Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Sharing Economy

10/2/2013—I was talking about the new, sharing economy, and I thought it could be explained and presented through the slogan "ownership is access/access is ownership." The basic approach of this new economic form is an expansion of things like Zipcar so that one might be able to request a rental of something like skis from someone nearby rather purchase them. Or, more intimately, one might pay an unknown neighbor for a room for a few nights.

From the point of view of the slogan, the first part – – ownership is access – – looks at this phenomenon from the point of view of the person with legal ownership of the product. This person retains ownership but ownership is now looked at not so much as the right to exclude others but rather the right of access to the product whenever one wishes. So the owner has given up nothing of importance but has of course gained the possibility of additional income, as well as potentially a larger network of social contacts.

The second part of the slogan—access is ownership—examines the sharing economy from the point of view of the renter. This person no longer seeks legal ownership of the product in question. Instead, access to the product more or less whenever one wishes satisfies all the needs that legal ownership satisfies, at less cost.

There is no question that potentially the sharing economy is economically more efficient because products will be in use much more of the time. It is not, however, necessarily the case that fewer products will be sold through legal ownership. It is just as likely that, for example, having rented a tent for a few days, I might buy one.

What is possibly less true of the sharing economy is that it offers anything beyond a certain kind of economic advantage. Some of its proponents envision it as a new social form as well. This may not be the case. After all, Zipcar does not engender any greater form of social cohesion now.

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