After reading Evgeny Morozov’s article on the sharing economy which appeared recently in the FT, I’ve been thinking about the similarities and differences between the sharing economy and the co-operative economy. This is just a start, really, but a few reflections.
The new and increasingly popular idea of the sharing economy, though eclectic, is epitomised by individuals cutting out hotels by hiring their apartments to one another online, by individuals trading with one another rather than through conventional businesses and by new apps to enable peer to peer sharing.
The much older co-operative economy, similarly diverse, is epitomised by farmers clubbing together to share costs on machinery, large retail businesses owned by tens of thousands of customers for the last 100 years or worker owned wholefood businesses.
A number of immediate contrasts and similarities come to mind when you put these, admittedly stereotyped but nonetheless not unfair, descriptions together.
– both are about redistributing wealth and power beyond conventional structures
– both offer the hope of more sustainable enterprise
– one feels very modern, the other more traditional
– one is about individuals, the other about collectives
– one is about entrepreneurialism, the others about sustainable business
Ultimately, the two feel really very different.
The sharing economy seems to be about cutting out corporates, individuals doing things on their own, about enterprise, disrupting bureaucratic structures.
People hiring their apartments, sharing their cars, trading between themselves, lending not owning . . .
In the end, it seems that the sharing economy involves stripping back the structures that have protected and constrained individuals so that they can unleash their entrepreneurial
Co-operatives, on the other hand, seem to be about the structures that protect and support individuals.
They require an element of bureaucracy to give people a voice, to protect them, to treat them fairly.
The downside of this may be occasionally holding individuals back for the sake of the common good. But the upside is that individuals are safer, not left on their own to thrive or die.
So the difference, you might say, is between a more striving and individualistic sharing economy and a safer solidarity co-operative