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The Sharing Economy and the Ownership of the Means of Production

The Sharing Economy and the Ownership of the Means of Production

By Steve Horwitz

uberIn a post at Cafe Hayek this morning, Don Boudreaux cites his Mercatus colleague Ashley Schiller’s observation that Uber and the “sharing economy” more generally allow individuals to turn their consumption goods into capital goods as they wish to. Your car becomes a capital asset when you use it for Uber driving. This, Don points out, spreads the ownership of capital more widely and thereby undermines the process of capital concentration that people like Piketty claim is happening. That’s a terrific point. And it raises a huge irony…

How amusing is it that so many Marxists and progressives are objecting to a change in the relations of production that enables more individuals to become owners of the means of production rather than having to work for someone else who owns all of the physical capital they require to do their job?

Yes, Uber still owns the software platform that makes the connection between seller and buyer possible, but it remains the case that Uber drivers own their own capital, as did the pre-capitalist artisans and farmers. Uber drivers control the days and times they choose to work. They can hunt in the morning, be a medical technician in the afternoon, drive for Uber in the evening, and work on their new business idea after dinner. Or they can do it by days if they wish.

The sharing economy can’t make us all Aristotle or Goethe. It can’t give us all of Marx’s utopia. But it sure does seem to get us closer to a number of the goals that Marxists and other progressives have claimed to want.  When people own their means of production and escape from the imposed structure of the owners of capital, they thereby gain the flexibility to explore multiple avenues of flourishing much more on their own terms.

Isn’t that one of the central goals of Marx-inspired socialism? If so, we should be celebrating the sharing economy as a huge step toward realizing one of socialism’s central goals through the market. Bleeding heart libertarianism, indeed.

*This article has previously published on Bleeding Heart Libertarians

About the Author

Steven Horwitz is Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics and department chair at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY. He is the author of two books, Microfoundations and Macroeconomics: An Austrian Perspective (Routledge, 2000) and Monetary Evolution, Free Banking, and Economic Order (Westview, 1992), and he has written extensively on Austrian economics, Hayekian political economy, monetary theory and history, and macroeconomics.

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