Beware the ‘sharing’ economy – back door for a more rapacious form of capitalism

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Posted Nov 20 2015 by Dave Darby of

Something that’s been troubling me for a while. The ‘sharing’ economy must be a good thing, right? I’ve been trying to see the good in it for a while. Sharing anything must mean that fewer resources are used, less waste produced, people get to know each other in their communities. All sounds great, doesn’t it?

But there are two main problems. First, the monetisation of transactions. Take Airbnb – if you’re a member, and you have a friend come to stay in your house, do you charge them? The fact that they’re staying in your home means that you’re losing income, after all. The sharing economy kills the gift economy. The second also involves Airbnb – it’s corporate, playing by the usual corporate rules – part of the ’empire’. If it really is part of the sharing economy, why aren’t profits shared? If there’s a place for multinational corporations in your idea of a brave new economy, then maybe it’s not so brave or new.

In fact, because the sharing economy makes it virtually impossible for workers to organise to ensure decent pay and conditions, it actually represents a more exploitative form of capitalism, not less.

Uber calls its drivers ‘partners’, but what kind of partner has no say in the decision-making of the company, gets paid less than the average wage, has to organise his or her own vehicles, insurance and fuel and can be fired at any time.

Bryan Van Slyke and David Morgan at Truthout put it this way:

The “sharing economy” sure has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? As the saying goes, “sharing is caring.”

Through Uber, the sharing economy’s poster-child, thousands of drivers have turned their personal cars into money-making vehicles. Homeowners internationally have earned extra cash by using another popular sharing service, AirBnB. These companies’ ads are filled with smiling people, caring about each other and just wanting to do good. The idea of the sharing economy also comes at the perfect time. Since the Great Recession, more and more people have been looking for economic alternatives, ones that build off of mutual aid, rather than greed and the “it’s everyone for themselves” philosophy. Likewise, the recession pushed significantly more segments of the American workforce into positions where they must string together part-time gigs and find alternative ways to bring in revenue. So a sharing economy, where people can use what they already have to help others, while making some bonus money for themselves, sounds like a perfect solution.

It’s unfortunate then that these companies and the misnamed “sharing economy” are really just fronts for millionaires and billionaires to opportunistically ride off the backs of everyday people, while also exacerbating many economic inequalities.

Full article here.

And here’s Avi Asher Schapiro’s take in Jacobin:

Kazi drives a Toyota Prius for Uber in Los Angeles. He hates it. He barely makes minimum wage, and his back hurts after long shifts. But every time a passenger asks what it’s like working for Uber, he lies: “It’s like owning my own business; I love it.”

Kazi lies because his job depends on it. After passengers finish a ride, Uber asks them to rate their driver on a scale from one to five stars. Drivers with an average below 4.7 can be deactivated — tech-speak for fired.

Gabriele Lopez, an LA Uber driver, also lies. “We just sit there and smile, and tell everyone that the job’s awesome, because that’s what they want to hear,” said Lopez, who’s been driving for UberX, the company’s low-end car service, since it launched last summer.

In fact, if you ask Uber drivers off the clock what they think of the company, it often gets ugly fast. “Uber’s like an exploiting pimp,” said Arman, an Uber driver in LA who asked me to withhold his last name out of fear of retribution. “Uber takes 20 percent of my earnings, and they treat me like shit — they cut prices whenever they want. They can deactivate me whenever they feel like it, and if I complain, they tell me to fuck off.”

Here’s the full text.

Then there’s the Huffington Post. Arianna Huffington had the great idea of getting people to write free content for her online newspaper – it all seemed part of a new type of economy that we all had a stake in. But then she sold the Huffington Post to AOL for $315 million, and then AOL was bought by Verizon for $4.4 billion, and on it goes, and the concept of sharing that with people who had provided free content disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

It’s the same with Facebook, Twitter and other ‘social’ media businesses. The media is not social, it’s corporate. Users do all of the work and provide all of the content but get none of the advertising revenue. Why should all the financial gain go to already rich majority shareholders? But of course this question extrapolates to the entire economy.

The thing is, we already have a real sharing economy – the co-operative economy – so we don’t need a new, fake one. Add a sprinkling of the free or gift economy and you have housing co-ops, worker co-ops, community energy, community-supported agriculture, LETS, timebanks, mutual societies, open source etc. These approaches don’t allow the corporate sector a foothold. Let’s abandon the ‘sharing’ economy and focus on the co-operative and free economy. That really is sharing, and it can’t be co-opted.