Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Sharing economy or gift economy?

There is considerable scepticism growing around the promisess of the 'sharing economy':
Futures Forum: The sharing economy >>> “This on-demand, or so-called gig, economy is creating exciting economies and unleashing innovation. But it is also raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future. 

For example:

The first thing we need to understand about the “sharing economy” is that it has absolutely nothing to do with sharing in the sense you and I might think about it. The essence of sharing – if it has any meaning at all – is of course that it does not involve the exchange of money. Sharing only happens in the absence of market transactions. With regard to the poster boys and girls of the “sharing economy,” the very opposite is the case. These are digital platforms that roughly do two things: either making the old practice of re- and multi-using durable goods more efficient or expanding market exchange into economically uncharted territory of society.

MyCreativity | Never Mind the Sharing Economy: Here’s Platform Capitalism

This is a recent piece from Salon:

“Sharing economy” shams: Deception at the core of the Internet’s hottest businesses

FRIDAY, MAR 14, 2014 11:43 AM +0000

How companies like Airbnb use the language of "sharing" and "gifts" to conceal ambitions far more libertarian

"Sharing economy" shams: Deception at the core of the Internet's hottest businesses(Credit: akindo via iStock)
“Sharing is the new buying.”
The title of technology analyst Jeremiah Owyang’s survey of the sharing economy was exquisitely designed to grab attention: It was released just before the start of SXSW Interactive, the annual orgy of techie self-congratulation held every March in Austin, Texas. It boasted a clever, cognitively disjunctive twist: Sharing? Buying? Aren’t they opposites? And in an era of unlimited hype, it tabulated real data, reportedly “engaging 90,112 people in the US, Canada and the UK” to discern how and why they were embracing services like Lyft and Airbnb and Yerdle.
The study’s findings make for interesting and useful reading for anyone tracking the rise of what is called “collaborative consumption” — the proliferation of services that allow us to rent out our spare rooms and cars and junk gathering dust in the garage. But as I perused the contents, I found myself repeatedly coming back to a question I’d been obsessing over for months.
What, I wondered, would a Kwakiutl chieftain make of the sharing economy? (Bear with me for a moment.)
It is one of the delightful oddities of Internet anthropology: Dig deep enough into the early days of online communication and you are sure to stumble upon references to the practices of the Kwakiutl, indigenous inhabitants of North America who once reigned over a significant swath of what is now British Columbia. The Kwakiutl were famous for their “gift economy” rituals, festive gatherings in which gifts were exchanged to mark relative social status and create ties of reciprocity.
It was once fashionable for both libertarian programmers and left-wing social criticsto characterize the early growth of the Internet as following “gift economy” practices that broke the traditional rules of market capitalism. In the Internet’s gift economy, programmers built tools and wrote code that they contributed freely to the benefit of the common good. They didn’t labor for anything as crass as money. Because they wanted to “scratch their own itch,” or aspired to higher status among their own peers, or for reasons of simple pragmatism, voluntary coordination seemed like a more effective way to solve common problems. The Internet was one giant potluck (a word derived from the Kwakitul “potlatch”) — we brought what we had to give, and got to taste everyone else’s offerings. The theorist Richard Barbrook dubbed it“cybernetic communism.”
The new sharing economy overlaps with its predecessor, the gift economy, in many obvious ways: Before the emergence of globe-spanning digital networks, it was impossible for far-flung programmers to efficiently collaborate on huge projects like the Linux operating system. The infrastructure of the Internet enabled programmers to share, copy and modify code with ease. In other words, it was suddenly much easier to give away the product of your programming labor and coordinate that labor with others. Similarly, there’s no Lyft without networks and smartphones — and no way to find out where the nearest Lyft driver is to the would-be Lyft rider. The fact that the Internet and mobile devices have enabled much more efficient resource allocation is not hype. It’s a fundamental building block of our new world.
But there’s also an overlap of rhetoric. The early advocates of the Internet gift economy saw it as a better way to be. This amazing information-sharing network, built from code that anyone could modify or copy, would benefit all of society! The sharing economy is proselytized with similar language. Sharing apps, we are told, builds trust between consumers and service providers. Sharing our stuff also conserves resources (e.g., ride sharing is good for the planet). Stare long enough at the marketing materials for Yerdle — “a marketplace where everything is free” — and “cybernetic communism” seems alive and well.
