What came next wasn’t sharing. Power and control wasn’t decentralized — it was even more concentrated in the hands of large and valuable platforms.
The Sharing Economy Was Always a Scam – OneZero
Early sharing champions were ultimately correct about technology enabling a shift away from an ownership society, but what came next wasn’t sharing. The rise of streaming services, subscription systems, and short-term rentals eclipsed the promise of nonmonetary resource sharing. The power and control wasn’t decentralized; it was even more concentrated in the hands of large and valuable platforms.
Why go through the trouble of swapping your own DVDs for a copy of Friends With Benefits, after all, when you can stream it through Amazon Prime Video for $2.99? The idea of paying for temporary access to albums rather than outright owning them may have been galling at first, but we’re increasingly comfortable with renting all our music, along with our software, and our books. Downloading and sharing the materials that live on these streamed resources is impossible, illegal, or both.
The new trust never materialized. Government regulation typically plays an important role in mediating consumer relationships with corporate firms and for good reason. Peer-to-peer platforms can make discrimination easier, and they often claimed limited or zero liability when things went wrong. New social media reputation tools couldn’t prevent inevitable problems, especially when sharing companies did not institute background checks for their freelance workers or inspect homes and vehicles for safety.
Sharing didn’t deliver broad financial stability either. The jobs eventually created by the sharing economy were poorly regulated and hastened the broader growth of contract labor, pushing down already low wages for freelancers and employees alike. A few frequently quoted studies have claimed that soon, most of us will be freelancers. But most of that freelance work appears to be extremely part-time and merely supplemental income, and ride-hail driver turnover in particular is high.
In order to make money, especially the kind of money that tech investors expect, venture-backed companies couldn’t just activate underutilized resources — they had to make more. For-profit businesses demand growth, and platforms demand scale. More than a decade into the sharing experiment, we’ve been able to fully assess the costs. Capitalism wasn’t tamed, as Werbach had hoped — it was stoked.
“Now it’s just a transaction,” Werbach says. “It doesn’t need to be dressed up in any language about changing the world or whatever.”