David R. Henderson  

The Huge Benefits of the Sharing Economy

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There has been a lot of excitement recently over what many people call the "sharing economy," in which new firms such as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and other website businesses are increasing the value of capital assets. Uber and Lyft allow people to make productive use of their cars when they would otherwise be idle by quickly connecting with strangers desiring a ride. Airbnb makes it easy for those who have unused housing space to conveniently connect with those who desire accommodations. These firms are but three of a growing number that are creating, and making use of, new technologies, providing further evidence that entrepreneurial creativity is constantly coming up with new and unexpected ways to better serve consumers. The excitement over the sharing economy is fully justified.

Indeed, the enthusiasm over the sharing economy is even more justified than many may realize. What is now seen as the sharing economy is really a continuation of a long history of sharing through markets that enriches all our lives. The sharing in markets takes place so continually and unintentionally that it is easy to take it for granted, with little thought or appreciation. The popularity of the term "sharing economy" provides a teachable moment for highlighting the pervasiveness of market sharing and why we would all be impoverished without it.


This is from Dwight Lee, "The Sharing Economy Is As Old As Markets," the Econlib Feature Article for August. In it, Dwight shares the delight many people have about Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, etc. and then goes to point out how pervasive sharing was even before these wonderful businesses were gleams in the eyes of their creators. Well worth reading.

I especially recommend it to economics professors teaching introductory economics courses who want to start their courses off by getting their students enthused about markets, while also sounding hip.


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CATEGORIES: Free Markets




COMMENTS (3 to date)
Hazel Meade writes:

Steve Horowitz over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians also had a good post citing Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek on how the sharing economy essentially distributes ownership of capital more widely, by allowing individuals to turn their homes and cars into capital goods.

http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2015/08/the-sharing-economy-and-the-ownership-of-the-means-of-production/

Horowitz notes that this sort of thing would seem to be one of the central goals of Marx inspired socialism. Hence it's ironic that many on the left seem to oppose Uber's business model and support the interests of cartelized taxi drivers.

ThomasH writes:

At a more advanced level it could be the subject for lessons on optimal regulation, fitting the regulatory measure to the policy objective in the lowest cost way.

ThomasH writes:

@Hazel Mead

While that even one person "on the left" should oppose Uber per se (rather than wonder if part of their success may not derives from their competition being subject to sub-optimal regulation) is one too many, my impression is that it is old fashioned vested interests and their captive regulators who are the main Uber opposition.

Do all policy discussions have to be made part of a great Us-vs-Them narrative?

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