> Some thoughts about the not so new not so sharing economy
Some thoughts about the not so new not so sharing economy
There is quite a bit of talk about the sharing economy, nowadays. I´m not impressed. Frances Coppola of course already ravaged the idea (look here, here and here) but I still want to add some ideas.
- Airbnb is not new. In a general sense, it is just a another broker. In a practical sense, I´ve been using comparable (and cheaper and more dependable) sites to book accommodation for at least ten years. Look here, for instance. I really do not understand what all the fuss is about. The same for ´private´ taxicabs. At least in my language these even have a name, which has to my knowledge been in use for a long time (´snorders´).
- And these are of course very normal market transactions, they have nothing to do with a new spirit of sharing. Remember that Immanuel Rath (the teacher from the 1930 movie ´Der Blaue Engel´) lived in a room rented from a widow – ´board and lodging´ is pretty old. I´m surely not against such transactions. To the contrary! But it´s not new and they are normal market transactions.
- Which reminds me of the real difference between ´sharing´ and the market. Market prices are always known in advance, before a transaction is settled. I remember going to the cattle market in Purmerend, with my grandfather, and watching the cattle trade (full disclosure: also the first time I entered a genuine pub). I remember going to the vegetable auction in Purmerend, with my uncle Jan, who had an independent grocery-small supermarket. This situation (negotiation about prices and prices which are known before choices are made) enables at least in theory the kind or rational action neoclassical economists have sanctified (and which is ravaged by marketeers…). But such ex ante prices do not exist in the real sharing economy…
- In the sharing economy (in fact: economies, as there are many different species of sharing economies) such prices are absent. Transactions do take place. But there is no price. People for instance ´pay´ by accepting a moral obligation. When you help me when I´m moving to another house, you expect me to help you when you move. But when the time comes I might say ´no´ (for instance because I´m sick). In such instances economists can calculate shadow prices – but these do not enable, not even in theory, the kind of rational calculation which (at least in theory) is enabled by market prices. Mind: I do not say that people do not calculate or have no goals in the case of market transactions, but I do reject the hyper rationality, the universal knowledge and utter consistency of the neoclassical homo economicus.
- And the sharing economy is of course not just about helping somebody out. When we look at ´gift exchange´ we encounter comparable moral obligations, while ´exchanging´ women by families can, in some cultures and according to Lévi Strauss, cement alliances (sounds rude and it is rude, but just think of the marriages of the Habsburgs).
- And we have of course the exchange of values coupled to the exchange of tokens which by western observers are often mistakenly understood as a kind of money. An example is the wampum, which was used to transfer power and the like, like Europeans crown jewels.
- The point: there are scores of systems of non market exchange. And we might do well to enhance some of these systems in some situations (a universal 70+ EU pension, anyone?). But do not mistake the growth of internet based systems of market exchange for non-market exchange, even when these internet based systems sometimes enhance the efficiency of markets (look for instance at this internet based cattle market). But, of course, efficiency is not everything (pesonal and unimportant: the picture is of café Vlaar in Purmerend, which indeed might have been the pub of my memory, though I remember looking into instead of looking to the windows and it´s about a decade earlier. And in my memory the pub was even more smoke filled. The internet is amazing).