Why We Need Cooperatives for the Digital Economy
Platforms like Airbnb claim to be building online “communities” — even as their business undermines the real communities in cities. But the history of cooperatives shows that it really is possible to democratize the services we use — so long as it’s connected to a wider redistribution of power in society.
We want to be good partners to everyone,” claims Airbnb, the digital behemoth now valued at $31 billion. It likes to depict itself as a small grassroots community organization, just doing its bit for the collaborative economy. But despite platitudes of “partnering with cities” and working with local communities, Airbnb has spent millions lobbying the European Union, suing local councils, and fighting attempts by cities to protect affordable housing.
The news headlines of Airbnb’s tax avoidance, exploitative labor practices, and monopolisitic tendencies are bad enough. But they’re all by-products of a more fundamental issue: platforms like this were never intended to provide a public good — they were designed to maximize profit.