But there’s one crucial area where the linkages between the gift economy and the sharing economy break down. Reciprocity. The anthropologists who studied the Kwakiutl and other cultures with similar gift economy practices argued that the act of gift giving was meant to be reciprocated. Gift giving created obligations to respond in kind. These mutual obligations were the ties that bound society together.
The sharing economy doesn’t work quite the same way. The most high-profile sharing economy apps are designed to generate significant profits for a relatively small number of people. It is an open question whether the concentration of wealth that will result will bind our society closer together or continue to exacerbate the growing income inequality that is ripping us apart. This is the defining contradiction of the new economy: apps that enable us to pinch pennies and survive in an era of intense competition — to make do with less — will make them rich. That’s not the Internet “gift economy” as originally conceived, a utopia in which we all benefit from our voluntary contributions. It’s something quite different — the relentless co-optation of the gift economy by market capitalism. The sharing economy, as practiced by Silicon Valley, is a betrayal of the gift economy. The potlatch has been paved over, and replaced with a digital shopping mall.
*  * *
In her introduction to Marcel Mauss’ “The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies,” the British anthropologist Mary Douglas wrote that “a gift that does nothing to enhance solidarity is a contradiction.” Mauss himself writes that potlatch implies “a succession of rights and duties to consume and reciprocate, corresponding to rights and duties to offer and accept.” When we give each other gifts we are not being altruists; we are strengthening our mutual connections. This is how a group of individuals becomes a society.
I won’t deny that you can hear faint echoes of this sense of solidarity in the sharing economy. When I fist-bump with a Lyft driver I feel more of a sense of connection with her than I do with my typical Yellow Cab driver. If your Airbnb experience has you ending up in a spare bedroom of a house that is occupied by its owner at the same time you are there, then you may very well strike up a bond more meaningful than those that you share with the concierge at the nearest Hilton.
But I can’t shake the suspicion that this nascent, fragile solidarity is nothing more than marketing for some of the most agile capitalists on the planet. Consider Lyft. Last week, Lyft announced it was halfway through a new round of financing that aims to add another $150 million of capital on top of the $83 million the company has already raised. The new infusion will value Lyft at around $700 million. If all goes as planned, Lyft will one day enjoy a spectacular public offering or be purchased by another company for billions of dollars — and the investors will happily haul in some significant multiple of their initial payout. It will be a great day for Lyft shareholders.
But what does that mean for solidarity? What will the Lyft shareholders do with their profits? Outside of a few philanthropists, it’s not at all clear they will “give” their bounty back to the larger community or otherwise “share” it. Quite the contrary! As best we can tell, the politics of the venture capital elite boil down to fending off higher taxes, keeping labor costs low and reducing the “burden” of government regulation.
The concentration of great wealth in the hands of a small group that then employs that wealth to protect its own privileges and fortify its own status is the polar opposite of reciprocity. Growing income inequality weakens social ties. Our “sharing” is their windfall. That’s not how the gift economy is supposed to work.
The profit-seeking interests of these private marketplaces aren’t that different from those of a textbook regulator: encouraging productive trade, keeping market participants safe and preventing “market failure.”
This is an extraordinary claim. The profit-seeking interests of private marketplaces are usually considered to be, by definition, at odds with the interests of regulators. The intersection of public safety and profit-seeking is exactly the point at which true friction enters the system. It’s exactly the point at which the general public can’t trust the private sector. It’s hard to understand why Sundrarajan thinks that sharing-economy companies are different from any other consumer-facing company. Don’t they all want to keep participants safe and prevent market failure?
In “Sharing Is the New Buying,” Jeremiah Owyang declares that “brands that want to succeed in the sharing economy must tell stories around value and trust.” That strikes me as an odd formulation. Brands that want to succeed need to deliver value. And as for trust? In the earliest gift economy sense, trust was built from reciprocity and mutual obligation. Silicon Valley is going to have to work a lot harder to make that happen. It could start by putting a stop to pretending that the sharing economy is about anything other than making a killing.
Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon.

