The Sharing Economy Just Got Real


| 9/20/2013 12:27:00 PM


Tags: sharing economy, car sharing, collaborative consumption, T corporations, cooperative businesses, economy, Shareable,

Sharing Economy Lyft
A Lyft driver waves to her next customer. Meanwhile, cabbies are seething. That could be a good thing—recent lawsuits against ride-sharing companies could help us rethink the sharing economy as we know it.

This article originally appeared at Shareable

The Sharing Economy: A Legal Grey Area

The legal problems of the sharing economy just got real. The latest lawsuits against "ride-sharing" companies Lyft and Über could be game changers. The plaintiffs are drivers who give rides to strangers for money, paying a portion of their earnings to the companies. The class action lawsuits argue that the drivers should be classified as employees of the companies. Regardless of the outcome, the lawsuits call attention to the potential harms arising from the non-sharing parts of the sharing economy. It’s a good opportunity to declare that the so-called “sharing economy” needs a new business model.

The sharing economy is hard to define. In my mind, it encompasses a broad range of activities, including worker cooperatives, neighborhood car-sharing programs, housing cooperatives, community gardens, food cooperatives, and renewable energy cooperatives. These activities are tied together by a common means (harnessing the existing resources of a community) and a common end (growing the wealth of that community). The sharing economy is the response to the legacy economy where we tend to be reliant on resources from outside of our communities, and where the work we do and the purchases we make mostly generate wealth for people outside of our communities. The rich are still getting richer, and the sharing economy can reverse that.

Laws are already beginning to evolve for the sharing economy, but, for now, the sharing economy exists almost entirely in legal grey areas. Zoning, securities, public utilities, health and safety, and employment laws aren't usually barriers to feeding, housing, lending a hand, and giving a ride to our family and friends. But they are barriers when we engage in the same activities as commercial businesses, such as restaurants, hotels, or taxis. Everything happening in the sharing economy lands somewhere on a spectrum between what is regulated and what is not. I love that about the sharing economy. The fact that it defies legal classification is proof that the sharing economy is new and different. In a world where business-as-usual creates extreme inequality and ecological destruction, we desperately need something new and different.