Every time I swipe my debit card to buy something that I don’t necessarily need, but that I want, I can’t help but feel guilty. I feel worse when I realize that the four people standing behind me in line at the cashier desk are also guilty of the same behaviour.
So, in 2017, let’s talk about Vancouver’s battle with capitalism. The city is trying to establish an economy based on mutual utilization and benefit — the movement is slow, but growing. Vancouver, a growing hub of multiculturalism, has already started to challenge the zeitgeist of ownership and consumption methods by nurturing spaces that encourage the sharing of goods and services.
Sharing through donation, public goods, lending and borrowing, co-owning, and bartering are manifestations of this earthly trend. Such manifestations are, in fact, occurring in our metropolis as you read — between neighbours, families, and other community organizations.
The fundamentals of sharing
The origin of the word “sharing” comes from the Old English scearu, which means division, or to break into parts. Fast-forward, and today this word can be used in multiple contexts with varying connotations. For a lot of us, sharing is more about togetherness than division. From sharing tangible goods to ideas and spaces, sharing economies maximize on collective interest and benefit, rather than self-interest and profit.
Secondary school was a time when we never questioned the “demand meets supply and a market is created” theory of economics, but as we go through university, more and more questions arise about the gaps in capitalist theory.
Now, some are abandoning the capitalist thought entirely, but every new initiative is accompanied by multiple raised eyebrows. For many traditional businesses, the sharing economy model appears as an epidemic that is taking away business opportunities. On the other hand, a lot of debate exists on the nature and social impact of sharing.
A sharing economy model is used differently by every organization, which makes it difficult to appreciate its cause. Airbnb is a multi-billion dollar company that quickly rose to success by connecting short-term renters to house-owners.
However, Airbnb has been recently tagged as an anti-sharing model due to its exclusivity, its profit margins, and its lack of social impact. Recently, it was announced that Uber and other ride-share services were coming to Vancouver — it’s clear that Vancouver is interested in growing the ‘sharing is caring’ network.
Then, what really defines “sharing?” What constitutes a sharing economy? What type of sharing organizations contrast existing business models? Despite being heavily contested, there are a couple things that could be agreed on: a sharing economy provides goods/services that can be utilized by many people either economically or free of cost.
Property, services, transportation, and material objects are just a few examples of parts of everyday life undergoing mass transformation.
Chris Diplock, co-founder of the Vancouver Tool Library Co-operative, breaks down what a “sharing economy” means for Vancouverites. His perspective on an ideal sharing economy model consists of, briefly put, financial stability, social impact/welfare, community integration, and environmental sustainability.
Vancouver Tool Library is a co-operative where tools can be borrowed for barely any cost so that locals do not have to buy a tool they would use once in a blue moon. In this process, people are brought together, consumption is reduced, and it’s easy on the wallet.
Looking to the success of Vancouver Tool Library, a co-operative library that lends tools acquired through donations, Diplock has well-informed arguments to make for sharing economies.
When asked whether the sharing economy is an alternative to capitalism, Diplock’s response confused me at first: “It depends on our definition of these models and the structures in place,” he explained. “If we have large corporate enterprises such as Airbnb maximizing on rentals, nothing is going to change.
“I’m not saying that these corporations haven’t had any positive impact. But if we were to evaluate these models based on social impact, they could do a lot better,” he elaborated.
Diplock used the word “social impact” frequently during our discussion. But “social impact” is one of those nebulous terms that is often misinterpreted. “It is important that we gauge the purpose of an enterprise before we include it in a sharing economy. We have to understand how to measure the social impact of an organization,” he continued.
“For example, a co-operative model, like the Vancouver Tool Library, exists within a capitalistic economy. However, they are financially, socially, and environmentally sustainable,” Diplock added. “Large corporations cannot achieve these on their own. They could provide a large platform, however, to co-operatives to realize and actualize the true social benefit.
