The Share Economy: a multi-faceted phenomenon


Fair Share?

In ancient times – long before the emergence of money – trading meant direct exchange of goods between interested parties. These so-called barter deals are said to have been cultivated by the Phoenicians some 6,000 years ago, yet this form of legal swapping still has its place in our modern society and economy parallel to monetary systems. In a barter deal, usually no cash is flowing.

Minding the fish in the bowl and keeping the burglars away

Did the much-discussed Share Economy that extends its tentacles into virtually every sector today, not start in a similar way? Products and services, flats and houses, boats, cars and bikes, cats, dogs and budgerigars were readily swapped on a temporary basis and thus shared on a foundation of bilateral trust expressed to complete strangers: exhausted New Yorkers holidaying in sunny LA or hectic Parisians in soothing Scotland. Or elsewhere on the globe. All completely free of charge and solely for the mutual benefit: no deserted residencies, dying gardens or starving pets. It’s used to be give and take.

When house sharing, there is always somebody there to take care of livestock in the yard.

When sharing house, there is always somebody around to tend to livestock in the yard.

… a wide terrain: History and definition of terms
„The sharing economy (sometimes referred to as the peer-to-peer, mesh, or collaborative economy; also collaborative consumption) is a socio-economic system built around the sharing of human and physical resources. It includes the shared creation, production, distribution, trade and consumption of goods and services by different people and organisations.“ More:

Win-win: Sharing skills, goods or services

Hairdressers trimming hair in need of a decent cut in exchange for plumbers taking care of clogged drains, two babysittings equalling a perfectly mowed lawn: The original approach of sharing had a philosophical quality: to render (free) services, avoid ownership, protect resources and the environment, reduce waste and thus to counteract and influence consumer’s behaviour within a thoughtless throw-away society. The average household drill rotates an estimated 13 minutes in its entire lifetime if only utilised by its owner. Private cars are mostly not deployed to capacity and the funding of car sharing concepts is based on the principle of their „collaborative consumption“. As accounts for an abundance of examples.

Public bikes - like here in Marseille - have become a practical commodity in many cities.

Public bikes – like here in Marseille – have become a practical commodity in many cities.

Worldwide networks – unlimited reach

With the engine gaining momentum over a decade or so, there are now innumerable official market platforms accessible via the open internet, the social media or by means of a variety of useful apps. Nearly every need is satisfiable through sharing, trading, buying, hiring, swapping or lending&borrowing of food, clothes, shoes, books, tools, electronics, trips, tickets, transport, spaces, information, knowledge, services – you name it, it’s there. The modern public is diligent at retailing and exchanging and always looking for another sensational bargain or a happy new owner.

Sharing: a business model feeding a novel (and thirsty) market

It is not merely the private individual any longer just wanting to share whatever’s on offer for the sake of saving money or circulating goods for a number of reasons. The prevailing definition of today’s Sharing Economy involves torrents of cash now streaming down an ever-widening chasm opened by organisations newly specialising in the field! Unsurprisingly, this economic sector stirs controversy whenever start-up businesses are aiming at the big profit. Legislation, unions, insurers, market observers, alert competitors and the tax man are keeping an eager eye on the development: be it Uber accused of undermining the livelihood of traditional taxi companies or Airbnb disgruntling the hotel industry by offering favourably priced accommodation.

Socio-economic imbalance and dying neighbourhoods

In large cities like Berlin, complete blocks of flats are no longer inhabited by regular residents, but have rather been beleaguered by short-term paying sharers of international origin. The meanwhile enormous demand and supply is channelled by profusely sprouting entrepreneurship keen to secure their share of a lucrative market. Why squander a tempting opportunity?

To maintain their sometimes rock-bottom rates, top-selling „sharing“ organisations harvest their profits at the expense of an often self-employed service force, whose invidious working conditions with lower wages for longer hours make them the pawn sacrificed in a winning game.

All images ©Christina Feyerke