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Frances Coppolla argues that the “sharing” economy is seeking to monetize the generosity that people show towards others. She thinks that rather than “building trust”, it is destroying it I attended a panel discussion on the “Sharing Economy” at the Battle of Ideas 2015. Benita Matovska, who describes herself as “chief sharer” of the comparison website, Compare & Share, enthused about how the sharing economy would build communities, transform capitalism and restore the planet. “It’s all about trust,” she said. No it isn’t. It’s all about money. Here’s what Matovska herself says on the Compare & Share website: “I was trying to book a family holiday in Morocco – when we travel as a family we’re quite adventurous, we like to share, meet real people and have those amazing money can’t buy experiences....” I’m sure everybody would like to have experiences money can’t buy. But actually she wasn’t after a “money can’t buy” experience. She was after an expensive experience at a cheap price: “I spent hours searching through site after site and not finding the unique holiday experience I wanted at a price I could afford. I wanted to go to one single site. And that was my light bulb moment – a comparison site for the Sharing Economy. I wanted to be able to car share at my destination, find sites where

I could experience the holiday through the eyes of a local, to contribute to the local economy (I care) and of course to discover hidden vintage markets and cool collectibles.” And she got it, too. “Last summer – once Compare & Share had launched accommodation – my dream holiday in Morocco became a reality. We stayed in a gorgeous beach house near Essaouira. The highlight was being invited to a rural beach wedding and my daughter and I dancing barefoot at 2 am on floor drums with a room full of Berber women and girls celebrating – a priceless experience!”

“If as a result of cutting out the middlemen the“local economies”in tourist spots get more money, that’s all to the good. But please don’t call this“sharing”. It’s trading.”

I could say a lot of unpleasant things about this. Her “priceless experience” amounted to cheap voyeurism by a rich snob who wants to “share” other people’s cars and houses so she can have a cheap holiday. There’s a disturbing colonial attitude underlying this quote too: she and her daughter surrounded by a bevy of adoring native women.... it’s straight out of The Jewel In The Crown. She’ll be “sharing” big game hunting next. But didn’t it ever occur to her that the “rural beach wedding” she attended was probably created as a tourist attraction to fool people like her into believing they are “experiencing the holiday through the eyes of a local”, because, you know, “genuine” local events sell holidays? The natives aren’t stupid. They know how to milk tourists for money. Anyway, more power to Matovska for disrupting the holidays industry, just as AirBNB is disrupting the hotel trade and Uber the entrenched self-interests of regulated taxi services. Travel agencies and car hire firms are badly in need of a shakeup. And if as a result of cutting out the middlemen the “local economies” in tourist spots get more money, that’s all to the good. But please don’t call this “sharing”. It’s trading. Letting your spare room out through AirBNB is not “sharing your house”. It’s letting a room for money. Working parttime for Uber is not “sharing your car”. It’s driving a car for money. Ah, but we all know that AirBNB and Uber are wicked capitalists ripping off ‰

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Making It: Industry for Development #21