From time to time there is an article that I was about to write and I find it the very next day already put online by someone else; except it is way sharper than what I would have ever produced. Having said that, you probably should stop reading me and jump to Reversing the Lies of the Sharing Economy from Brett SCOTT.
The article point many conceptual mistakes we entertain as we address the so-called sharing economy. The most critical one being in my opinion, that for the sharing to build up a consistent network effect, you need to organize an offering side and a taking side. It’s not a goodwill principle where you take one day and give another one. Or if you prefer, you don’t feel compelled to drive a few people around, to share back a ride you got from a Uber driver. And you’d be most surely very pissed off if the very same driver would call you a few days later at 5 am to check if you could drop him off at the airport.
The reason being that 1. You paid the goddam driver, and 2. It was very much agreed that you’d pay him before even launching the app.
This is called a commercial transaction; which involves no more sharing than when you pay for your meal at a restaurant.
But that’s not something evil or even bad per se. We are all very happy to be able to interact with strangers by willingly exchanging normalized amount of value for goods and services. Money was a very early stage invention when people appeared on Earth; there is a reason to that.
What is much more dubious is that all current players in the “sharing economy” bet on the fact that they can transfer most business risks to the ones that are “sharing” together. Or if you want, when the Uber driver pays for its insurance, gas, maintenance and the vehicle itself, Uber only has to focus on scaling the network effect. So yes, this is clinically beautiful in term of business model, but it’s also radically unfair in the end. And remember that this is coming from someone that won’t cut you any slack when you just cry foul when Uber or others are just better than you at doing your job.
Then again, read Brett’s article and you’ll get a much more articulate perspective on this (although you will judge by yourself if the “platform cooperativism” idea is realistic or not). I would only add that it’s long due that politicians get involved and start to understand these issues.
With all the love I have for companies such as Apple, it’s unfair that they could relocate the profits of their platform to a given low-tax country and get away with it because it was currently legal. In the same way, when Uber or AirBnB transfer an unfair amount of risk to their customers (the driver and the homeowner are customers, make no mistake) they should at least be taxed accordingly. Whether it means an extra +15% VAT penalty or something else entirely is beyond my perspective. What concerns me is knowing that our society has developed a blind spot on how technology changed the economy.
I’m all for fair rules and rules are applied in context. This very context has changed drastically these last ten years.[UPDATE Apr.7] Quite a timing with this article I guess: Uber just got banned from Italy.