Let’s talk about the “sharing economy.”
You might be fooled into thinking it’s sorta like the old barter economy. You know, that thing where I’d watch your kids while you went to buy new bras because there is nothing worse than taking a 3-year-old into a change room and in return you’d pick mine up from after school care because I’m stuck in traffic hyperventilating that I’ll be charged a dollar for every minute I’m late, which is still cheap compared to having to hear that I love them less because I was the last mom to show up.
The sharing economy is not the barter economy. Trust me. The sharing economy — strangers in cars picking you up with the tap of an app, places to stay by checking in online — are convenient and a deal and at first blush, a fabulous way to circumvent The Man. Do we still say that? The Man? Is that still a thing?
No, the sharing economy is about those of us who aren’t The Man battling it out to be among the worst paid, least protected and most exploited workers in the country. We’re essentially volunteering to work under conditions that people before us fought long and hard to eradicate.
Let’s say you have an arrangement with a handful of your neighbours. One owns a snowblower, someone else has the good weed whacker, another has a chainsaw. Nobody needs to use all of these things all of the time, so you’ve all sorted a way to share. You’ve made it work, because the idiot who used everything but contributed nothing finally moved.
Now, take that arrangement, and have a new neighbour move in and say, “I’ve created a schedule for you so we can determine where the tools should be. I will let everyone know when things are available, but you can continue to purchase the tools and maintain them at your own cost. But because I’m streamlining this and providing a central information hub, everyone is now required to pay 10 bucks a month into the kitty.”
The kitty is Hub Guy.
The problem isn’t with the neighbours who tell this new neighbour to stuff it; it’s with the fact that more and more business models look like this and people think it’s a good thing. Hub Guy isn’t on the hook if the chain snaps on that chainsaw, or someone runs the wrong fuel mix through your lawn mower. He’s not on the hook for anything. You are. It’s like some corporate evil has hijacked the meaning of community and found a way to profit.
All you know is that you want something cheaper, and now you can get it. You can cut out some layers of bureaucracy and get a ride, a hotel or a handyman cheaper. Except that ride is probably not insured, that hotel is probably not licensed, and that person in your home might not be bonded.
It’s like the whole world has become a temp agency and we wonder why nobody has a stable income, benefits or a future.
You’d think, especially in Hamilton, that we’d know better. You think we’d understand the dangers of workers hurt on the job, and the necessity of safety nets and oversight. You think we’d understand the race to the bottom takes quality along with price, as we eat fruit shipped from China instead of our own Niagara region. I mean it — go read that label.
Every time you circumvent some system you hate instead of working to fix it, you defeat yourself. By all means adapt new economic models, but require it is done in a way that protects both workers and consumers.