Techonomy Policy Conference: The Sharing Economy and What It Means for Work

Many of us use or at least have heard of peer-to-peer sharing services like Uber, used in lieu of taxis, or Airbnb for rental of homes. But did you know about these:

  • Getaround. Rent other people’s cars.
  • Yerdle. Where you can check out other people’s unused stuff.
  • Traity. An online reputation service where you can build a profile and import endorsements from services like eBay and airbnb
  • eaze. Promises to deliver medical marijuana to your door.
  • Funding circle. Provides loans to small businesses that “the banks have left behind.”

At today’s Techonomy Policy Conference in Washington, Arun Sundararajan of NYU Stern School of Business talked about the two narratives that go along with the development of the sharing or on-demand economy. One is that of empowered entrepreneurs. The other is the “race to the bottom” in terms of wages. In Sundararajan’s view, neither is entirely true.

Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing services are a good example of the uncertain impact such services have on jobs and employment. The taxi companies are quick to claim that these services will potentially put licensed cabbies out of work. But some say Uber and others are creating more jobs than they are replacing and some Uber drivers claim to do far better than they could with a cab company.

This is also an example of what Sundararajan referred to as the “blurring of the lines between personal and professional.” The employers of the professionals are quick to note the lack of license or certification of the ride-sharing driver.  (I live in the New York area and every time I get in a cab the driver is on the phone for the entire ride. Professional?) But when we use an app to get an on-demand ride, or apartment for the night, or dog walker, Sundararajan says “We are willing to trust semi-anonymous peers based on certain digital signals.”

The on-demand economy is growing outside of the regulatory framework we are accustomed to. When we think of regulation, we usually think of government, but that’s not where Sundararajan thinks we should look. He discussed the feasibility of self-regulation using as an example local homeowners associations as potential local regulators of real estate rental services.

There are other implications for what Sundararajan described as the unbundling of employment. We need a new way to categorize employment as more and more workers piece together work rather than taking on full time jobs.

He also noted the need to create a safety net for these workers. The existing safety net, income stability, workmans’ comp, disability are all keyed off of full-time employment.

You read more of Sundararajan’s views at his home page.

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2 Responses to Techonomy Policy Conference: The Sharing Economy and What It Means for Work

  1. I have to admit to really trying to adjust my thinking around Uber and the others listed above. I don’t think I could rent a home via that site or rent mine out. I’m so security conscious that I would have to go through a legitimate (if that’s still the correct word to use!) rental agency with vetting services, etc. That said, I do like the challenge to status quo and upsetting the old apple cart. Business complacency is what makes the AAA receptionist be so rude to me the other day that I almost cancelled our membership on the spot. It’s basic competition that keeps the world going around, eh?


    • Ken Dowell says:

      One of the points they were making at this conference is that the who,e regulatory system doesn’t work for this kind of business. I am a little wary of some of these. But I’ve used Uber several times and generally found it to be better than cabs, especially New York cabs.


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