Wednesday 28 May 2014

The 'sharing economy' in the news...

Recently, the American economist Jeremy Rifkin looked at the 'collaborative commons' and the 'sharing economy'
Futures Forum: Jeremy Rifkin and the Collaborative Commons

A few definitions:
The sharing economy (sometimes also referred to as the peer-to-peer economy, mesh, collaborative economy, collaborative consumption) is a socio-economic system built around the sharing of human and physical assets. It includes the shared creation, production, distribution, trade and consumption of goods and services by different people and organizations. These systems take a variety of forms, often leveraging information technology to empower individuals, corporations, non-profits and government with information that enables distribution, sharing and reuse of excess capacity in goods and services.[1] A common premise is that when information about goods is shared, the value of those goods may increase, for the business, for individuals, and for the community.[2]
Collaborative consumption as a phenomenon is a class of economic arrangements in which participants share access to products or services, rather than having individual ownership.[3][4] Often this model is enabled by technology and peer communities.[5] The collaborative consumption model is used in marketplaces such as eBayCraigslistand Krrb, emerging sectors such as social lending, peer-to-peer accommodation, peer-to-peer travel experiences, peer-to-peer task assignments or travel advising, car sharing or commute-bus sharing.[6]

The Sharing Economy

Home swaps, driving your neighbour's car, private car parking in your drive, even renting your neighbour's clothes. They are all part of a new style of collaborative enterprise in which nearly everyone can join and (maybe) make money: the 'shared economy'.
It's breaking cover, growing fast and could be important. Perhaps the best known example is Airbnb but many more companies have sprung up allowing people to share their things and even their time. And now companies are trying to make money out of what makes all this sharing possible: trust.
But existing regulations and laws are set up for traditional businesses such as hotels and car hire companies, and that is causing problems. Peter Day investigates the opportunities and snags of the sharing economy and asks if it could become a big democratic movement.

BBC Radio 4 - In Business, The Sharing Economy
In Business: The Sharing Economy | Collaborative Consumption

fixd cloud

Defining the Collaborative Economy – how do we do it, and why?
From small community groups to major multinational corporations, a large and diverse community of businesses, organisations and groups has assembled under the banner of the ‘Collaborative Economy’ in recent years. But what ties them together and, more importantly, how do they understand this Collaborative Economy?
Collaborative Consumption | Sharing reinvented through technology. Watch Rachel's TED Talk.

Peer-to-peer rental
The rise of the sharing economy
On the internet, everything is for hire

Mar 9th 2013 | From the print edition

LAST night 40,000 people rented accommodation from a service that offers 250,000 rooms in 30,000 cities in 192 countries. They chose their rooms and paid for everything online. But their beds were provided by private individuals, rather than a hotel chain. Hosts and guests were matched up by Airbnb, a firm based in San Francisco. Since its launch in 2008 more than 4m people have used it—2.5m of them in 2012 alone. It is the most prominent example of a huge new “sharing economy”, in which people rent beds, cars, boats and other assets directly from each other, co-ordinated via the internet.

You might think this is no different from running a bed-and-breakfast, owning a timeshare or participating in a car pool. But technology has reduced transaction costs, making sharing assets cheaper and easier than ever—and therefore possible on a much larger scale. The big change is the availability of more data about people and things, which allows physical assets to be disaggregated and consumed as services. Before the internet, renting a surfboard, a power tool or a parking space from someone else was feasible, but was usually more trouble than it was worth. Now websites such as Airbnb, RelayRides and SnapGoods match up owners and renters; smartphones with GPS let people see where the nearest rentable car is parked; social networks provide a way to check up on people and build trust; and online payment systems handle the billing.

What’s mine is yours, for a fee
Just as peer-to-peer businesses like eBay allow anyone to become a retailer, sharing sites let individuals act as an ad hoc taxi service, car-hire firm or boutique hotel as and when it suits them. Just go online or download an app. The model works for items that are expensive to buy and are widely owned by people who do not make full use of them. Bedrooms and cars are the most obvious examples, but you can also rent camping spaces in Sweden, fields in Australia and washing machines in France. As proponents of the sharing economy like to put it, access trumps ownership.

Rachel Botsman, the author of a book on the subject, says the consumer peer-to-peer rental market alone is worth $26 billion. Broader definitions of the sharing economy include peer-to-peer lending (though cash is hardly a spare fixed asset) or putting a solar panel on your roof and selling power back to the grid (though that looks a bit like becoming a utility). And it is not just individuals: the web makes it easier for companies to rent out spare offices and idle machines, too. But the core of the sharing economy is people renting things from each other.

