It’s Not Sharing, Stupid

on Monday, Jan. 6th

There’s been a lot of hubbub about the “sharing economy” of late. Public intellectuals have taken up arms on both sides of the issue, and club going kids on New Year’s Eve got a taste of the down-side when car service Uber shared with them the gift of “surge pricing.”

The pros and cons of services like Uber and Airbnb are endlessly debated online, but one thing that everyone seems to be okay with is using the term “sharing economy.”

Well, I’m not okay with it.

When we talk about services like Lyft and its ilk we are talking about a savvy technology company that usurps the role of a cab dispatcher. Circumventing the cab “medallion” infrastructure might be a good thing for those who want to work in the car services industry. It may also lead to all kinds to regulatory nightmares.

What it doesn’t involve is “sharing” of the kind that we all learned about in kindergarten.

All of the “sharing economy” services deal in cold hard cash. Airbnb takes their cut of money paid on what amounts to a very short-term lease. That’s not sharing: that’s playing the part of a hotelier.

When you go to a tool libraries, spend time working in a community gardens, or carpool you’re sharing. If you’re pulling out your iPhone, launching an app and hailing a town car you are seamlessly trading cash for services.

So let’s stop calling it the sharing economy. At best that’s intellectually dishonest; at worst it is window dressing on an ad-hoc system that has who-knows how many unintended consequences.

For the moment I’m going to call the Uber’s of the world “petite-capitalism,” until something more apt and less snarky comes to mind. Synonyms for “sharing” need not apply.


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