The sharing economy: connecting or exploiting?

| 06 Jan 2015 | 04:16

Nurturing community and innovation

Sharing our home, tools, car, bike, or service is a sustainable way to create access, utilize resources, and relieve the environment of excess waste. The sharing economy in partnership with the mobile internet creates a doorway of access between people and builds a unique world relationship and sense of community. Websites and Apps like Airbnb, hOurWorld, Uber, and Wholeshare connect the people-who-want with the people-who-have, and are-willing-to-share. This is about access and demand.

Time Banking, the original example of the modern share economy, is the exchange of service with its worth is based on time. Exchanges work like this: I gain an hour helping to seed a garden. I use my hour at the masseuse. Then, the masseuse spends her hour with an accountant. The accountant spends her hour with a local chef who provides a week’s supply of homemade soup, to help get through the busy tax season. Typically, the accountant pays for the chef’s soup ingredients, but that is up to them. Maybe the chef has food excess and wants to put it to use.

Nurturing a community is being redefined through websites like hOurWorld, an organization that helps establish or connect people to a time bank in their area.

Wholeshare is a website that allows people to shop as a group to purchase and split bulk goods at wholesale prices. Customers browse an online grocery and general store, purchase portions of bulk items, and pick up once the split is complete. Local farms and businesses benefit from selling product in large quantities. Consumers benefit by saving money, while sharing and connecting with people in the area.

There are people seeking a tourism led by the hands of locals. The sharing economy stimulates those who prefer a distinctive local experience. Airbnb allows people to rent rooms or houses, typically for short term use. Uber is a car sharing service that allows any driver to make money by offering taxi service.

Today, connecting is easy and accessible. People who share can save on expense or increase income. Newly incentivized, innovative community members are the ones driving and shaping their local sharing economies. Rating systems keep information transparent.

We are the customers and the creators who will benefit from our co-housing, time banking, ride sharing future.

Alysia Mazzella is a Hudson Valley-based storyteller and artist.

Undercutting the working class, again

The “share economy” isn’t about sharing. It’s about the rich getting richer and workers losing the few protections we have.

Take TaskRabbit, a website designed to allow people to “outsource errands you don’t want to do.” “Taskers” are paid for picking up groceries or waiting in line overnight for the newest iPhone. But taskers aren’t just working for individuals; whole companies are using the site to outsource work. It’s easy on bosses and brutal for workers.

TaskRabbit brags, “On average, our services are 15% cheaper than traditional services.” That’s because taskers aren’t actual employees. They’re independent contractors trying to piece together a living wage.By dissecting work into smaller, discrete tasks, TaskRabbit takes away workers’ hard-won protections like the minimum wage and health coverage. The ones really profiting are the bosses who hire them, and TaskRabbit, which gets a cut of every payment.

AirBnB, one of the most popular – and controversial – developments of the “share economy,” allows people with a spare room, apartment, or house to connect to people looking for a place to stay. People renting out rooms don’t have to follow the stringent regulations hotels are held to, so it’s not hard to guess what happened. In destination cities like San Francisco and New York, wealthy entrepreneurs are buying up apartments, furnishing them, and renting them out on AirBnB —skirting regulations to run unbranded hotels that make straight profit. The CEO of AirBnB recently said that they will be filling more rooms than Hilton Hotels by the end of 2014. The effects are felt by working people in these cities. Wealthy people buying up properties means increased property value. That pushes low- and middle-income folks out of their homes (just look at the growing wave of evictions hitting San Francisco).

Where’s this all leading? You can get a hint from Travis Kalanick, the CEO of Uber, a “rideshare” company proudly “disrupting” – and deregulating – the taxi industry. When Google premiered its self-driving car, Kalanick said, “The reason Uber could be expensive is because you’re not just paying for the car—you’re paying for the other dude in the car.”

Asked how he would respond to the many drivers who’d be put out of work by self-driving vehicles, he said, “I’d say ‘Look, this is the way of the world, and the world isn’t always great.’”

So much for “sharing.”

Julia Kann is an organizer and staff writer at Labor Notes in New York City.