Let us start with Uber drivers:

Uber has become like Walmart. Drivers now make less than the minimum wage when we do the math,” said Abdoul Diallo of the newly formed Uber Drivers Network, which opposes new lower fare rates set by the company.

The high-tech livery-service firm recently slashed passenger fares to compete with car services such as Lyft, Gett and regular yellow cabs, a move that drivers say takes money out of their pockets.

Some Uber drivers claimed fares — and their paychecks — had been chopped 25 percent in recent months.

Other drivers said they make less than a living wage, just $7 to $12 an hour after expenses and fees — far less than the $25.79 an hour Uber promises drivers can make by joining its fleet, protesters said.

Drivers began complaining that Uber was taking them for a ride back in July, when the company temporarily launched its less-than-taxi-rate Uber X service.

In late September, Uber ­extended those cuts permanently — outraging drivers.

Uber treats drivers like private contractors, saddling them with insurance, gas and vehicle expenses but the company has total control over fares.

In its essence the sharing economy is similar to offshoring and outsourcing in how it works.

Let us establish the basics: high income for individuals, absent government fiat, is based on a tight supply of whatever it is they are selling, and nothing else.

This can be a generally tight labor market, as in the late 90s or most of the years from 45 to 68, or it can be in a specific area.  If you have an occupation where most people can’t compete, you make more money.  This could be because you have skills they don’t have, it could be because of artificial scarcity imposed by regulation (most professions which require licensing), it could because of geography, and so on.

Hotels make decent money because any Joe or Jill can’t sell their rooms.  Taxi drivers (or, more accurately, those who own the licenses) used to make decent money because any schmo with a car couldn’t compete.  And so on.

In manufacturing terms, when those jobs pretty much had to be in a first world country, and the government enforced the ability of unions to strike by forbidding replacement workers, assembly line workers made good money.

So the sharing economy increases capacity.  It increases supply to areas which had constricted supply.

Supply increases, and the profits and/or wages of those in the old sector go down.  Spotify claims artists receive 6 cents to .84 cents per thousand plays.  That means 1 million plays will get you 6K to 8.4.  But there’s reason to doubt those numbers, Swift has refuted them, and earlier reports were lower as well, plus Indie labels get less.

All of these platforms: Spotify, AirBnB, etc… take huge margins.  Spotify takes 30%.  This is in line with what App Stores take, again, 30% being standard.

That number is one we’ve become numb to, but it’s essentially oligopoly or monopoly profits, a huge distribution rate. If you add that much to the cost of a product, it will sell far fewer copies and make far less money.  That percentage comes directly out of profits.

In most cases, one or two sites control most of the business.  Maybe three.  That makes them oligopolies or monopolies. You go through them, or you don’t make a living, and once they are established, they are essentially impossible to dislodge.

In the fifties or sixties this would have been recognized as clear abuse of monopoly or oligopoly power and they would have been busted up or regulated.

But they aren’t. Instead what they do is lower prices, vastly concentrate earnings (30% is a lot, and makes you billions if you control any reasonable platform, even if that billions is from equity), and they lower wages and earnings to everyone who doesn’t control the platform.

Now the sharing plaftorms would be ok (minus the oligopolistic abuse) in a genuinely booming economy where there genuinely weren’t enough workers, and where companies were competing for workers by increasing wages and treating them well (think how programmers were treated during the late 90s internet boom.)

Bring the extra resources online, let people earn some extra cash by driving occasionally, and move people over to the parts of the economy that are booming and need workers.

We don’t live in that world.  We haven’t, absent a few years, since somewhere between 1968 and 1980.

Instead what the sharing economy does is lower the value of specific types of labor and assets, allowing more people to compete, but reducing the actual earnings for those who are in that market.

Reduced prices might increase standards of living, and in any single case they do. The number of musicians who can’t earn a living under the new regime (not just Spotify) is much less than the number of people who can consume much more music.  People who want to be driven prefer to pay less to Uber.  AirBnB makes it cheaper to travel.  Etc… There are genuine gains.

But added to offshorng, outsourcing, oligopolistic storefronts like AppStores and Amazon, and with increase parts of the economy moving into the sharing economy, while in the meantime older jobs have been deskilled (all fast food is deskilling of cooks jobs, for example), and you reach a point where “there are hardly any good jobs”.  Prices are not dropping faster than good jobs.

The other effect of this is that because many of these trends are naturally oligopolistic or monopolistic (even fast food is, if you take a bit of time to think about all the small business restaurants they put out of business), they tend to concentrate wealth and income radically.  That leads to capture of the political process by the rich (yes, even more than already), and that leads to policies like, well, turning anti-trust law into a dead letter, or endless copyright extension, or vast numbers of anti-union policies.

As Stirling Newberry once pointed out to me the more humans are fungible; that is one human can replace another and do whatever that person is doing, the less they have value.  That doesn’t mean that fungibility is necessarily bad, it increases efficiency, can increase economic capacity, and so on, IF we choose to distribute the gains properly.  But absent trends moving in opposite directions it decreases the amount everyone except those who control the points of coordination of the economy make while vastly centralizing wealth, income and power.

The Sharing Economy really isn’t.  Sharing is the wrong word.  And for now, while some of us many win and get income we need for it, overall we’re losing.

The way we distribute resources; the way we distribute necessities and the good stuff of life is going to have to change.  Ultimately a market which  clusters into oligopolies;  deskills jobs; makes humans interchangeable; is not one which can produce widespread prosperity, let alone well being.  If we continue to distribute goods and power primarily by market success, even if we manage a fix, it will only last a few decades at most—and there is no guarantee, this time, that we will manage a fix.

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