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Neoliberalism And Its Discontents

25/08/2017 12:49

He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.

--Socrates

In our many discussions about the ills of neoliberalism and capitalism, a friend and I often find ourselves at an impasse with the chicken and egg paradigm coming to mind when we ponder the limits of human greed: are humans greedy because of economic constraints, or are economic pressures and class inequality created by human greed.  I tend to think the situation of class inequality is a very human problem based on the combined effects of greed and the pressures of capitalism.  There is also good reason to understand how greed and capitalism are inextricably linked and cannot easily be teased out into individual entities unto themselves: each is the other's root cause and effect.  They exist in perpetuity as long as there is more "to have".

And at no other time in human history can we see the negative results of capitalism than today with zero-hour contracts in the UK (also called "non permanent employment" in most every other western nation), the stagnating of wages in most professions to include the public sector, and the rise of the "sharing economy", which anyone who has used services such as Airbnb can attest that this is neither "sharing" nor particularly helpful to local economies.

Airbnb succeeded in business by rebranding  greed and targeted a very specific class of home owner or renter who is always discontent. And within a growing landscape of massive crackdowns on Airbnb in cities such as New York, Amsterdam, Paris, and Berlin,  the discontented Airbnb host is no longer involved in a straight-forward business practice.

But then I learned something that truly demonstrates the moral vacuity of this sharing economy when talking with a friend about the negative effects Airbnb has had on cities like Berlin and Amsterdam: she mentioned a website called, "Can I Stay with You While I Rent My Place on Airbnb?"  Yes, you read correctly.  This is a virtual space for capitalist quislings (for whom charity doesn't begin at their home, just someone else's) to get shelter while they make a killing from renting their home.    

The website states: "You tell us you need a place to stay, we give you someone to stay with. That's it. We will match you up within 24 hours. This is all about Airbnb renters helping each other out. If it doesn't work out to stay, we will match you up with someone new!"  Capitalist greed, meet capitalist greed. (You're welcome very much!)  Of course the "Who is it for?" derails what is actually taking place, stating, "It's for people who love renting their place on Airbnb. And it's for people who love meeting new friends and sharing their space. And it's for people who love to barter for six-packs."

Nah, this is just an online meet-up for folks who support each other in their greed. Think of it as a Club Med for the housing entitled where everyone who wants to rent their home for extortionate fees can "support each other".  And all the rest, like those on the lower decks of the Titanic, are just poor suckers who didn't get in on the game!

And as so many in the UK and other European countries are in full vacation mode, many are making a profit during this period by renting out their homes while they go on vacation.  While some legitimatise this practice as "making ends meet", others couch this as dire economic need due to a flailing economy.  Yet, there are a select few who resist partaking in this culture of discontent despite their position as home owner or renter. They view this sharing economy as part of a larger problem of societal greed which will only persevere if people continue to participate. So many of those who desist the "sharing economy" and who refuse to vacation at the expense of others, make alternative economic choices: they opt to vacation in wellness resorts,  to spend time in nature, and to go fishing. In short, they resist the myth that they have no choice but to exploit others for economic profit.  Yet, these individuals are rare in a world where discontent is built into a capitalist structure where "greed is good".

If political solidarity were not a good enough reason to ditch Airbnb, there are many other more pragmatic reasons:  hosts who report bad behaviour by guests, with one case resulting in a squatter takeover of a property in California, others complaining about mail fraud (instead of just having guests use the local post office), and the rising cases of vandalism in the London area alone.

The larger social conundrum is how so many people convince themselves that they need to rent out their homes instead of sharing them with those far less fortunate through interfaces like Couchsurfing.  Our task is to query how we got to this point in time where we actually believe that everything--even our absence--is potential profit.

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