I first heard of the “sharing economy” concept two years ago in a first year environmental studies course. The class read chapters out of the book “Treading Softly” by Thomas Princen. Princen outlined is vision for a new economy that is driven by sustainable action. One of his main points was that communities are able to share goods and trade services with each other because people within communities have an established reputation and trust. Here’s a personal example: my neighbors own a snow plow that we use in the winter, and they borrow our lawnmower in the summer. This way both families save money and two fewer pieces of machinery are produced. Princen argued that this principle can be employed on a much larger scale. To me, this is the same concept as the sharing economy.
The sharing economy is not new. In fact, it is probably much older than most forms of commerce that occur today. People share or trade so everyone benefits, like a bartering system. A favor for a favor. What is new is the addition of technology that can take basic sharing amongst neighbors to a larger scale. I can picture small boroughs or townships coordinating a sharing program for its citizens. Unfortunately, I think it will take a long time before larger sharing economy programs are trusted. It is more difficult to engage in business with a stranger who lives across the country. Companies will continue to develop and find flaws in their system, as all businesses do.
The timing of this “new” movement follows years of recession and an increasing trend towards sustainability and social responsibility. People are looking for an alternative to an economy that has failed them. Operating within small, trusted groups to exchange goods and services seems more appealing to me than spending money within an economy that recently harmed everyone.