Book Review: ‘What’s Yours Is Mine – Against the Sharing Economy’
‘What’s Yours Is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy’. By Tom Slee, (Scribe, £9.99)
The Sharing Economy (with capitals) is Slee’s term for what some people call, among other terms, peer-to-peer platforms. Customers and suppliers are able to get in touch with each other by means of the internet and smartphone apps, with the platform company taking a cut of the price paid.
Airbnb, which is probably the best-known example, probably sounds like a reasonable idea, allowing people to rent out spare rooms to short-stay visitors. But in fact it has evolved into something quite different: most lets are of whole houses or flats and are made by landlords who own several properties. They do not need to worry about health and safety regulations or providing fire extinguishers. Those who lose business to them are not big hotel chains like Hilton but small independent hotels and B&Bs. There are even cases of tenants being kicked out because the owner can make more money from short-term lets via Airbnb. (For some other examples of bad experiences as visitors or landlords, see airbnbhell.com.)
Besides property letting, the other main area of the Sharing Economy is transport, primarily Uber. Earlier ride-sharing apps have fallen by the wayside, being unable to compete. Grandiose claims about the amounts Uber drivers can earn have been discredited, and they in fact earn little more than most taxi-drivers. They do not have to worry about providing access for blind passengers or those who use wheelchairs. As part of the gig economy, drivers are not paid when off sick and have to provide their own insurance; moreover, they do not undergo proper screening by Uber.
Slee says he wrote this book because ‘the Sharing Economy agenda appeals to ideals with which I and many others identify; ideals such as equality, sustainability and community.’ But capitalism undermines these ideals: even the Linux operating system, for instance, is now a commercial undertaking and is ‘no longer subversive’. Ideas of openness have led to powerful institutions backed by venture capital and dominated by Silicon Valley. Digital markets often result in a ‘winner-takes-all’ situation, with one massively powerful company in each area (Amazon, for example).
This book gives a clear and well-argued account of various aspects of the Sharing Economy, how the profit motive pervades most areas of life and how attempts to get round it can just lead to yet more profit-based industries.