This brings me to my final post of this series on sharing economies. A lot has been said over the past few post on the benefits and costs of sharing economies. On one hand, it could pose as a solution for our crisis of overconsumption and overproduction, thus reducing pollution, emissions and environmental degradation that comes with production and consumption. Yet the sharing economy treads delicately on a fine ethical line. Benefits and risks are distributed unevenly and unfairly.
I asked at the start of this series whether sharing economies can be the solution to sustainability. In all honestly, I was quite enthusiastic about the idea of sharing economies when I first started blogging and doing research on it. It sounded like a brilliant idea in theory – a win-win situation for all. But as I delved deeper into the topic, I realised that there were indeed a number of shortcomings. For one, the sharing economy doesn’t always work. I saw that for every successful sharing platform reported, there were countless others that failed. Simply put, not everything can be shared.
Then there was the legal and ethical issues – tax evasion and the unequitable distribution of benefits and risks. Sharing platforms benefit at the expense of its independent contractors. Poor taxation regulations also give sharing platforms an unfair advantage over traditional providers. How then can such unjust practices be sustainable?
I had a discussion about sharing economies with a friend of mine recently. Interestingly, he argued that sharing economies causes antagonism in societies .
The first antagonistic relationship is between consumer and the government. As the government tries to cover the gaps sharing economies are currently exploiting, consumers will constantly try to skirt around any regulations implemented .
The second antagonistic relationship is between consumers and producers. With the sharing economy, every consumer can now become competition to the very producer who made the product . For example, if I’m a consumer and buys a camera, I could now rent it out on a sharing platform. In renting it out, I now go in direct competition with the producer of the camera.
The third and final antagonistic relationship is between the consumer and the sharing platform. He argues that this is formed when a sharing economy embarks on anti-competitive measures such as restriction peer-to-peer reviews . I’m going to give sharing platforms the benefit of the doubt on this since not many platforms have moved into this form of restricting information.
Yet in light of the antagonism they bring, the reality is that sharing economies are not going to go away in the foreseeable future – the sharing economy is here to stay, whether we like it or not. Sharing platforms, the larger ones anyway, are getting more and more profitable. Where there was inertia from consumers to participate in sharing economies in the past, this inertia is fading away. More people have participated in sharing economies and have had positive experiences. With these positive experiences, they more likely to participate in sharing again and promote these experiences to others.
Given that the sharing economy is here to stay, there is an even greater need for the government to step in and regulate these sharing platforms. A more broadly defined tax over sharing platforms could be implemented to prevent the unfair advantage they have from tax evasion. Sharing platforms must also start taking more responsibilities and liabilities should damage occur over the course of the transaction.
Despite its shortcoming, I do concede that the sharing economy is still an extremely brilliant idea. The idea of sharing and reciprocity, of cutting down consumption – these are steps in the right direction. So where did the sharing economy fall short? I believe that the motivation behind the sharing economy is inherently flawed. The sharing economy was never meant to be a solution to sustainability. It wasn’t made for that. It was made to solve a gap in the market, and in the process make profits. If the fundamental intention of the sharing economy was to maximise profits, it is no wonder that these issues have surfaced. The sharing economy is merely a means towards the ultimate goal of more profits.
What motivates platforms to skirt around regulations and avoid tax? Profits. What motivates platforms to push liabilities and risks to independent contractors? Profits. These selfish motivations are the very reason why I believe the sharing economy will never be a true solution to sustainability. Sharing platforms do not hope that consumption will decrease in the world. Their hope is that consumers stop patronising their competitors and patronise them instead.
Yet sustainability is altruistic in nature. It is putting aside our own wants and desires so that others in the future can enjoy what we are enjoying.
The problem we have in the world today is the misconception we have that more is always better. More is not always better. So long as we fail to curb our desire for more – more goods, more services, more needs – these crises of overproduction and environmental degradation will not go away. The key to sustainability isn’t technological advancements, policies and regulations, or sharing economies. These measures are merely reactive. The key to sustainability is a change in mind-sets. We need to start thinking about our future. We need to do away with this insatiable appetite for more. So let us do away with greed and work together towards a more sustainable future. So long as we continue along the philosophy that less is more, we can slowly move towards a path to sustainability.
To end of this series of posts, I just want to give a shout-out to a friend who embarked on this journey towards sustainability with me. He too writes about the sharing economy and sustainability at his blog https://brandonfoo2012.wordpress.com/. Do give it a follow. I promise you a good read.
 Foo, B. (2016). The Sustainability of sharing economies. Retrieved April 06, 2016, from https://brandonfoo2012.wordpress.com/