The purported rise of the sharing economy

Gabriel Metcalf and Jennifer Warburg, writing in The Urbanist:

Under the name “collaborative consumption,” or sometimes simply “the sharing economy,” a new type of enterprise is emerging that strives to make it easy for people who don’t know each other to share resources. Habits of sharing that have existed within small, informal networks for most of human existence (say, borrowing your neighbor’s lawnmower or letting a friend crash on your couch) have now blossomed into a market for micro-entrepreneurship that spans the globe.

I think the press surrounding the sharing economy is bigger than its actual impact. We trumpet car sharing as a canonical example, but it’s an experiment that’s just over a decade old. Yes, it’s successful, but people who own cars still greatly outstrip people who rent. I don’t think we have enough data to call the sharing economy a definitive trend, let alone nail the lid on the coffin of ownership. 

Furthermore, I’m not convinced renting is going to replace owning in any significant way. As humans, we like collecting—just ask anyone who has shelves loaded with movies, books, or records. Renting is the antithesis of that. 

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