Can We Build a Humane Alternative to Uber?
By now, most people have recognized “the sharing economy” as more a convenient slogan than as heralding a new era of prosperity. Thanks to forward-thinking platforms such as Airbnb and Uber, we were told, the sharing economy would let people work in whole new ways. But lately there’s been turmoil in what’s now more widely known as the on-demand or gig economy. Upset at persistent fare cuts, Uber drivers have staged strikes in New York, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh. The strikes occurred despite a lack of union representation, though the Seattle city council recently passed a law that, if upheld, would let Uber and Lyft drivers unionize. Meanwhile, affordable housing advocates in San Francisco proposed a ballot initiative that would have slowed Airbnb’s growth in the city, and the company spent an unprecedented $8 million to defeat it.
So what happened to the promise of the sharing economy? “What initially looked like innovation eventually cranked up the volume on income inequality,” says Trebor Scholz, a gig economy expert and associate professor of culture and media at the New School. “Digital laborers are getting up every morning only to join an auction for their own gigs.”