Such “collaborative consumption” is a good thing for several reasons. Owners make money from underused assets. Airbnb says hosts in San Francisco who rent out their homes do so for an average of 58 nights a year, making $9,300. Car owners who rent their vehicles to others using RelayRides make an average of $250 a month; some make more than $1,000. Renters, meanwhile, pay less than they would if they bought the item themselves, or turned to a traditional provider such as a hotel or car-hire firm. (It is not surprising that many sharing firms got going during the financial crisis.) And there are environmental benefits, too: renting a car when you need it, rather than owning one, means fewer cars are required and fewer resources must be devoted to making them.

For sociable souls, meeting new people by staying in their homes is part of the charm. Curmudgeons who imagine that every renter is Norman Bates can still stay at conventional hotels. For others, the web fosters trust. As well as the background checks carried out by platform owners, online reviews and ratings are usually posted by both parties to each transaction, which makes it easy to spot lousy drivers, bathrobe-pilferers and surfboard-wreckers. By using Facebook and other social networks, participants can check each other out and identify friends (or friends of friends) in common. An Airbnb user had her apartment trashed in 2011. But the remarkable thing is how well the system usually works.

Peering into the future

The sharing economy is a little like online shopping, which started in America 15 years ago. At first, people were worried about security. But having made a successful purchase from, say, Amazon, they felt safe buying elsewhere. Similarly, using Airbnb or a car-hire service for the first time encourages people to try other offerings. Next, consider eBay. Having started out as a peer-to-peer marketplace, it is now dominated by professional “power sellers” (many of whom started out as ordinary eBay users). The same may happen with the sharing economy, which also provides new opportunities for enterprise. Some people have bought cars solely to rent them out, for example.

Incumbents are getting involved too. Avis, a car-hire firm, has a share in a sharing rival. So do GM and Daimler, two carmakers. In future, companies may develop hybrid models, listing excess capacity (whether vehicles, equipment or office space) on peer-to-peer rental sites. In the past, new ways of doing things online have not displaced the old ways entirely. But they have often changed them. Just as internet shopping forced Walmart and Tesco to adapt, so online sharing will shake up transport, tourism, equipment-hire and more.

The main worry is regulatory uncertainty (see Technology Quarterly article). Will room-renters be subject to hotel taxes, for example? In Amsterdam officials are using Airbnb listings to track down unlicensed hotels. In some American cities, peer-to-peer taxi services have been banned after lobbying by traditional taxi firms. The danger is that although some rules need to be updated to protect consumers from harm, incumbents will try to destroy competition. People who rent out rooms should pay tax, of course, but they should not be regulated like a Ritz-Carlton hotel. The lighter rules that typically govern bed-and-breakfasts are more than adequate.

The sharing economy is the latest example of the internet’s value to consumers (see Free exchange). This emerging model is now big and disruptive enough for regulators and companies to have woken up to it. That is a sign of its immense potential. It is time to start caring about sharing.

May 28, 2014 John Harvey, The Conversation

The "sharing economy" seems to be everywhere at the moment. The Economist, the Financial Times and many others have all waxed lyrical about the social significance of using sites such as Airbnb or Uber to collaborate with other consumers.

The message from most outlets is consistently positive. The sharing economy is chic. The sharing economy is caring. The sharing economy is a threat to traditional capitalism. The sharing economy will help to reduce income inequality.

Nonsense. The sharing economy is a harmful misnomer. It conflates people who actually share with those who make money through collaborative consumption.

It is true that much of the work within the broad gamut of the sharing economy is important in terms of sustainability and worthy of further advocacy. But the disparate values that resource sharing brings to the economy should not be clumsily lumped together. Sharing in the presence of money and sharing in its absence are two entirely different forms of economic morality.

The meaning(s) of economy

This is not just a debate about wordplay. The way we conceptualise the economy has profound and far-reaching political consequences.

The economy represented in the mainstream media is primarily the formal economy – the sum total of individual quid-pro-quo transactions. The informal activities in the economy rarely get a mention. They are simply not seen as important enough. To conflate the formal and informal economy is to merge two moral logics which should be recognised as separate. They exist alongside each other but they are not the same.

Depending on your preferred definition of the word "economy", the phrase "sharing economy" is either a tautology or an oxymoron. The origin of the word economy has two root words: oiko (house) and nomos (rule or law). The original definition is said to have meant the art of household management, or in other words, how resources are shared among kin.

Various 20th century economists opposed this definition because, for them, the central aim of economics was to gain a scientific understanding of the interplay between all decision makers in society not just to analyse individual households.

