(Matt Davies via GoComics.com)
MisterMix’s post reminded me that I wanted to share Kevin Roose’s take in NYMag, “The Sharing Economy Isn’t About Trust, It’s About Desperation“:
Wired‘s cover story this month is about the rise of the “sharing economy” — a Silicon Valley–invented term used to describe the basket of start-ups (Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, et al.) that allow users to rent their labor and belongings to strangers. Jason Tanz attributes the success of these start-ups to the invention of a “set of digital tools that enable and encourage us to trust our fellow human beings,” such as bidirectional rating systems, background checks, frictionless payment systems, and platforms that encourage buyers and sellers to get to know each other face-to-face before doing business.
Tanz’s thesis isn’t wrong — these innovations have certainly made a difference. But it leaves out an important part of the story. Namely, the sharing economy has succeeded in large part because the real economy has been struggling.
A huge precondition for the sharing economy has been a depressed labor market, in which lots of people are trying to fill holes in their income by monetizing their stuff and their labor in creative ways. In many cases, people join the sharing economy because they’ve recently lost a full-time job and are piecing together income from several part-time gigs to replace it. In a few cases, it’s because the pricing structure of the sharing economy made their old jobs less profitable. (Like full-time taxi drivers who have switched to Lyft or Uber.) In almost every case, what compels people to open up their homes and cars to complete strangers is money, not trust….
As Sarah Kessler discovered in her Fast Company investigation, it’s hard to make it in the sharing economy. Many of the people renting out their labor and goods through these services will end up making a fraction of what they did at their full-time jobs, and having none of the benefits. Tanz writes that “in the sharing economy, the commerce feels almost secondary.” That may be true for the buyers, but it certainly isn’t true for the sellers, for whom these transactions are often an important source of income…
During the first Gilded Age, “taking in washing” or “letting the spare room” was a derisive indication that one had come down in the world. But it’s all about the marketing now, so our Oligarch Overlords would prefer we plaster on a happy face (fist-bump your Lyft clients! Solicit ‘likes’ on multiple social media!) and call it a Sharing Economy…