It seems every day, one of the leading newspapers prints an article about the sharing economy, claiming that companies such as Uber and Airbnb operate in a truly novel and innovative way that has the power to transform our modern economy. I certainly do not disagree. In fact, through the huge success and quick growth rate of such companies, it is actually quite evident that our modern world does indeed have space--or perhaps is willing to create space--for the sharing economy to flourish. However, most of these arguments fail to recognize that although the sharing economy is currently in "vogue," it is in reality, nothing new or novel. It may even be, perhaps, one of the most basic and tried practices of all time.
In order to establish the argument, we must first define our central term. The sharing economy, also referred to as the peer-to-peer economy, collaborative economy, or collaborative consumption, is a system that is relies on the sharing of human and physical resources. In the past several years, the sharing economy has come to be associated with the idea of "average people" becoming business people. Neither the idea of sharing resources nor average people owning their own business are particularly novel. In fact, it is only in the epoch of industrialization and Western modernity in which this has become uncommon. We must take a step back and look at the global world and our comprehensive historical context. Before the industrial revolution and still today in developing nations, every individual was his/her own businessman. He had a trade--be it producing a good or providing a service--and he sold said good or service to his neighbor, or sometimes exchanged it for his neighbor's good or service.
Despite the fact that the sharing economy is such a basic endeavor that has existed for centuries, many economists, corporate thought leaders, members of the workforce, and consumers themselves, have expressed hesitations regarding the movement towards this model. Modern, cosmopolitan cities that boast their cutting edge, forward thinking culture--New York and Berlin-- continue to surface in world news as they fight to bring down Airbnb and Uber, respectively. Recently, Airbnb was involved in a legal battle with New York's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who argued that Airbnb violated local hotel laws and could have negative financial and legal implications for the city. Meanwhile, in Europe earlier this year, 10,000 taxi drivers marched in opposition to Uber, claiming that Uber competed with the taxi industry in an unfair manner. To me this is absurd! It is a striking example of a governments' greediness to maintain control over the tiniest actions of their citizens. Time and time again, we have seen such abuse of power as the down fall of ruling parties. People are fully capable, and should be trusted to, make their economic own decisions.
I fully acknowledge the truth of the aforementioned criticisms; of course, regulation is necessary in order to protect the rights of workers and consumers, alike, but we must zoom out to see the bigger picture and understand how the benefits vastly outweigh the costs. I beg that we examine each from a more holistic viewpoint; we must zoom out to understand the large-scale implications across time, communities and borders, and economic sectors. While critics claim that the growth of the sharing economy relies on sketchy desires to avoid regulation and taxes, if this does in fact occur, it is an unintentional side effect, much to the company's dismay. Much more profound in effect is the sharing economy's ability to disrupt monopolies and empower people.
While it may seem counter intuitive, as we have seen with the success of companies based on sharing ideals, the sharing economy actually disrupts our modern economy in truly necessary and subsequently positive ways. Additionally, the sharing economy actually has the strength to empower individuals to actively participate in our economy, in a way that the typical top-down, corporate approach may not. By allowing all people to enter the business world at a level in which they will see real returns, the sharing economy has the potential to transform and even grow the economy at extreme levels. The economy becomes streamlined, accessible, and easy to enter for both the producer and the consumer. The common person now easily becomes his/her own boss. He will feel empowered to take ownership, produce more, and of course, according to basic economic principles, consume more.
The sharing economy itself is not particularly new, but its reentry into our understanding of economic possibility is long overdue. Companies based in this space allow the common person to understand these basic notions in terms of an economic environment that they are familiar with and trust. By integrating the sharing of products and services into the tech space, the most classic method of economic exchange does in fact become trendy, new and something that is indeed truly novel and innovative. It has been said once and time again that the future of our economy is in the hands of the tech space, but the future truly lies in the moment where the tech space has the power to enter our day-to-day life in the tangible world. Through technology we've been allowed access to a forgotten economy, which has the strength to empower both the producer and the consumer. Our future lies exactly here.