The Case Against Sharing
By Susie Cagle /

With the rise of the “sharing economy,” many have asked the same question, though perhaps not with the same excitement. But this was Share, a conference meant to “catalyze the sharing economy,” organized by sharing economy lobbying group Peers and capitalism-for-good boosters SOCAP, sponsored by Airbnb, Lyft, eBay, and attended by about 500 investors, entrepreneurs, and advocates.


For the past few years, the “sharing economy” has characterized itself as a revolution: Renting a room on Airbnb or catching an Uber is an act of civil disobedience in the service of a righteous return to human society’s true nature of trust and village-building that will save the planet and our souls. A higher form of enlightened capitalism.


But this economy is still young and discovering itself. So far it looks, at worst, like neoliberal solutionism — and at best, a little confused.


This cognitive dissonance might be cute were it not backed by millions of dollars in capital investment and a steamroller approach to laws and regulations that protect workers and consumers.


It‘s no accident that this wild moment would coalesce in the West. Whileother cities fight back, California has attempted to codify new “sharing” business models with new regulations. While San Francisco has recently cracked down on some particularly high-volume Airbnb renter-hosts, Chiu and other “sharing” advocates are trying to pass legislation to make the practice legal. In its defense, Airbnb says San Francisco residents need their service so they can afford to pay their rent — ignoring that San Francisco housing costs have been pushed so high in part because of the influx of exceptionally well-paid tech employees who work at places like Airbnb, currently valued at $10 billion.


Across the U.S., high costs of living are driving more of the employed toward “side hustles,” i.e. unprotected freelance work, the kind fostered by the sharing economy. Where workers don’t have the start-up investments necessary to participate — the cars, homes, kitchens to rent — then they can just rent those tooLyft’s new luxury service is aimed at encouraging non-car owners to drive for the company, giving them a lease option on impractical “custom” “premium” Ford Explorers.

The sharing economy’s success is inextricably tied to the economic recession, making new American poverty palatable. It’s disaster capitalism. “Sharing” companies are not embarrassed by this — it appears to be a point of pride.


But sharing businesses aren’t just creating new income streams from nothing. In “disrupting” even troubled markets — the taxi industry has had this coming for a long time — the glory of the peer economy comes at the expense of other workers’ livelihoods.


When labor researcher and attorney Veena Dubal presented her findings atShare, she says, “I thought they were going to throw tomatoes at me.”


Share represented the full gamut of a true sharing economy, from the controversial Lyfts and Airbnbs to the individuals who run home businesses knitting scarves and baking pies without traditional employment safety nets or the corporate muscle of Big Sharing. While the former wields the power to get its way, defining “the sharing economy” at the expense of workers and consumers, sole proprietors and nonprofit collectives are often the ones facing real legal problems that they can’t afford to solve. The benefits big disruptive “sharing economy” players might be making for themselves are not exactly trickling down.


For all its troubling externalities, the sharing economy is largely heralded as a “return to the village,” an ahistoric utopia where we were friends with all of our trusted neighbors, lived in harmony with nature, and wanted not to consume, but to share. (Nevermind that this is not new at all — sharing and homesteading are things poor people have been doing forever out of necessity.)

But our society is not returning to a past utopia of collective social confidence and equality because this utopia never existed. The sharing economy doesn’t build trust — it trades on cultural homogeneity and established social networks both online and in real life. Where it builds new connections, it often replicates old patterns of privileged access for some, and denial for others.


Sharing economy boosters repeatedly call the whole thing “empowering.” For them, it certainly is. And in some iterations, it can be for all of us. In its full scope, including barter and gift transactions and nonprofit collectives and cooperatives, the sharing economy is decidedly not all bad. Enabling peer to peer commercial interactions can save us time and money; it can lessen our impact on the planet. And it can also replicate old social and economic patterns and further degrade worker and consumer protections.

The sharing economy has painfully noble goals. But a society and an economics that truly values civic engagement, the commons, and trust between people is one that invests in the protection of those people so they can really prosper, even when something goes wrong.

In many ways, Share was an object lesson in self-delusion. In the week since, I’ve received four emails from Peers and SOCAP organizers declaring the event an unqualified success. A smaller version of it is set to descend on New York.


Follow Susie on Twitter. Sign up for The Nib’s mailing list here or follow us at @TheNib and Facebook/NibComics.

0.0 ·
What's Next
Trending Today
Noam Chomsky Has 'Never Seen Anything Like This'
Chris Hedges · 14,208 views today · Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 10,440 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
25 Mind-Twisting Optical Illusion Paintings by Rob Gonsalves
Dovas · 7,139 views today · The beautiful and mind-bending illusions in Canadian artist Robert Gonsalves’ paintings have a fun way of twisting your perception and causing you to question what in his...
Forget Shorter Showers: Why Personal Change Does Not Equal Political Change (2015)
11 min · 5,576 views today · Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday; or that chopping...
No Moral Superpower: Arundhati Roy, Edward Snowden, and the Crimes of Empire
Jake Johnson · 5,491 views today · When Arundhati Roy was preparing, in 2014, for a trip to Moscow to meet Edward Snowden, she was troubled by two things. One of them was the fact that the meeting was arranged...
Dinosaur explains Trump policies better than Trump!
8 min · 3,190 views today · Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90's TV show sitcom, "Dinosaurs". 
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 3,114 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
Men Loving Men
Bianca Vivion · 2,681 views today · When my father was seven he and his best friend Phil cut their index fingers open and placed them together to create a “blood pact” that they would always be brothers. To this...
The Empire Vs. The People - Police Attack and Arrest Peaceful Protestors at the Dakota Access Pipeline
6 min · 2,083 views today · On October 22, just before dawn, hundreds of people, including many families, gathered and prepared to march toward the Dakota Access pipeline construction site near Standing...
These Incredible Stories Remind Us of Our Better Selves
36 min · 1,908 views today · #WhoWeAre is a campaign to share the stories of people whose actions show us compassion and to send a message of empathy, hope and optimism. These videos will automatically...
The Burden of the New Story
Adebayo Akomolafe · 1,776 views today · The 'new story' - that longed for milieu when all is right with the world and things are set straight - seems to be taking its sweet time coming. Why?
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,754 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
And After the Election, The Reaction
Ret Marut · 1,504 views today · Could there be any better illustration of the shortcomings of representative democracy than this year’s Presidential campaign? For months upon tiresome months, the whole world...
Writers Tom Hayden and Naomi Klein Talk About Journalism and Activism
27 min · 1,312 views today · Author, Activist and Former California State Senator Tom Hayden talks in depth with the author of No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein, about the state of the fourth...
'The Climate of Fear Is Unacceptable' - Ken Loach on I, Daniel Blake
6 min · 1,120 views today · Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or-winning film I, Daniel Blake tells the story of a man who is denied disability benefit after a heart attack and who is then subsequently caught in a...
Three Massive Mergers - Millions for One Bank and a Disaster for Food, Water, and Climate
Wenonah Hauter · 810 views today · In addition to advising on all three mega-mergers, Credit Suisse is playing a big role behind the scenes of the Dakota Access pipeline.
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 771 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 633 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Ode to Lesvos
5 min · 483 views today · An inspiring story of a few remarkable heroes on the Island of Lesvos who helped almost half a million refugees in 2015 has been documented in a new short film called Ode to...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 450 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
The Case Against Sharing