“Sharing economy” shams: Deception at the core of the Internet’s hottest businesses - Salon.com

As the following piece suggests, its the commoditisation of everyday transactions which grates:

From sharing economy to gift ecology

NIPUN MEHTA 28 January 2015

The highest potential of sharing comes from the transformative spirit of generosity.

Credit: Derek Bacon/Shutterstock. All rights reserved.

Couple weeks back, Sam and I spoke at a local gathering in Oakland. In casual conversation, the convener of our circle, Syra tells us: "I love that so many people are talking about sharing. See, I'm always campaigning for it," handing us a card for local sharing event. "But you know, I tried to get into this sharing conference, and it was 500 bucks! Doesn’t that just feel wrong? Most of us can’t afford that kind of sharing."

Like many, Syra consolidated two ideas into one: sharing and giving. Traditionally, sharing has much in common with giving, but in the booming phenomena of a ‘Sharing Economy’, they are significantly different.

Sharing has elements of inter-connectedness, of a village-like community, of a transformative altruism. But 'economy' puts us squarely in a transactional mindset and culture of convenience. Enthusiasts of the multi-billion dollar (and growing 25% annually) ‘Sharing Economy’ say that it is the best of both worlds, cite data on how sharing is the new buying, and get excited about ideas like 'collaborative consumption'. Yet, it's easy to see how those phrases land more as oxymorons. Sharing and collaboration are typically we-oriented ideas, while buying and consumption are clearly me-oriented. Consumption subtly becomes stronger, and all of a sudden, "Sharing Economy' feels a lot more like Economy and a lot less like Sharing.

It's a pattern we've seen before. Sometime last year, I ran into a woman who had just quit her job, after ten years of leading a pioneering sustainability organization. Just plain burned out. When I probed further, she said: "I started with the hope that we could elevate economic forces to value nature. Instead, what we've done is commoditized and devalued nature." Same thing happened with social entrepreneurship. Bill Drayton's vision behind it was to leverage entrepreneurship to solve complex social problems; instead, all businesses called themselves social and diluted its essence. Similarly, Muhammad Yunus pioneered micro-finance with the idea of eradicating poverty, but now MFI institutions openly profit from poverty. We've even done this with friendship. Facebook and the world of social media forged trillions of new connections amongst us, but it has simply cheapened the idea of friendship.

Now, it seems like sharing is having its turn.

In 'Case Against Sharing', Susan Cagle writes: "For the past few years, the 'sharing economy' has characterized itself as a revolution: Renting a room on Airbnb or catching an Uber is an act of civil disobedience in the service of a righteous return to human society’s true nature of trust and village-building that will save the planet and our souls. A higher form of enlightened capitalism. [But] the sharing economy’s success is inextricably tied to the economic recession, making new poverty palatable. It’s disaster capitalism. 'Sharing' companies are not embarrassed by this -- it appears to be a point of pride."

On paper, it seems like a good idea to build an app to share my lawn mower with everyone on my block. But it never stops there. Soon, everything that we used to share informally now tempts us with a price tag. I could share my room on CouchSurfing, or I could get a bit of cash through AirBnb. I could connect with my neighbors in my spare time, or give a ride on Uber and a bit of extra cash. I could spend a bit more time with my kids, or I can take a small job on Mechanical Turk and make a bit of extra cash. And the conspiracy of the price-tag is supported by an entire system ranging from education to economy to our technologies to the mindsets we culturally encourage. It is very difficult to not take the bait, whether as a designer or a consumer, and the rules of the game are making it harder and harder by the day.

Consider ride sharing services that allow everyday folks to turn their cars into cabs. For many, it delivers technology’s promise to connect strangers, rewire relationships and create community. Uber, a $10 billion startup, was the early one. But then Lyft came along, where its entire payment system was donation based. Lyft cofounder, John Zimmer, goes so far as to liken their intent to time he spent on the Oglala Sioux reservation in South Dakota. “Their sense of community, of connection to each other and to their land, made me feel more happy and alive than I’ve ever felt before,” he says. “I think people are craving real human interaction -- it’s like an instinct. We now have the opportunity to use technology to help us get there.” A donation based service would indeed require two parties to be in much more nuanced relationship (indeed, like a native pot-lach), so that felt exciting. Not for long, unfortunately. When they got $333 million in funding and built some legal muscles, Lyft now aims to "be bit cheaper (and a whole lot more fun) than other transportation alternatives." No serious disruption of values there.

