The only thing more tired than the “sharing economy” meme might be this opinion. While there’s truth in what he and many others before him have said, his post throws the baby out with the bath water. It shows a shallow understanding of the economic transformation underway, and this being Slate, with millions of readers, could turn a lot of people away from an important change.
Yglesias’ big miss is that away from the headlines about the latest tech wonder, a real sharing economy is booming. Member-owned credit unions recently earned record profits, member-owned cooperatives are proliferating modeled off the successes like Mondragon, The White House is getting behind participatory budgeting for local governments, 20 states are considering some form of public banking, open source software is eating the software world, and grassroots sharing projects like seed banks, tool libraries, coworking and hacker spaces are spreading like kudzu.
This economy is substantial. Taken together, credit unions make up the fifth largest bank in the US. Cooperatives employ 100 million people globally (20% more than the Fortune 500) and have 800 million members. Coops span major industries – retail, agriculture, housing, transportation, manufacturing, energy, telecommunications, healthcare, and more. There are over 200,000 open source software projects worth around a half a billion dollars. One study put the value of fair use content at $4.5 trillion, one sixth of the US economy. I’m just scratching the surface of all that we share. The mutualized part of the sharing economy dwarfs all the tech-based sharing startups put together.
Whatever you want to call this economy, it’s the real story. While our civilization approaches economic and environmental collapse, the solutions lay right under our nose. This is arguably the biggest story today as our survival may hinge on how this emerging economy unfolds. The question is whether the mainstream media will bring it to the attention of a public desperate for real solutions. If Yglesias’ latest post is any indication, they will pass it up in favor of click bait to boost ad revenues.