Sunday, August 30, 2015

Crow shares

This afternoon while Crow and I were chatting about this and that the subject of the sharing economy popped up as it often will. It does, doesn't it? Don't we tell our children to share their toys; don't we share a plate of cookies with a friend; don't we share space when we chat with an old friend? Sharing happens all the time  as a natural part of life. You can imagine my surprise when Crow informed me that all the above is not what is meant by the words 'the sharing economy'.

Crow: The problem with these 'sharing economy' companies is that although they hold themselves up to be champions of the people they are actually exploiters. Renting isn’t the same as sharing. When someone pays someone else to sit on the back seat of their car they've rented it out. They've rented the person who drives the car. They rent a couch for the night or a spare bedroom or an apartment when the owner or official renter is away. There is no sharing in the 'sharing economy'. In actuality, what they've undertaken is to participate in a black market economy.

me: Aren't these companies better, cheaper, more convenient?

Crow: Why are they cheaper and more convenient? It's because they bypass normal regulatory frameworks. The laws of a country. Where do laws come from and why do they arise? Well, the law follows and reacts to circumstance. The laws on installation of heated water systems for example arose after several disasters with boilers during the Victorian era. The laws on regular maintainence of fire safety equipment have arisen similarly. Hotels and other public places comply with those laws in order to protect people. Air BnB is cheaper because those who host on it do not have to comply as they are private residences, therefore they avoid legitimate overhead costs. 

me: But people who provide these services need the extra money.

Crow: These businesses can only succeed if the people undertaking the work break the law and/or have no employment rights or protection. For example - Uber only works because the company doesn't care about disability legislation or taxi licensing laws. Air BnB only works because people renting their houses out ignore the raft of legislation that hotels and B&Bs have to comply with.

If the regulators get involved because these microbusinesses are breaking the law, the sharing economy company either stands back and says 'we are only an internet platform' or campaigns that the 'old economy' is trying to stifle personal freedom while conveniently forgetting the fact that much of the legislation is in place to protect the customer.

While putting across the view that they are small, hip, entrepreneurial companies, they are in fact bankrolled by companies like Google and Goldman Sachs and are simply a computer platform with a very good legal department and extremely well-funded Government lobbyists. Posing as martyrs of progress and bastions of the free world, all they are is a company trying to create a global monopoly with little regard to any of the social effects their technology entails. The Ubers of this world are just strip-miners. Posing as some kind of 'champion of the people' they use the fruits of the public realm, ie. the internet,  public education, roads, etc, to diminish the wealth of that same public realm by killing jobs and thus eroding the tax-base.

me: I guess I won't be putting that 'Couch to Share - One Night Only' sign in the window. Goodness knows what laws I'd be breaking with that one.

With thanks to Olivier Blanchard.

note: Hope you won't mind seeing a reprise of Crow's Sanctum picture from a few years ago. It's still one of our favorites.


Tom said...

An interesting post, Susan. But the further I read, the more I found myself thinking, "I don't care!" At least organisations such Air bnb (which we use) are small enough to be able to be dealt with. They offer an alternative to some faceless corporation over which we can exert no influence. It would seem to be a pity if I should ever come your way - not likely, unfortunately - and be consigned to a hotel with no personality, rather than sleeping in your house, even on your comfy couch.

Sean Jeating said...

Thanks for . . . sharing.

Vincent said...

Your argument is persuasive, and your illustration is one of my favourites too. And while I am moved in favour of Tom's point too, K & I tend to prefer the independence of a hotel or self-catering flat, no matter how impersonal, to the benefits of staying with friends & relations. We're glad to see them & stay overnight but . . .

And we make sure to stay legal under all circumstances & pay all taxes. Saves getting involved in ethical dilemmas, siding for or against activists. One's dreams of a better world remain dreams.

Sharing is an interesting word. Ultimately one finds the greatest comfort in unconditional giving & obligation-free receiving.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan
I am amazed at the amount of detail in your wonderful picture of a suitably serious and scholarly attired Crow. I noticed has been busy with his next epistle according to our latest bush telegraph (pretty slow down under) which I understand is code named squawk box – I see those pages all tied together with a clip in the background. Could you ask Crow to identify what precisely is the difference between the so called shared economy and the economy we knew before we had a shared economy?
Here is a reference to assist:
Currently the Australian tax office is trying to get the drivers here to pay GST but Ubers appealing the matter to the Supreme Court as is the case in other jurisdictions such as the UK
But at the pointy end of the tax industry, Taxi owners who paid up to $500,000 for licenses are understandably suffering as their values tank . So we need some form of compensation for this folk whose licences have dropped like a stone and bring in legislation to deal with ride sharing operations such as Uber, Technically they remain illegal.