When what used to be shared informally turns into a formal, commoditized transaction, we lose something. That something is subtle, so it’s easy to gloss over. But over time, it cheapens our human experience. We strip away our commons, and we forget how to value things without a price tag.

The highest potential of sharing is when it embeds the transformative spirit of generosity. When kids share their favorite toy, or when we share a seat on a crowded bus, or when we share our public parks, the quality of connections can go quite deep. It’s one thing to get into a car-turned-cab with someone smiling to keep their online ratings for future profit, and then say goodbye after making a mechanical payment through your iPhone. It’s quite another to ride in a rickshaw where someone before you has paid for you and you are trusted to evoke your empathy muscles to pay forward for the person after you -- to a rickshaw driver whose entire family depends on his earning, and who still humbly offers himself in the spirit of unconditional love. That is a VERY different kind of “peer to peer” economy, and a very different kind of sharing.

Looking at the trajectory, I now wonder about gift economy. Over the last 15 years, ServiceSpace has helped popularize the modern iteration of that idea.Smile Cards, Karma Kitchen and more. The essence of gifting is to give with no strings attached. That kind of giving creates relationships that are deep enough to facilitate a circle of giving -- A gives to B, B gives to C, and C gives to A. It's not just enough that A, B, and C are connected, but they have to be connected in a way that everyone trusts in a pay-forward interconnectivity. Only generosity can create that kind of economy. So if this phrase goes the way of its predecessors, if the unchecked momentum of economy overrides the gift, we will have cheapened the idea of generosity.

As Viral recently pointed out, gift ecology is probably a more suitable word. Economy reduces value into a few focused dimensions, whereas ecology implies a more intricate interplay of relationships that generate diversified -- sometimes immeasurable -- value. When we give freely, we naturally build affinities with recipients and over time, and create deep ties that form the basis of a gift ecology and a resilient society.

Of course, such an ecology is rooted in selfless action -- which requires a significant inner transformation. In the deeper recesses of our mind, where the dominant pattern is to operate from a very narrow notion of self, we have to transition from me to we to us, with the understanding that the small self is best served when it can let go to the bigger ecology. A lot of research suggests that, for instance, we can't teach compassion but we can create the conditions for it to arise naturally. In that sense, we can't manufacture such a world or a culture. It has to emerge. We simply till the soil, sow the seeds, water the plants, and then trust the interconnections of the ecosystem to build its trees as the time ripens.

Then, instead of economy leading the sharing revolution, it might be led by generosity. Generous Sharing. With that kind of momentum, as time ripens, it naturally blooms into a gift ecology.

This article was originally published on DailyGood.

About the author
Nipun Mehta is the founder of ServiceSpace (formerly CharityFocus), an incubator of projects that works at the intersection of volunteerism, technology and gift-economy.

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From sharing economy to gift ecology | openDemocracy

This is an excellent overview of the gift economy:

The Gift Economy: The Days When More For You Is Also More For Me

By Maria Fonseca, 13/06/2015

The Gift Economy: The Days When More For You Is Also More For Me

Article written by Paula Newton and Maria Fonseca

In recent years, many new projects and economic approaches have arisen, that approach economics and businesses in a different and innovative way. Some of these make good use of the latest technological innovations to put into practice a whole new set of principles that approach economics from a radical point of view. Who hasn’t heard about the sharing economy or the collaborative commons? These approaches result from a deep awareness that the mainstream economic organization of our planet, is not working very well anymore, and it has brought us many problems that need to be solved.

The search for economic alternatives corresponds as well to a consciousness shift happening in society, which is increasingly drawn to a whole new set of values such as ecology, sustainability, meaning, connectedness, spirituality and happiness.

