The Peer Economy, Profits, and The Big Picture Impact

on Thursday, Apr. 17th

All Tech Considered’s Emily Siner has a piece up today about the peer economy–companies like Uber, Esty, and Airbnb–told through the frame of a new D.C.-area based delivery company Postmates which uses freelance bike messengers for one-hour delivery service.

Here’s the part that stood out for me:

Despite its success so far, the peer economy isn’t likely to replace the traditional model of gainful employment anytime soon. [CEO and co-founder Bastian] Lehmann wouldn’t say how much Postmates workers make in a week. [Josh] Gibbs made about $50 in his first week on the job. It’s nice pocket money, he says, but it won’t pay his rent.

The low barrier to entry also means there’s a low barrier to exit: People can stop working at any time with little or no consequence. So the success of the companies, [MIT researcher Denise] Cheng says, depends on continuously recruiting new workers.

The problem of what to make of the “new” economy in the shadow of the financial crisis keeps twisting about in my mind. Is it just a simple “disruption” story wherein the old guard of capital gets shoved aside for smartphone-wielding venture cap samurais? Is crowdfunding itself just a way for new middlemen to take the place of lenders?

Or is there something else under the surface? Should we be using the old metrics to guide our thinking, or should we be looking at the unexpected consequences and social effects that Uber and its ilk are creating? There are human and environmental costs tied into this reorganization of society, and merely adding up the dollars and cents isn’t enough to reflect that impact.

If you know of anyone doing research into this kind of thing kindly point it out to me.


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