In the other had Australia’s Airbnb hosts don’t need to register for or collect GST. This group is still privately owned and is reported to be valued at about 20 billion
Best wishes

susan said...

Sometimes I write about what I think about things that I think about, Tom. :) I'm glad this caught your attention.

It seems to me we're talking at cross purposes this morning. If (by some miracle) you came to visit us and we (by some other miracle) had a spare room, then I would be delighted to welcome you and your wife as guests in the old-fashioned sense of the word.

If the Air BnB places you've stayed have been nice that's fine, but it must be understood that Mr. Hilton, Mr. Sheraton and Mr. Air BnB himself are all equally faceless. The people we meet are the ones who work.

susan said...

Always a pleasure, Sean.

susan said...

Hi Vincent, it's good to know you like this image of Crow.

I also prefer the security of a hotel. It seems to me that Air BnB leaves far too many doors open for people to abuse one another on both sides of the equation. Just because someone is on the internet is no indication of their trustworthiness.

I agree that unconditional giving is best, but I wonder why it is I always have difficulty accepting things in that regard? Must be a personality flaw.

susan said...

Hi Lindsay,
This is quite the ink list you've given me so let me look and see what's what.
As far as the question of taxing Uber is concerned, what I do know has been done in other places is that Uber moves in, gets drivers and potential riders excited about the wonderful new service and when regulators get involved they encourage the above to see themselves as being 'picked on' by the government. They can and do bring in their high powered international law firms to essentially try to change the local laws.
The other aspect, one I didn't mention in my post, is the safety issues surrounding these new businesses. As I'm sure you know, people have been attacked in unregistered taxi services and there have been a number of insurance issues when vehicles have had accidents. While a lot of people have had good experiences it only takes one incident to spoil everything for someone. From what I've read there have been a numbers of fraudsters and thieves who have found a goldmine of opportunity through Air BnB. This website is actually funny in a pretty depressing way. I know I would never leave myself open to the disastrous possibilities. It's good Australia decided to tax and regulate Uber, but I think they need to take a closer look at the home sharing part.
Thanks for your very interesting comment.
All the best to you too.

Should Fish More said...

Interesting post and thoughts, though I fear Crow has nixed his chances to be Marketing Director at Uber.....I've not participated in the 'sharing economy' to my knowledge, Butte has yet to get Uber, though at times when we've had festivals of note people have been known to 'rent' their front yards to tent campers.

I too find the level of detain in your drawing fascinating. How long did it take you to do the texture in the wood floor? Nice work, as usual.

susan said...

Hah! I remember when some people in RI tried renting their parking spots at the beach. It didn't work out too well, but maybe they were just ahead of their time. Meanwhile, I think Halifax has a couple of Uber cars/drivers.

I'm delighted you like this picture of Crow in his library (he's a bit of a steampunk fanatic). As I recall the picture took a day or so - I'm too old and tired to work at speed anymore :)

troutbirder said...

I'm with Crow on this one though in our tiny rural community the "sharing economy" `hasn't arrived yet. Though perhaps we have our own old fashioned version. Here it works as neighbors helping neighbors in need for free....:)

okjimm said...

hmmmmm.....nowza I gotsa idea..... I am gonna rent out my snore to men who wanna piss off their wives! Maybe I can fit it into jars or sumptin.

susan said...

I'm sure Crow will agree that open sharing like that in your community is far preferable.

susan said...

and maybe I'll bottle up some fresh sea air. we'll make a killing.

marja-leena said...

Sorry I am late in commenting, so lazy have I been this summer. I do remember this lovely drawing and love it!

I have very mixed feelings about this 'shared economy' and enjoyed everyone's comments on this. As long as these 'entrepreneurs' pay their licensing, taxes, inspections and insurance and maintain their properties like everyone should, then the competition would be fair, methinks. I've not used any of these businesses except an apartment rental in Paris which was good if not quite 100% satisfactory. I've never felt like turning our guest suite into a B&B, it is just for family and friends as guests.

susan said...

And now I'm sorry for now answering faster, Marja-Leena. It appears the summer laziness still has me in its grip. :)

Unfortunately, the 'entrepreneurs' don't do any of that and it's a growing problem. It's good you have a place just for real guests - as it should be.

okjimm said...

whoa...haven't stopped here recently....looks like Susan hasn't either.....but....seems like she is still, kind,intelligent, artsy&stuff....and....reminds me of why I should stop often-er.

susan said...

Sorry about that, Jimm. I'm delighted to see you've been by for a visit. Remember when fairlane was running for prez with diva jood as vp? Heh..