Sharing economy v material cravings

“Rental services . . . have captured the public imagination but the ‘sharing economy’ will never become widespread because people have a strong desire to own material goods”.

Yesterday’s Independent quotes a report by Nottingham Trent University published in the Journal of Cleaner Production which says:

“Rental services like Airbnb and Zipcar . . .will never replace purchase capitalism because people are culturally programmed to amass as many possessions as possible” Laura Piscielli, a researcher at the university, said:

“The sharing economy is a credible way to help tackle today’s consumer society, . .but . .what we have identified . . .is that people’s individual values may prevent ‘collaborative consumption’ from becoming mainstream.

“Ride sharing and clothes swapping were on theincrease, but most ‘sharing economy’ websites had failed due to lack of interest”

I beg to question this analysis, even though it is strictly true. The report says that people are “culturally  programmed to amass as many possessions as possible”

Cultures have enormous inertia as the Easter Islanders discovered, but they do change, in some cases quite rapidly, for example attitudes to smoking. Some individuals may well be genetically programmed to ‘amass possessions’, but my surmise is that the overwhelming majority will settle for a guarantee of material security. Regular readers should by now be shouting ‘Basic Income’.

Of course anti-capitalists will rightly point out that it is not that simple. Researcher Professor Tim Cooper identifies the corresponding problem of manufacturers building disposable instead of long lasting products which could be rented or shared. He could have added even more significantly, “or sold second hand many times”.

I must refer here to my post on 4.1.2015: Ecocide and capitalism: foes, or friends? Ellen Meiksins Wood points out in her book The Origin of Capitalism: a longer View, that ever since the 15th century, long before capitalism emerged, all elements in society have been trapped by imperatives. These imperatives compel the capitalists to pursue the lunacy of throw away production, and to use the media to ensure that the public has an appropriate mind set. A surge in car sales is good news, right? Isn’t growth the only way out of austerity? We have to preserve a habitable planet somehow, but I can see it from the point of view of a large manufacturer or shale gas extractor where the prospect is competition for a dwindling market.

But the left in the Green Movement insist that we spook the offenders, who are trapped by imperatives, by saying we are going to destroy them. They will destroy the ecosphere before we have hurt their little fingers. The light at the end of the tunnel is that it ‘only’ needs a culture shift. Aesop suggested persuasion is better than force. I don’t know who first said “More in sorrow than in anger”, but that too is a necessary part of whatever answers emerge.

I wasn’t going to do a blog post this week until I read yesterday’s Independent. Please recap what I have said, in numerous posts about the Basic income v Universal Credit, and anti-austerity in readiness for next Saturday’s demo (20th June) . Amelia Womack: Caroline will not mention the Basic Income next Saturday, and neither will Natalie. Have you briefed yourself yet, as to why you might as well all stay at home without something which tackles means testing? Without that, the government wins any arguments about austerity and scroungers regardless of actual facts.

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