“Can’t buy me love” Paul McCartney sang, explaining later that "all these material possessions are all very well, but they won't buy me what I really want." As consumption drives our economy forward, economic analysts are constantly measuring consumer trust. We have to buy more, so that more can be produced, more people can be employed, and the world will be a better place.
Yes, our current society is based upon owning. The American dream, ‘villa volvo vove’ (a Swedish equivalent), and ‘huisje, boompje beestje’ (a Dutch equivalent), are expressions that say something about certain standards we should reach in our lives. They tell us what we should own. In the Swedish expression there is an explicit reference to the Volvo, the famous Swedish car manufacturer. This way owning a car becomes an integral part of being a grown up Swede.
This model of owning, however, is under attack. Ideas like that of the sharing economy, although not new, are increasingly forming an alternative to our mainstream economy. Why own a car when you can rent one from your neighbour or are a member of a low cost car pool? What makes the sharing economy different from the regular economy, is that ownership becomes less important. Instead one rents, swaps, trades, or just gives away.
Last week one of the events in the Impact City series, organized by Impact Hub, Stockholm, focused on the impact the sharing economy can have on urban life. Karin Bradley and Lotta Eklund presented their new documentary ‘Sharing Is The New Owning’, portraying many real life examples of the sharing economies. From people in Spain running a small restaurant in their home, to Londoners sharing and giving away stuff they don’t use (much). The impression I got was that the lines between the informal economy and the sharing economy are sometimes blurry.
During the panel discussion that evening, services like Über and Airbnb were debated. They face strong opposition by the traditional industries they are out to replace. So, are these good developments? Are they really examples of the sharing economy? Daniel Firth, panel member and head of the Stockholm Transport Department, argued that people are (quite understandably) afraid of changes that diminish their livelihoods, but new industries always emerge and replace the old. That is the natural course of history.
When I think of the sharing economy I don’t think of Über and Airbnb, nor the woman running a restaurant in her house. These activities are not changing our economy into one of true sharing, they simply moved the places of transaction from the formal to the informal. They don’t enable access to services we didn’t have before, nor do they cause a shift from owning to sharing.They escape the rules we have set for certain branches. It all seems like fun, but where do we draw the line between fun sharing economy and structural unregulated economic activities? Organizing a shared meal with people from your neighbourhood once in a while is fun, an illegal restaurant not confirming to health regulations is not.
My favourite example of the sharing economy that came up that evening was Time Village, a time bank located in Stockholm. Here you can sign up with your skillset and put in hours helping out strangers. The time you have put into the time bank you can get out in the form of help by others that have a skillset that you are looking for. What I like best about it is its socialistic character, an hour work of a normally well paid lawyer is worth the same as that of a hair dresser. Moreover it has the potential to link people in a neighbourhood that normally would not hang/help out.
The impact of the sharing economy on urban life seems to be the possible increased contact between urban dwellers, enriching their networks by coming in contact with people outside their regular social field. A prerequisite, however, seems to be density, a critical mass of people within a certain geographical space that makes the sharing work.
This article was originally posted on the blog of “Impact Hub Stockholm, which is a collaborative work space where the collective action of its diverse members accelerates inspiration into realization-- creating a sustainable impact in the local community and far beyond”. Taking this as a starting point Impact Hub organizes events like the impact city series frequently, attracting interesting people, and always with great coffee.
Also, check out the freakonomics podcast episode on the sharing economy.