water Act passed).

        Freedom requires equality of power–there can be no contract except between equals; there can be no freedom when one set of people have vastly greater political and financial resources than another. There can be no freedom when there is no way to receive essential communication services without signing a non-negotiable contract which waives access to any impartial legal system. There can be no freedom when a bank can fraudulently invent title to your home and seize it, without fear of punishment, even though you’ve paid off your mortgage. There can be no freedom when poor black kids do time for selling dime bags while HSBC makes huge profits laundering money for Mexican drug cartels and pay only a small fine.

        And to the extent that those power imbalances are an inevitable result of free competition iterated over generations from moderately unequal beginnings, there can be no freedom under an ideology of absolute freedom. Freedom must be tempered with active rebalancing of economic and political power, in order to preserve enough equality for any freedom to exist at all.

      • “Plus, of course, a capitalist system gives people freedom.”

        After reading through several of your laughably ridiculous ‘argument’s', I’m going to choose this one as perhaps the most hilarity-inducing.
        Because there’s little point in arguing with mentally handicapped people who ask mommy to help choose a pseudonym to hide their idiocy behind, this is as far as I’m willing to go to engage you. Thanks for the simplistic, brutally stupid and egregiously inane comments, you troll.
        You really made my day!

    • Wrong. Companies who gamed the system, co-opted regulators, or simply stiffed the system because they had enough money to do so, “survived.” The pseudoscience of Social Darwinism was at work. And, what do most money-movers actually “create,” anyway?

  5. One point to note when we talk about the share economy – both from a regulatory standpoint and personal risk standpoint, the list of things you own that you can share, is full of grey areas. People tend to forget that very often

    http://statspotting.com/the-share-economy-is-actually-shaded-in-grey/

  6. This is a strong piece in a lot of ways, but I think that the sort of visceral rejection of anything that takes VC money weakens in. Certainly Peter Thiel isn’t in this for the benefit of TaskRabbit runners (and he’s unusually bad for a VC), but I think the focus deserves to be on efforts to outright co-opt the movement rather than just pointing to investors as evidence of evil.

    VC money can on occasion help people build things which are great for people and also profitable. The question is whether that’s happening here (it isn’t) and what could be done to make it happen instead.

  7. I was about 90% in sympathy with this article, but 10% of me was thinking “this is America, and of course the only way that ideas about sharing and collectivity will get anywhere is if someone figures out a way to make money out of them”. Or IOW, despite the obvious attempt to profit from the the ideas and language of sharing, maybe the net effect will be to increase sharing and collective action. The co-opting tendencies of capitalism are not all-powerful

    A commenter on Hacker News makes a similar point.

    • I do agree with your final sentence, and David Harvey says similar things about urban commons and capital here. I guess, all I can see is that if anything good is to come out of these efforts, it will be from people subverting them. Let’s hope people do so.

  8. Interesting. After reading Tom Slee’s full post I still didn’t know what peers.org represented. After looking at the site, it appears that peers.org is an advocacy group raising awareness about laws and regulations that impact what they call “the sharing economy”. The sharing economy seems to be web-service enabled peer-to-peer transactions.

    I understand the perspectives of both Slee and commenter Engineer. Engineer’s comments are classic libertarian and lash out against using the coercive power of government to constrain voluntary exchange.

    But here is the thing, I don’t think the peers.org members see themselves as champions of Free Markets the way Engineer does. They would not apply their logic to say the fossil fuel industry. Instead, they use the language of collectivists and labour activists and that ticks off Slee.

    Most prominent web-services are Venture Capital funded. That in itself is not a bad thing in my mind, but when a startup raises funds it is accepting the investor’s business model. The VC business model does not match the collectivist rhetoric of peers.org.

    Slee has a good case for criticizing VC backed web-services from a pro-labour perspective. Is there an alternative funding mechanism that distributes gains more evenly? Are there any examples of web-services that are owned and funded by member cooperatives? Is it possible to build a social web-service that is not engaged in Digital Sharecropping from Slee’s perspective?

    peers.org does not specify any laws/regulations that it would like changed but I suspect that I’d agree with them purely from a free market perspective. And that, I think, is what ticks Slee off; Free Market advocacy wrapped in the language of collectivism/activism.

    • I read this comment after posting mine. You’ve made my point much more articulately than I did.

      • Well thank you, Picador, you are very kind. It gives me hope when a libertarian and an “unapologetic socialist” can agree on the principles underlying a disagreement.

    • There were hundreds of ISPs and web hosts and other small companies that did OK during the 90s and early 00s that were funded by customers paying their fees. Minimal startup capital, but steady incomes.

      I think the internet is more dominated by VC today because existing capital barriers to entry by companies like Google really lock out competition. It’s impossible for the poor and middle class to be sufficiently capitalised to survive a price war with Google or Facebook, which give product away.

