You can say I know a thing or two about sharing. I was open source long before it was cool. I support Wikipedia with not only my money but my photography, which I freely donate to the public domain. Even this blog is licensed under Creative Commons, allowing anyone to take what I’ve made and use it practically any way they choose. So the brouhaha over the “sharing economy” in Raleigh has me puzzled.
I attended what was billed as a “public hearing” on Airbnb Monday night. Fans organized the meeting to make a case for why Raleigh should consider legalizing use of the home-hosting service. Like other cities, Raleigh, they say, needs to embrace the “sharing economy.” I’m friends with many of these folks but I have a different take on this issue.
Now, I may be old-school (I am sporting gray hairs on my chin at the moment) but to me, “sharing economy” is a contradiction in terms. If my neighbor asks to use my lawn mower and I tell him “sure,” that’s sharing. If I say “sure … for fifteen bucks an hour” that’s not sharing, that’s renting. And if I do that on a regular basis, not only am I the biggest schmuck in the neighborhood but I’m also a de facto business, subject to all the fun rules and regulations that come with that.
This distinction seemed to be lost on a lot who spoke during Monday night’s meeting. If you’re advertising a service and you’re profiting (or attempting to profit) from it, don’t be surprised when the city (state, etc.) want to treat you like a business, because you are a business. Now, if you want to share your space with others with no requirement that money changes hands, that seems to me to be truly sharing and the government should steer clear. This is why I see services the facilitate this (like CouchSurfing) in a different light.
Airbnb isn’t doing this out of the kindness of its heart; the company exists to make money. What’s more, it seems their business model is predicated on making an end-run around ordinances and regulations meant to protect the public by making sure businesses meet certain standards. Municipalities rightfully take this very seriously and so should you. I don’t want to stay in hotels that have carbon-monoxide problems, or don’t carry insurance, or are going to swindle me with hidden fees. I appreciate the protections that regulation provides. I also appreciate my city having amenities like the PNC Arena and the Raleigh Convention Center, both of which would not be possible without occupancy taxes. Airbnb provides neither regulation nor occupancy taxes, and this hurts the city we all call home.
Too many people buy into the argument that regulation and taxes are wrong. Everyone loves a free ride. Infrastructure is great so long as someone else pays for it. This argument is often made by businesses that depend on shifting these burdens to someone else. That “someone else” is often you and me. Don’t fall for it!
If you want to share, then share. If you want to run a business, though, stop whining about the rules. Suck it up and pay your fair share just like everyone else.
If there’s an “economy” in your sharing then not really sharing.