Various alternatives start to be designed and experimented. One of these is the gift economy. But what does that mean? Well, the Gift Economy is a new term to describe a relatively old idea. As argued by Marie Goodwin (2014) of Shareable:

“Gift economics was the basis for exchange practiced by many cultures around the world until the creation of money, even in the West up to the Middle Ages.”

The basic premise of it is that if you have more than you need of a particular product then you give the excess away to people that you know. The ideal result is that if everyone else is doing the same thing then there is a “web of connection” created where everyone is indebted in some way to everyone else. Whether people need water, a roof above their heads, food, clothing or even needs beyond this such as luxuries all can be met through this solution, say their proponents. The following animated video, done for the TED-Ed explains what the gift economy is:


What is a gift economy? - Alex Gendler - YouTube

The Gift Economy reinforces itself in many ways, not least of which is when someone is particularly generous then the way they are viewed in the community develops and their esteem grows. This is important because if a person faces a time of greater difficulties, the community is more likely to support them to a greater degree if they have been particularly generous. This Gift Economy consequently provides security at times of crisis, and creates strong relationships between people, which is aspirational for many. Some may confuse the gift economy with the collaborative commons. According to the wikipedia “Commons” refers to the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately.

There is a wealth of authors that have approached the gift economy. Charles Eisenstein is the most known one, who wrote about it in the book the Sacred Economics. In the following video, Charles Eisenstein explains his view on the gift economy.


The Gift Economy and the Commons - YouTube

An interesting point explained by Eisenstein in his book, is the one about how currently money is an abstraction that is very removed from its materiality:

“In that realm, (money) is exempt from nature’s most important laws, for it does not decay and return to the soil as all other things do, but is rather preserved, changeless, in its vaults and computer files, even growing with time thanks to interest. It bears the properties of eternal preservation and everlasting increase, both of which are profoundly unnatural.”

Other authors approaching the same theme are Riane Eisler’s economic thinking, the author of the book The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics and Lewis Hyde’s masterwork from 1983 The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property.

Businesses And The “Gift Economy”

Many businesses are starting to operate in a “gift economy” type of manner. This does not work for every business, but can be a good model for businesses that offer some sort of consultancy or coaching. Small businesses are best suited to this, but that is not to say that it cannot work in large businesses too. However, it is worth understanding a few basic principles first. One is that if someone gives a gift to someone else that does not mean that it was “free”. Rather, this should create a grateful feeling that leads the person that received the gift to determine what that is worth in return and select a suitable timing to deliver a return gift. This is an exchange rather than a freebie. It is also is worth remembering that money can be a gift too. If someone gifts money that is not wrong in the Gift Economy. Not every client will understand the gift economy and that may need to be explained to them. In some cases that could mean losing some clients who do not understand the concept and cannot adapt to it. However, from your side, being open about what you put into the gift is essential so that the other party can understand and give something of equal value in return.

An example of an organisation that is already using the Gift Economy is Panera Bread, a café that has opened in three US cities. Located in Portland, St. Louis and Detroit, the model is that people are gifted what they need, and they leave what they can in terms of payment. The founder works on the premise that if you trust people they may just surprise you. It has certainly been working for Panera Bread. Another really interesting application of this model is being tested out by Elat Chayyim Center for Creative Spirituality at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in the upcoming months. The Center is holding an event called Mikvah, which is a retreat. The focus will be to see how the Gift Economy can work. The idea behind it is that participants state what they are going to provide, such as leading a walk, preparing a meal or giving a talk, or maybe even leading a dance session or meditation. It is anticipated that those that take part will be inspired by their attendance of the week long programme. They will see for real how the Gift Economy can work and how it can be successful. The organisers are quick to explain that this is not the first kind of event that has been carried out like this, but it is certainly a very interesting concept. The Gift Economy, the world will be a better place.

The fantastic promise of the Gift Economy, is how it aims to integrates humans back to nature. With the gift economy, the world could eventually be a better place.