      I would assume that the laws that Peers want to reduce are those that are barriers to entry into protected markets. The fight over and rulings about the competitors to taxis may have motivated this.

  9. Shorter Tom Slee: I hate it when people adopt the rhetoric of progressive movements to make money. Buy my book on the topic now!

    http://crookedtimber.org/2013/01/07/tom-slees-self-assessment/

    Whimsley started off as an attempt to promote the book

    I’m sure this bit was totally organic too:

    Tom may be right that he is a rotten self-publicist, but he has many people – including myself – who will cheerfully and shamelessly do all that publicizing stuff for him. If you run a leftwing magazine with an empirical bent, commission pieces from him, and indeed make him a contributing editor. You won’t regret it.

    • Thanks for linking to this… I now understand that this guy is a total snake oil salesman, whose goal is to confuse people so that they can be manipulated to his ideology.

      This explains why his “arguments” don’t make sense and are self contradictory.

  10. Now lets make Engineers head explode and point him to the fact that there are radical left anarchists – syndicalism maybe be one and there is even anarcho-socialism.

    *psscccccchhhhhhboooom*

    • oelson, I have met a great many of these so called “anarchists”. All of them claim to want to do away with the state, but when you get right down to it they want some entity (one they rule, usually) to be there to force people to act the way they want.

      Socialism– by whatever name you want to use– is nothing more than a small group of people enslaving the larger group. Since people don’t want to be enslaved, socialists must use a great many ploys to misrepresent their goals so that their victims will not resist them.

      Capitalism, on the other hand, exists naturally whenever people interact, they will trade things they have for things they want. It requires no central government, and thus anarcho-capitalism (which is only called that because so many socialists pretend to be “anarchists”) is a perfectly viable society.

      It is quite unfortunate that, because you are ignorant and uninformed, you project your ignorance onto others and think that your position is superior.

      A better way of life is to learn to think critically, then you can address arguments.

      You might even learn something from other people, instead of just embarrassing yourself by insulting them.

      • Engineer:

        I’ve been defending you upthread, but I think this comment is a bit off base. Maybe more than a bit.

        You make two arguments:

        1. That anarchists aren’t really anarchists, and that none of them believe the things they say they believe.

        I’m not sure of the name for this fallacy. But it’s dumb. “All anarchists are closet authoritarians” isn’t an argument, it’s just name-calling.

        2. That “Capitalism” is a natural and universal outgrowth of all human intercourse, and is a kind of original Edenic grace from which humanity fell when the first State intervened.

        I think you need to look up “capitalism” in the dictionary. It’s not the same thing as, say, “market exchange” or “freedom of contract”. It’s quite a bit more specific than that. And its history is really quite short.

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  12. So if you “share” a ride, and pay for it, and the car crashes and you are injured, do you get compensation? And who checks the insurance of the drivers doing the sharing, and checks the cars are roadworthy?

    Here in the UK unlicensed cab drivers have been linked to a spate of sex attacks, so who checks the people offering the rides here?

    Of course some of these arguments are used by organised groups to protect their vested interests. But not all of them are, and adjudicating which regulations protect the public and which are restrictive practices is normally done by elected politicians.

    • The government always highlights dangerous things if it can give the government ever more power. There in the UK you are surveilled to within an inch of your lives and despite giving up all these rights, you still fall for it that the government can make you safer by “licensing” cabs?

      The only reason there’s an unlicenced cab market is that the licensing is nothing more than a method for the politically connected to exclude competition and charge above market rates.

      Above market rates that are reinforced by propaganda that keeps you scared. In fact, it would be in the interests of the cab mafia to go around raping women so that they make more money from their licensed cabs.

      Elected politicians profit from regulations by getting money from industry to vote one way or the other.

      This is the fundamental fallacy of liberalism– you think that people are bad so you want to be protected by government… but you fail to notice that the worst people are in government!

      • @Engineer

        “This is the fundamental fallacy of liberalism– you think that people are bad so you want to be protected by government… but you fail to notice that the worst people are in government!”

        I did mention that its not all one way, and that vetting can be a way of protecting interests, but the private sector finds lots of ways to vet, eg ratings schemes for B&B’s, that enable you to “share” your need for accommodation with other’s ability to supply, all without Venture Capitalists getting involved.

        So, in summary, there’s nothing new in this “sharing” initiative, its not a revolution, and I think its reasonable to look at who is funding this initiative, who is involved in it, and conclude this is big business as usual.

  13. and whilst we’re on the subject, again in the UK but probably elsewhere sharing economies have been going for decades. Many communities with high unemployment have shared work between people on a friendly basis or through cards on local shop windows and without the need for VC investment.

    • Yes, the black market exists everywhere that the governments’ abuse exceeds the marginal risk of using the black market.

  14. Here’s your fundamental error, TOM:

    Sharing is not anti-capitalist.

