Tyler Cowen, Americans own less stuff because of the internet, and that’s a worry, Financial Review Aug 13 2018
Lately I’ve been worrying about a problem of the latter kind: the erosion of personal ownership and what that will mean for our loyalties to traditional American concepts of capitalism and private property.
The nation was based on the notion that property ownership gives individuals a stake in the system. It set Americans apart from feudal peasants, taught us how property rights and incentives operate, and was a kind of training for future entrepreneurship.
This article in the Financial Review runs all the wrong arguments about the share economy. It’s not the lack of private ownership per se that is the problem and that is going to solve our current difficulties. Who needs more hoarding, more waste to clog up the environment, more greedy profiteers exploiting their fellow human beings – even at primary school level – where the latest educational trend is to encourage children to be ‘entrepreneurs’?
A more even social and economic distribution is what’s needed. The real problem is not the decline of ownership per se (which I think is a good thing – unless it’s due – as is often the case – to exponentially increasing economic disparities) but how goods are being shared and made available for use and who is making them available via subscription systems. What we should be more worried about in relation to some of the mechanisms the author describes (print, video and audio streaming services, google etc) are the ways our freedoms and access to knowledge are being controlled and manipulated by large corporations – all in the interests of profit. Also, some forms of the so-called share economy are just new and unregulated forms of exploitation. Uber and Air bnb, for example, are perhaps a little less ideal on that score than they would like to appear.