The Gift Economy: The Days When More For You Is Also More For Me

Here is a project on the gift economy:

World Maps of The Sharing & Gift Economy (Over 100+ Cities)

What is being shared in your neighbourhood that you may know about? Did you know there’s shared transportation, tools, office space, gardening space, and even cute dogs?
In a gift economy, you often share with people you know and trust (think family, friends and neighbours) at no cost and without expecting anything in return in order to maintain and build relationships.
But what if you don’t know anyone and are new to a community?
While some companies like Airbnb allows you to rent your room to strangers in the shared market economy, other groups are in a gift economy are shared for free. About 7 million people offer short term hospitality for free on Couchsurfing.com, or share their skills and tools with neighbours on streetbank.com, and operate on a “gift culture” principle popularized by Burning Man and the movie Paying it Forward.
Giving and sharing is often what we naturally do with our family and friends on Facebook and on the gifteconomy.ca.
These are examples of projects available to the public through what’s called the “sharing economy”. Other terms that have been used to describe this collaborative consumption are  “collaborative economy”, “new economy” and “gift economy”. But just what is a sharing economy?
“The “sharing economy” is a big buzzword these days, but often the talk is all about big tech giants like Airbnb or Uber. What we don’t often hear about is the groundswell of community-owned and operated sharing initiatives that are helping to give more of us access to transportation, tools, education, office space, gardening space, food, art and thing-making space, and even cute dogs, while reducing our cost of living andimproving our quality of life.
“Collaborative consumption” also helps us minimize our environmental impact and brings us closer to others in our community – creating a more connected, safer, more resilient city.” Spacing.ca
Take a look at these grassroots sharing projects, cooperatives, community resources, and the commons.
Gift Economy Groups/Cities:
While many gift economy groups are private, secret, or closed and involve individuals sharing with their family and friends of under 150 people (Dunbar’s number),  a quick search for “gift economy” on Facebook will show around 100 public groups that you are free to join.  You can also learn how to start your own gift economy circle with your family and friends.
Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 8.25.24 PM

Fifty cities around the world began mapping their shared resources in October and November in 2013 during Shareable’s first annual global #MapJam. This was just the beginning of the Sharing Cities Network – an ambitious project to create one hundred sharing cities by 2015.
A Sharing City is a city where housing, food, transportation, energy, and money are locally owned and democratically governed. Where we create our own meaningful and dignified work together and creatively play in community centers, urban farms, makerspaces and art collectives. Where we share material resources and skills through peer-to-peer exchanges, lending libraries and gifting.
Sharing City Community Maps:
Share Vancouver @ Sharing station. Photo by Rufio Van Hoover.
In Vancouver, sharing organizations participating are Modo, Vancouver Tool Library, TradeSchool Vancouver, HiVE Vancouver, Part-Time Pooch, Share Shed, go2gether, Vancouver Community Laboratory, MakerLabs, Vancouver Cohousing and more.  There is a #MapJam event in Vancouver and in your city too!
FreeWorlder Map:
The Free World Charter is a document that proposes the founding principles on which to grow an alternative, advanced society that uses no money, is free, fair, and sustainable. The Free World Charter website is available in 23 major languages.
Do you know of any more organizations mapping resources? Are you sharing resources to the commons? Leave us a comment below.
World Maps of The Sharing & Gift Economy (Over 100+ Cities)

There are several projects out there promoting the 'gift economy':
The Gift Economy: A Model for Collaborative Community | Tikkun Magazine
Gift Economy Meetups - Meetup
sharing economy | Let's Collaborate!

This is a very accessible academic study looking at the differences between the sharing and gift economies:
The changing shape of sharing: digital materiality and moral economies | Discover Society

See also:
Futures Forum: Developing an alternative economy >>> 'stimulated by a climate of changing technology and increasing individual power'
Futures Forum: Is Uber really part of the 'sharing economy'? >>> "The whole point of a genuine p2p and sharing economy is empowerment for those directly participating in it."
Futures Forum: The 'sharing economy' in the news...
Futures Forum: The sharing economy "monetizes the desperation of people in the post-crisis economy while sounding generous—and evokes a fantasy of community in an atomized population."
Futures Forum: The 'sharing economy', 'resilience' and 'nudging': Evgeny Morozov on "The rise of data and the death of politics"
Futures Forum: Jeremy Rifkin and the Collaborative Commons

1 comment:

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