    Sharing is capitalist.

    You want a sharing economy, where people trade with each other on a peer-to-peer basis?

    You’re a capitalist.

    And until you understand that, you’re going to make a lot of nonsensical arguments.

    • If this comment thread continues, it would be a waste for it to be yet another a capitalism vs socialism rant session. Especially when one part is someone who refuses to listen to what others say.

      Future comments from Engineer that are redundant or that tell people they don’t know their own ideas will be disemvowelled.

  15. @ Tom, I’m surprised it took you so long to make it clear to “Engineer” that he is getting in the way of an honest discussion about what exactly the sharing economy is and isn’t. His/Her argument has been based more on personal attacks (think of “nonsensical”, “ignorant”, “cowards”) than on a reasonable analysis of the collaborative economy. Your article may to be the know-all end-all of the shared/sharing economy, but it certainly was refreshing in that you in no way bent over backwards as Silicon Valley hot shots would have you and the vast majority that read of that part of the world’s success stories. In addition, Internet billionaires are not as visionary as they’d like us all to believe. The benefit of venture capital -attracted by the possibility of a winner-takes-all scenario that is so typical in the software world- and expert advice, among many other factors has only made these Silicon Valley entrepreneurs “visionary” after the fact. In addition, there seems to be a pandemic on the software world to attach the word “disruption” to everything, when in fact very few startups, and even established companies, have truly disruptive innovations. This piece was, to reiterate, quite refreshing. If only the Pandodaily and Techcrunch of our world could be as independent and sharp in their critique as they are with the hype and promise of success that they peddle.

  16. The consumerthese dayschoosesjust what it likes for amusement, certainly not the main studios and distributors. As you add to that distribution on the Internet and news websites online, from gossip to whole movies. It’s just a brand new planet. Some of it very good, some not.

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  18. This particular implementation might be in some sense a sharing economy, but it absolutely isn’t a peer-to-peer (as opposed to peer-to-middleperson) one, which is what the term “sharing economy” was widely understood to mean a few years ago. Maybe that’s a case of moving the goalposts. Maybe the reputation economy part of what I’ll call the p2p economy (since the term sharing economy has most definitively been co-opted) didn’t pan out. Maybe there’s some Iron Law of Economics to the effect that brands carry more weight than the reputations of individuals. That would be most unfortunate, but as with everything in the dismal science, it is what it is.

    • I really hope there’s no Iron Law. But I do think the idea of a “platform for peer-to-peer” is contradictory because of just what you say — it becomes peer-to-middleperson and the middleperson has a strong incentive to make a bundle from the peers.

  19. If you want to make it easier to share things, you might want to make it easier to share things with strangers. And to make that easier you might want to allow intermediary roles that match lenders with borrowers, and reduce risks, and you might want to allow people to charge money. It really depends why you want to encourage sharing, and why you think sharing is good.

  20. I applaud that you attempt to pierce the veil of double-speak. This takes a lot of time and effort. I appreciate that.

    As much as you abhor the (ab)use of progressive lingo to further quasi-capitalistic agendas, turn-about would seem fair play.

    Phrases like “social justice” and “environmental justice” are just as abhorrent to me.

    By twisting language, you can easily win arguments and influence whole societies. In 1944, Austrian F. Hayek wrote a book called “The Road to Serfdom.” How odd that folks with conservative viewpoints were called “liberals” back then.

    Control the language, control the debate.

    PS: I hope you apply the same level of scrutiny to things like OFA, Soros, Apollo Group, the Tides Foundation, etc.

    • Thanks. On your PS: in principle I’d like to, and really I should, but in practice I focus on digital technologies.

      I’d be interested in your opinions of how agile has panned out, by the way. It also seemed to start as a grassroots initiative, and now it’s used by the biggest companies around. Is that success? Have you written on that?

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  22. Tom is right that the rhetoric of “sharing” is ridiculous when money exchanges hands, and the middleman takes a cut. It’s much the same model as eBay, but eBay does not wrap itself in over-the-top rhetoric.

    That said, running a business for profit is not a disreputable thing to do. As Adam Smith pointed out, your baker does not bake your bread for altruistic reasons, but he still does good.

    I can’t speak to AirBnB or Lyft, they seem pretty sleazy to me, but I use Uber in San Francisco. Normal cabs usually refuse to come to my less-than-central neighborhood (Forest Hill). I started using them when I was unable to drive after an accident. Every single driver I’ve asked was happy with the service, their primary positive being the flexible hours.

    San Francisco’s taxi licensing does not benefit actual working stiff taxi drivers, but rather taxi companies and medallion holders who got them simply by virtue of being in line, drive the absolute minimum hours required to keep them, and then rent them out for several hundred thousand dollars a year. A scheme designed to provide some sort of income and retirement security to drivers had its good intentions predictably twisted to the benefit of taxi companies and the aristocracy of medallion holders.