Friedrich Hayek proposed the word "Catallaxy" as an alternative which derives from the Greek verb "katallatein". His definition meant not only to change or exchange but also to receive a person into favour or debt. It therefore refers to the order brought about by the mutual adjustment of many individual economies in a market. This higher level definition is the meaning that most of us already give to the word "economy".

So if we take these two opposed definitions and analyse the phrase "sharing economy" in the most basic terms it would seem to indicate either sharing sharing or sharing exchange, neither of which make any real sense.

The really important distinction between the definitions is the concept of exchange. Exchange is always presupposed by the possibility of debt. Debt is a moral position that stands in clear opposition to sharing. The tension between debt and sharing is at play in all economies. If the two are conflated, the significance of both is diminished.

Much of the activity that goes on in the informal economy occurs through generosity, as services in kind. The informal economy is therefore not always characterised as an exchange or a transaction. It is done without receipt, without quantification of value, without audit trails or records.

When we take care of children, the elderly or the infirm, when we volunteer for charities, when people give away their belongings for free, when we do the housework that provides the material conditions which support day-to-day employment – these are truly shared activities. We contribute to the economy when we carry out these tasks, just as we do when we buy a loaf of bread from a shop, get a mortgage or use complex financial instruments to manage derivatives.

But sharing is not the activity being promoted by the slew of new companies marching under the faux-compassion banner of the sharing economy. These companies are directing attention away from actual sharing in the informal economy.

Airbnb is not accommodation sharing, it is formalised lending. Uber is not ride sharing, it is a transportation service. Amazon's mechanical turk is not task-sharing, it is a means to crowdsource a labour force that is frequently underpaid.

None of this is to say these innovative companies shouldn't be encouraged to develop further, rather they should be recognised for what they are trying to accomplish –- commerciality, not simply prosociality.

If commentators continue to conflate the two sides of the economy they will mask true generosity and run the risk of missing issues that really matter to people.

Can we really claim to be experiencing a sharing renaissance when full-time carers receive less remuneration than people on the dole? Our economy is understandably driven by an exchangist policy bias, but the enormity of favourable discourse surrounding commercialised collaboration sounds like a claque. The prosocial definition of sharing should be wrestled back from the jaws of those using it to profiteer. The phrase "sharing economy" should be banished forever.

Explore further: Ride-sharing app Lyft expands to new markets

Source: The Conversation

Renting isn't lending: The 'sharing economy' fallacy

Don't buy the 'sharing economy' hype: Airbnb and Uber are facilitating rip-offs

Dodging taxes and regulation isn't just disruptive – it's bad for the economy

Dean Baker theguardian.com, Tuesday 27 May 2014 12.30 BST

Jump to comments (781)

Share artists or scam artists? Photograph: Ole Spata / dpa / Corbis

The "sharing economy" – typified by companies like Airbnb or Uber, both of which now have market capitalizations in the billions – is the latest fashion craze among business writers. But in their exuberance over the next big thing, many boosters have overlooked the reality that this new business model is largely based on evading regulations and breaking the law.

For the uninitiated, Airbnb is an internet-based service that allows people to rent out spare rooms to strangers for short stays. Uber is an internet taxi service that allows tens of thousands of people to answer ride requests with their own cars. There are hundreds of other such services that involve the renting or selling of everything from power tools to used suits and wedding dresses.

The good thing about the sharing economy is that it facilitates the use of underutilized resources. There are millions of people with houses or apartments that have rooms sitting empty, and Airbnb allows them to profit from these empty rooms while allowing guests a place to stay at prices that are often far less than those charged by hotels. Uber offers prices that are competitive with standard taxi prices and their drivers are often much quicker and more reliable – and its drivers can drive as much or as little as they like, without making a commitment to standard shifts. Other services allow for items to be used productively that would otherwise be gathering dust.

But the downside of the sharing economy has gotten much less attention. Most cities and states both tax and regulate hotels, and the tourists who stay in hotels are usually an important source of tax revenue (since governments have long recognized that a modest hotel tax is not likely to discourage most visitors nor provoke the ire of constituents). But many of Airbnb's customers are not paying the taxes required under the law.

Airbnb can also raise issues of safety for its customers and nuisance for hosts' neighbors. Hotels are regularly inspected to ensure that they are not fire traps and that they don't pose other risks for visitors. Airbnb hosts face no such inspections – and their neighbors in condo, co-ops or apartment buildings may think they have the right not to be living next door to a hotel (which is one reason that cities have zoning restrictions).

Insofar as Airbnb is allowing people to evade taxes and regulations, the company is not a net plus to the economy and society – it is simply facilitating a bunch of rip-offs. Others in the economy will lose by bearing an additional tax burden or being forced to live next to an apartment unit with a never-ending parade of noisy visitors, just to cite two examples.

