The “broader problem with these optimistic, utopian tales” of the sharing economy

quotation marks

I think this is one of those instance where the headline of a column actually just work, in Evgeny Morozov’s piece “Don’t believe the hype, the ‘sharing economy’ masks a failing economy” (emphasis mine):

But the broader problem with these optimistic, utopian tales is that they rationalise the pathologies of the current political and economic system, presenting them as our conscious lifestyle choices. It’s nice to be in a position to choose between renting and owning but this is a choice that many people simply do not get to make, settling on “renting” as a default option.

Given vast youth unemployment, stagnating incomes, and skyrocketing property prices, today’s sharing economy functions as something of a magic wand. Those who already own something can survive by monetising their discomfort: for example, they can earn cash by occasionally renting out their apartments and staying with relatives instead. Those who own nothing, on the other hand, also get to occasionally enjoy a glimpse of the good life – built entirely on goods they do not own.

I happen to think most journalists do a pretty good job privilege-checking their reporting on the ‘sharing economy,’ but it’s still worth framing these discussions accurately. So the benefits to these tech-fueled consumption choices should be seen in the context of who can afford them (relatively few), and the ones who provide these services (relatively few). As emblems of a changing economy this picture grows considerably yet even then we often talk about tech-disruption and not labor-disruption, whereby it’s the former that elicits utopian optimism and the latter that feature tales of the new precariat.

Anyway, Morozov also has a good ending. Be sure to check it out.


Hat-Tip: The email newsletter Hack the Union — one of my favorite recent subscriptions.


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