    A much better system would have been to impose a tax, put it in some sort of pension fund and medical plan and prorate driver participation based on actual hours worked, but that would have made too much sense. Of course, given the general corruption, incompetence and lack of accountability of the SF city government, deliberate malice can’t be ruled out altogether. I doubt the system in any major US city is any better (or elsewhere, Paris’ taxi system is even worse).

    • Fazal – thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Uber is an interesting case. It’s been labelled as part of this sharing economy (and I’ve done that too in some places) but it’s not really — and it’s noticeably not part of peers.org. There are similarities in that both Uber and Lyft etc are eating at the edges of the taxi industry, but I guess Uber is eating at the border between taxis and limos (with its partnership with the NFL and its appearance at Cannes), while Lyft etc are eating at the border between taxis and a casual lift from a friend. And have you seen Google’s big investment in Uber the other day?

      Anyway, I have no experience of San Francisco’s taxi situation and I accept your description of your own experience. The idea that there are areas where taxis don’t go seems bizarre to me. But while I can see why you would choose Uber in those circumstances, I can’t see how it can end in anything other than a two-tier system, which I think would not be good for those in the bottom tier.

    • The hack license situation is common in many places, but the fix isn’t Uber. It’s to fix the system. They should just do the obvious – use radios and GPSs and cameras to monitor and verify who is doing the driving, and don’t allow medallions to be rented out. There are a gazillion seniority and waiting list systems out there, and they can just apply that.

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  29. Skipping the ridiculous socialist/capitalist bullshitfest from people who don’t know the basics of either one, let’s move on to the sharing part.

    First off, don’t mix sharing of resources (rides, apartments etc.) with sharing labour/knowledge/time. One is about exploiting existing resources to the maximum and essentially reducing waste, the other is about undermining existing jobs with possibly unfair competition.

    Fazal’s opening paragraph is right to the point – whenever the middleman takes a cut for a profit, the whole idea of sharing makes little sense. The widespread proliferation of sites commercializing car/ride sharing is just exposing the greedy individuals behind them. The only thing I want from them is a platform to connect with people needing a ride to the same destination I’m driving to anyway. I’ll gladly pay a minimal fee for hosting cost but other than that… stay the fuck out. No transactions fees, no background checks, no insurance bullshit.

    Moving on, making money by giving rides you otherwise wouldn’t do on your own is no longer ride sharing, it’s called taxi/limo service. Uber is just another way a taxi company can find customers. It has nothing at all to do with sharing, it’s a regular commercial transaction for a service performed. Plain and simple.

    Microtasking such as taskrabbit… whatever you call these things, it is not sharing. It’s performing labour without any of the usual benefits beside payment. Again, it’s just an easier way for existing companies specializing in specific tasks to find more customers.

    Further, sharing unused resources (anything from cars, empty apartments, farming equipment, cameras…) is a different beast altogether. I don’t know how exactly I feel about it. It certainly is beneficial for the owner and customer but it’s also undermining existing rental business. I guess I don’t have a problem with it as long as there’s no tax evasion (which is very common with AirBnB).

    And finally, the idea of sharing economy is about reducing/compensating costs not making a profit (for anyone involved). Pretty much every example given in the original article by Slee or Atkin are not about sharing but alternative ways to make a profit. NOT sharing.

    • Harald Korneliussen

      About the sharing unused resources, Tom Slee has made the point that taxis and b&b’s are regulated for good reasons.

      There are standards I ought to be held to if I offer use of my home or car for money on the open market, that I shouldn’t be held to if I offer it as part of a pre-existing relationship of trust.

      Probably there are such standards for farming equipment and cameras as well, but it hasn’t become an issue so far.

      There is probably a spectrum of scummy the implementation is, but in the main I agree that the “sharing economy” is the largest attempt at exploiting peoples’ trust relationships since the invention of “multi-level marketing”.

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  31. Regarding Taskrabbit? To riff on Hanns Johst: “Whenever I see the word ‘outsourcing,’ I reach for my Browning.” Outsourcing is anything but progressive, as a word.

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  34. ON the money with this Tom Slee. This is just the most recent example of corporate interests co-opting symbols and language of the left and using it to hood-wink people into thinking they are doing something revolutionary, but are reinforcing the status-quo. This shit is about fragmented labor markets where no company is an employer and therefore the company is once again externalizing liability. Fuck off tech douchebags!

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  40. The sharing economy sounds nice and all. But what’s being shared? Cars, apartments, stuff that doesn’t get produced in a “sharing economy”, stuff that needs some centralized organization to churn out in a reliably, high quality manner. So the sharing economy seems parasitic on the “old economy” (even if you’re talking about these TaskRabbit-style odd jobs, which will earn you ‘extra’ money over and above that “old economy” job that you hopefully have). Not impressed.

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