The same story may apply with Uber. Uber is currently in disputes with regulators over whether its cars meet the safety and insurance requirements imposed on standard taxis. Also, many cities impose some restrictions on the number of cabs in the hopes of ensuring a minimum level of earnings for drivers, but if Uber and related services (like Lyft) flood the market, they could harm all drivers' ability to earn even minimum wage.

This downside of the sharing needs to be taken seriously, but that doesn't mean the current tax and regulatory structure is perfect. Many existing regulations should be changed, as they were originally designed to serve narrow interests and/or have outlived their usefulness. But it doesn't make sense to essentially exempt entire classes of business from safety regulations or taxes just because they provide their services over the Internet.

Going forward, we need to ensure that the regulatory structure allows for real innovation, but doesn't make scam-facilitators into billionaires. For example, rooms rented under Airbnb should be subject to the same taxes as hotels and motels pay. Uber drivers and cars should have to meet the same standards and carry the same level of insurance as commercial taxi fleets.

If these services are still viable when operating on a level playing field they will be providing real value to the economy. As it stands, they are hugely rewarding a small number of people for finding a creative way to cheat the system.


I'm an Airbnb host - I declare all of the income and pay tax on it, I spend the proceeds locally. None of it flows into an offshore account. None of pays accountants to be 'tax-effective'. How am I "not good for the economy"?

Articles like these will become more frequent as the hotel industry suffers from a migration of people who prefer to stay in friendly, homely, welcoming places rather than in the disdainful anonymity of a hotel. Perhaps hotels ought, instead of sponsoring agonised wails like this one, to ponder on what they can do to give people what they want.

When I travel, I usually stay with other Airbnb hosts, except sometimes when there's a citizenM hotel in the place I'm going to. Their model gives modern travellers what they really want - the comfiest beds, free Wifi, good coffee, clean, Eames-ish design, Macs and printers, lots of meeting rooms and spaces, a 24 hour bar/cafe/coffee shop with the feel of the sort of club you'd like to join. No snootiness, no snobbery, no servility. (And no, I'm not sponsored by them in any way).

Don't buy the 'sharing economy' hype: Airbnb and Uber are facilitating rip-offs | Dean Baker | Comment is free | theguardian.com
Why taxi drivers are going to war with Uber | World news | The Guardian
London cab drivers to protest Uber Technolgies Inc taxi-sharing APP that helps passengers save money | Mail Online

Uber (company) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Uber - London

To finish, from David Graeber on The First 5000 Years of Debt:

9 Things You Didn't Know About The History Of Debt (PHOTOS)

Posted: 07/29/11 02:43 PM ET

Debt seems to be everywhere in the news nowadays: debt ceilings, sovereign debt crises, credit crunches, senate battles over debt protection agencies, subprime mortgages, the creeping feeling that the United States has somehow hocked itself to China. It might cause one to wonder: how did all this happen? How did politics suddenly become all about who owes who how much money?
When I started researching my new book, "Debt: The First 5000 Years," it was partly to answer just such questions. What I discovered startled me. Credit systems, and with them, periodic debt crises, are as old as history. What's more, arguments about debt and debt forgiveness lie behind countless wars and revolutions, as well as behind the rise of Western philosophy, and just about all of the great world religions. They have come to shape every aspect of our lives in ways we are mostly completely unaware of.
Here are a few examples of what I found:
Here are a few examples of what I found:
1) Virtual money is not new; actually, it's the original form of money.
1 of 10

Coinage was only invented around 600 BC, but expense accounts, bar tabs, and compounded interest rates go back to at least 3500 BC. For most of human history, money was an accounting tool, not something people carried around and actually used to buy things.

Money begins then as a way of calculating credits and debts.

Perhaps the most common debt instrument in ancient times was the tally stick: a piece of wood notched to indicate money owed, then broken in half. In medieval England, the half kept by the creditor was called the "stock," that by the debtor was called the "stub." Stocks could circulate from hand to hand, becoming, effectively, money; and, of course, they were impossible to counterfeit, since no two sticks ever break in precisely the same way.

The Greek word for such tallies was "symbolon," whence our term "symbol" derives. Oddly enough, in China, where bamboo tallies called "fu" were long used, the same thing happened: tallies are long since forgotten, but "fu" is still the Chinese word for "symbol."

David Graeber: 9 Things You Didn't Know About The History Of Debt (PHOTOS)
Debt: The First 5000 Years - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
See also:
Futures Forum: The Circular Economy
Futures Forum: "Climate democracy" - comment on climate change and sustainability from The Nation

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