It’s hard to escape all the angst over the rise of he sharing economy. Uber, AirBnB and all the rest. There are strikes, protests and official inquiries on an almost weekly basis. The loudest protests seem to be because of the
perceived direct impact on those at the bottom of the totem pole – those employed both by the legacy and new companies.
To be fair, concern for those at the bottom is understandable. Companies like Uber rarely offer benefits or job security. Mostly operating outside of regulated markets, “gig economy”
entrepreneurs workers are often left uncovered by traditional protections, like insurance or entitlements. A lot of the labor rights won over the past century are ignored or under threat. Further, superficially at least, these platforms threaten many jobs. Especially those buried in the bureaucracies of established companies.
But we should also be concerned about the massive transfer of wealth, not just from poor to rich, but from local rich to foreign platform creators. From The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross:
“Before Uber there was in Milan, Italy, in Lyon, France, two or three mini-cab companies that used to compete. The owner of that company would be worth 1 million or 2 million bucks. He was a rich guy in the local community. You had that in every city in Europe. They’ve all ceased to exist. The same thing will happen all over the world. You will still have drivers. But that’s the most unskilled job in the line. The rest of the money will flow to Uber shareholders in Silicon Valley.”
As Uber allows you to turn your car into a taxi, it takes a cut. Just as the local owner of a couple of taxi licenses would take a cut from the taxi earnings. The only difference is, the local taxi baron pays taxes to the local governments (more than local earnings), stashes his savings in a local bank, contributes to the local talent pool, and, as a result, endows local growth.
This applies less so to the likes of AirBnB, as the real money in hotels is in management (which is largely the purview of big multinationals anyway). But many sectors previously dominated by locally-owned businesses, cottage industries, aren’t going to be local anymore.