What is the "Sharing Economy?"


As Time writer Joe Mathews puts it, the “Sharing economy” is "the catch-all name for “peer-to-peer” firms that connect people for the purposes of distributing, sharing, and reusing goods and services."

Mathews goes on to point out that "sharing services can eliminate waste, improve efficiency, connect people to one another, and allow us to make money on extra stuff in our closets and garages. And," he adds, "if that’s all the sharing economy promised to do, I’d have no reason to worry."

Despite its feel-good hype, the “sharing economy” can be easily misused for selfish profit motives. For example, real estate speculators in cities around the world acquire large quantities of affordable housing, turn it into short-term rentals, and turn a huge profit. They "share" none of their profits with the families that used to live in those affordable housing units, and will now have to find new homes elsewhere.

As Aspen Institute Vice President Maureen Conway points out, “In the end, the sharing economy is nice words for what is really more of the same. More money going to business profits held by a few, and less money going to the labor income that is the primary means of support for most Americans. What we need is a sharing economy in which working people share in the wealth that their labor creates. Unfortunately, this version of a sharing economy does not promise that.”

Airbnb has become one of the most lucrative internet start-ups in the country thanks in large part to allowing illegal and abusive short term rental practices. Read our open letter to Rick Cole

Juliet Schor is conducting research funded by the Mac Arthur Foundation and offers one of the most lucid, insightful, and well-researched analyses of the so-called "sharing economy." Her research examines the self-proclaimed social and environmental transformations that for-profit companies have claimed, and concluding that the capacity of sharing economy users to organize themselves is a central factor in truly unlocking the potential of the sharing model. Read her article Debating the Sharing Economy and commentary on the article here. 

The articles below provide a critical look at the “sharing economy.”