The Sharing Economy

Glenn Fleishman, in his first cover story for The Economist, tracks how technology is making it easier to share everything from bicycles to basement bedrooms—for a price.
Such peer-to-peer rental schemes provide handy extra income for owners and can be less costly and more convenient for borrowers. Occasional renting is cheaper than buying something outright or renting from a traditional provider such as a hotel or car-rental firm. The internet makes it cheaper and easier than ever to aggregate supply and demand. Smartphones with maps and satellite positioning can find a nearby room to rent or car to borrow. Online social networks and recommendation systems help establish trust; internet payment systems can handle the billing. All this lets millions of total strangers rent things to each other. The result is known variously as “collaborative consumption”, the “asset-light lifestyle”, the “collaborative economy”, “peer economy”, “access economy” or “sharing economy”.

The flies in the ointment: insurance, liability, and laws that favor incumbent industries.


      1. Three states have passed laws that clarify it (Washington, Oregon, and California). Some insurers have changed policy terms to clarify. It seems like it could still be a gray area, but no other incidents have come up to test the matter, and the incident you state is still, to my knowledge, unsettled.

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