What’s Yours Is Mine

AGAINST THE SHARING ECONOMY


TOM SLEE


NOW IN A REVISED AND UPDATED 2nd EDITION, WITH AN INDEX AND A NEW FOREWORD BY THE AUTHOR

“Building upon his previous empirical critiques, Tom Slee explains how ‘sharing economy’ companies have used feel-good rhetoric to mask illiberal and irresponsible business models.”
—Chris Jay Hoofnagle, faculty director, Berkeley Center for Law & Technology


“The Sharing Economy frames its critics as Luddites, bureaucrats and rent-seekers, but Tom Slee is none of these. A thoughtful technologist, Slee paints a well-researched picture of companies that have built up massive market valuations by externalizing their costs and sidestepping regulations designed to protect consumers. This book is clear-eyed and important.”
—Sue Gardner, former executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation


“Tom Slee’s essential new book shows that the sharing economy has very little to do with sharing. Slee uses wit, clarity, and facts to demolish the self-serving mythologies of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and figure out what Uber, Amazon and their kind are really up to.” —Henry Farrell, co-chair, Social Science Research Council’s Digital Culture Initiative; professor of political science and international affairs, George Washington University

“In this lucid and rigorous book, Tom Slee dismantles the facade of the sharing economy, revealing hidden and often troubling truths about companies like Uber and Airbnb. If you want to understand how internet businesses really operate, What’s Yours Is Mine is the place to start.”
—Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows and The Glass Cage


“In a field crowded with tech-utopian blowhards and app-happy snake oil salesmen, Tom Slee stands apart. His laser-sharp insights about the real impact of popular start-ups on our livelihoods and communities are the perfect antidote to sharing economy hype. What’s Yours Is Mine is required reading for anyone interested in technology and economic justice.” —Astra Taylor, author of The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age

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About the Book

The news is full of their names, supposedly the vanguard of a rethinking of capitalism. Lyft, Airbnb, Taskrabbit, Uber, and many more companies have a mandate of disruption and upending the “old order”—and they’ve succeeded in effecting the “biggest change in the American workforce in over a century,” according to former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.

But this new wave of technology companies is funded and steered by very old-school venture capitalists. And in What’s Yours Is Mine, internationally-acclaimed technologist Tom Slee argues the so-called sharing economy damages development, extends harsh free-market practices into previously protected areas of our lives, and presents the opportunity for a few people to make fortunes by damaging communities and pushing vulnerable individuals to take on unsustainable risk.

Drawing on original empirical research, Slee shows that the friendly language of sharing, trust, and community masks a darker reality.

230 pages • Paperback ISBN 978-1-682191-20-0 • E-book 978-1-682191-21-7

About the Author

tom slee author photo

Photograph © Lynne Supeene

Tom Slee writes about technology, politics, and economics and in the last two years has become a leading critic of the sharing economy. He has a PhD in theoretical chemistry, a long career in the software industry, and his book No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart is a game-theoretical investigation of individual choice that has been used in university economics, philosophy and sociology courses. He lives in Waterloo, Canada and blogs at www.tomslee.net.

Read an Excerpt

From the Foreword

A lot has changed in the twenty months since I completed the original manuscript for this book. Sharing Economy poster children Uber and Airbnb have continued to grow rapidly in terms of market capitalization, investment raised, revenue, controversy, media attention, and (in the case of Uber) financial losses. Both have followed through on their ambition to disrupt traditional industries as they continue to struggle for legitimacy. The companies seem to have validated the dramatic predictions that some people made about the Sharing Economy as a sea change in the way businesses worked.

But outside transit and travel, the picture is different. Beyond these twin pillars, the Sharing Economy looks more and more like a bubble, as companies offering delivery services, home services, and goods-for-rent through Internet and mobile platforms have struggled to grow and/or attain profitability. It turns out the Internet does not add much, after all, to the world of informal neighbor-to-neighbor sharing, and the tool libraries and other community initiatives have remained small, their success depending more on the strength of their underlying community than on the benefits brought by a software platform.

I don’t know whether to be pleased or disappointed that the main thesis of the book has been borne out by events. The transition from the generosity of “What’s Mine is Yours” to the self-interest of “What’s Yours is Mine” is essentially complete, and the “sharing” in the Sharing Economy has been reduced to simple market exchange. The appeal of a bottom-up, personal, community-driven alternative to traditional corporations has fizzled; we are left with Uber, a company financed by high-net-worth investors via Morgan Stanley and by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, and Airbnb, by some measures the largest hotel company in the world.

But as Uber and Airbnb have grown, they still struggle to define a sustainable business model. Their success to date has been driven in part by the ease with which the platform model pushes the costs and risks onto the platform participants (drivers for example), and onto the neighborhoods and cities in which they operate. That success has led to pushback from cities around the world. During 2016 city governments have gained confidence in their dealings with these brash new arrivals, and no longer accept as a given that the Sharing Economy is an inevitable technological fait-accompli, a future that they must board if they are not to be left behind. The narrative of self-regulation no longer looks convincing. Much of the book remains valid and is unchanged. So Chapters 1 and 2, which provide a sketch of the Sharing Economy at the peak of the hype, as well as Chapters 5 (on on-demand services) and 6 (on reputation and ratings) are also essentially unchanged. Part of the book’s argument is that the trajectory of the Sharing Economy follows a well-worn path for the Internet-focused technology industry.

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