Sharing for a Price in the Sharing Economy

I have to point you to That’s not a ‘sharing economy’: that’s an invitation to sell your whole life by Philip Delves Broughton in The Spectator. It is the best takedown of the sharing economy I’ve seen. Did you know you can rent out your pets?

Unless you’re a regular reader of the magazine, you should be able to view the piece online. If not, here are a couple of nuggets:

The potential absurdities of the sharing economy stem from the fact that it has little to do with sharing at all. In a genuine sharing economy, we would all be lending and borrowing based on trust. What we call the sharing economy is in fact a transactional economy, one in which everything is commoditised. I don’t simply lend you my lawnmower. I pay to join a service which matches lenders and borrowers of lawnmowers, and each time a lawnmower is lent or borrowed, a price is paid and a commission ka-chunks into the accounts of the matching service. The banner companies of the sharing economy, Uber and Airbnb, do exactly this. They don’t own cars or apartments. They have created a platform where passengers find drivers and renters find property owners. Nothing gets shared. Everything is paid for. This is efficiency under the virtuous guise of sharing.

. . .

It is no coincidence that the sharing economy has thrived since the global economy tanked. It has provided a way for many to stay afloat and stay in place. As the expense of living in cities like New York and London far outpaces average incomes, the ability to rent out a room or pick up a driving gig has been a lifesaver. All those rooms for rent in nice parts of Manhattan and London aren’t being offered up by the top 1 per cent of earners. The activity on Airbnb reflects the strangulated cries of the economic middle classes trying to cling on to the last of what they have. It’s not sharing, but financial desperation. All these newly minted landlords are stealthily turning once-settled communities into tourist zones, where no one stays for more than a few days.

Sharing is also part of the evolution of the gig economy, in which people with once-steady jobs try to piece together a living from scraps. The optimistic view of this is that by making a market of everything, technology has made it possible for real value to shine. No one can hide any longer behind regulations, job titles or middlemen. It’s what you produce that counts, the ratings you receive, the delight of your customers. Uber drivers are rated on a scale of one to five, and if they fall below 4.6 for too long, they risk being bumped off the platform. Hurrah for economic efficiency!

I love it when others say what I’ve needed to say. Of course, it’s unfortunate that I didn’t write it.

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