“Non-monetary, peer-to-peer lending is an appealing aspect of [a] sharing economy and acts as a driving force against capitalism,” said Diplock. “People don’t engage in a sharing economy to make money, but rather to maximize the use of goods and to connect with people.”
“After the Vancouver Tool Library, we wanted to develop a model that can share and benefit the community,” he said, referring to Thingery, a micro-lending library. Thingery embodies the epitome of “sharing” wherein neighbours can donate excess goods that could be used by others. The truth is, people want to share within proximity and want to share many different things; they are only waiting for an opportunity.
Vancouver’s very own
For every person in search of a sharing model, there is an initiative that exists in Vancouver to meet their shareable demands. Vancouver has its very own spectrum of sharing economy models that range on a scale of low-end to high-end goods and services.
Outlets such as the Vancouver Tool Library and Modo, a car co-op, have been taxing on commercial orientation of goods and services. An exciting aspect of this budding sharing economy within Vancouver is that it resolves the issue of increasing living costs. Fatter wallets make everyone happy but, when delving a little deeper, sharing economies contribute to sustainable economies. Sustainability is directly opposed to capitalism, and hence, sharing economy models become our new best friends.
The research report that Diplock collaborated and found Thingery on, The Sharing Project, thrives on the social capital that can be accumulated through sharing. The Hive in Vancouver is an exemplary organization that works towards harbouring social impact of sharing by providing free work-spaces or hosting events to build a sense of community.
Simbi is another model which is an online platform to trade services, and one that highlights Diplock’s statement of a non-monetary model. One-of-a-kind, every individual can set “Simbi prices” on their service and can receive credits when their service is used. These credits could be, in turn, used to receive services from someone else.
There are so many other companies pushing for and thriving in this new zeitgeist. Sustainable fashion is being achieved by Flaunt Fashion Library in Vancouver, an online platform that lends clothing. Sustainable environment is being rooted for through the Vancouver Bike Share with approximately 1,500 bicycles stationed at 150 posts around downtown for cleaner transportation. Garage is another organisation that attempts to build communal spaces by enabling owners to rent out private parking spaces to other drivers. The sharing isn’t about to stop or slow down.
Shortcomings of sharing?
Alienation by and subordination to machines have become underpinning pillars of our society. But sharing economies tear down these walls between us. Neighbours that never interacted before could possibly become peers in such an environment.
We have communities that believe in the virtues of sharing. The only shortcoming might be that it isn’t pushed forward effectively. The Sharing Project’s report indicates that different understandings of what sharing means can impede the growth of the economy and a cohesive network between organizations, an awareness among people that there are alternatives to ownership would boom the economy. Vancouver has an affinity for sharing and it needs to be channelled productively.
Is it possible, then, if promoted effectively, that this economic concept could possibly overtake capitalism? I think so. The key viewpoint is to look at capitalistic notions as being artificial and recognizing that they are subject to change with time.
We share stories; we share our happiness and sorrows. Perhaps now we could learn to introduce practices of sharing things that liberate ideas of private ownership. What makes sharing economies so appealing is their applicability through economic textbook theory. Comparative advantage is when two agents trade certain goods voluntarily at a gain as each of them are specialized to produce that specific good. Sharing economies behave similarly while bridging connections — what’s not to love?
Interested in sharing goods and services? Check out the following groups:
A recent addition to Vancouver, Vancouver Bike Share has 1,500 bicycles strategically distributed at 150 stations in and around downtown. Whether you’re commuting, touring the city, changing up your routine, or just wanting a fun activity to do with your friends, you can now borrow a bike owned by everyone for a day.
Wanting to make fashion affordable, sustainable, and accessible, this online clothing sharing initiative is helping locals look fly.
Renting outdoor gear to others has never been so easy. Profit from the gear you own or rent other gear you need for trips.
What started as a BC ride-share organization is now connecting people across North America.
Help the city go green by renting out your parking space and maximizing space.