Political economies and environmental futures for the sharing economy

The sudden rise of the sharing economy has sparked an intense public debate about its definition, its effects and its future regulation. Here, I attempt to provide analytical guidance by defining the sharing economy as the practice that consumers grant each other temporary access to their under-utilized physical assets. Using this definition, the rise of the sharing economy can be understood as occurring at the intersection of three salient economic trends: peer-to-peer exchange, access over ownership and circular business models. I shortly discuss some of the environmental impacts of online sharing platforms and then articulate three possible futures of the sharing economy: a capitalist future cumulating in monopolistic super-platforms allowing for seamless services, a state-led future that shifts taxation from labour to capital and redistributes the gains of sharing from winners to losers, and a citizen-led future based on cooperatively owned platforms under democratic control. The nature and size of the social and environmental impacts are expected to differ greatly in each of the three scenarios.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Material demand reduction’.

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