Jim Epstein on the "Sharing Economy" and Liberal Cover for Fighting Big Government


In December 2013, a delegation from the sharing-economy advocacy group, Peers, delivered a pro-Airbnb petition to NY State Senator Liz Krueger (D) |||(Credit: David Medeiros)
(Credit: David Medeiros)

Companies like Airbnb, Lyft, and EatWith are undermining bad government policies and in some cases provoking a backlash from regulators, writes Reason TV's Jim Epstein. But in these brewing public policy battles, many advocates for limiting the role of government don't talk like libertarians. 

They refer to these new online marketplaces as "the sharing economy," a phrase that's clever branding but too broad to be very meaningful. They argue that these companies represent a new paradigm for American capitalism in which trade (at last!) benefits individuals instead of multinational corporations. The higher purpose of these sharing economy ventures, they assert, isn't making people freer, richer, and happier as customers, workers, and entrepreneurs, but reducing energy consumption and staving off the Malthusian apocalypse. 

Sharing economy defenders may be on shaky ground intellectually, but their effort to rebrand capitalism is winning converts and swaying regulators. If mushy phrases and misguided ideas provide cover for, say, Occupy Wall Street protestors to turn up at a demonstration to save Airbnb, libertarians should rejoice.