Renting Cars and Not Affording Stuff: The Sharing Economy!

Verizon’s new Auto Share program is a play on words. The telecom’s soon to be released app will connect people to rental cars without having to go through some unbearable Hertz website. Auto Share “makes it trivially easy to book and unlock a rented car with a smartphone: just scan and validate a QR code on the windshield,” writes Evgeny Morozov at The Guardian. The sharing of autos will soon be automated.

Using this announcement as a platform to launch critique, Morozov challenges the logic of the sharing economy and its political implications.

Equipped with its global infrastructure of mobile connectivity and GPS, “Verizon hopes to eventually extend this model far beyond cars, making it possible to swap any other items fitted with an electronic lock: power drills, laptops, apartments,” he writes. In the same way that Facebook provides identify authentication to a host of services in the sharing economy, Verizon will provide verification to unlock things, and to access them.

Naming benefits to this novel commerce is easy enough: less over-consumption since more people can use a shared resource, efficiencies in power use, the affordability of renting. And entrepreneurship is empowering! We’re granted greater freedom in choosing on-demand services and more opportunities to sell our property and work, creating markets where none existed before. That’s the PR, anyway.

Morozov pushes back:

But the broader problem with these optimistic, utopian tales is that they rationalise the pathologies of the current political and economic system, presenting them as our conscious lifestyle choices. It’s nice to be in a position to choose between renting and owning but this is a choice that many people simply do not get to make, settling on “renting” as a default option.

Morozov believes that the logic of the sharing economy is one great assemblage of social ignorance: to gross inequality, stalled incomes, and the unaffordability of city living. Masquerading as the liberation of human capital, the sharing economy is renting shit you couldn’t otherwise afford and swallowing low-grade contract work, a way for a society to survive this current financial crisis without recasting the rotten foundation of obscene inequity and graft.

It’s not that Morozov hates Auto Share, or smartphones, or supplemental incomes, its that he’s deeply critical of a way of thinking that champions apps over politics, market solutions over democratic reform. Convenience is cheap these days.

(I posted this last night at Kinja.)


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