The Sharing Economy Was Always a Scam
‘Sharing’ was supposed to save us. Instead, it became a Trojan horse for a precarious economic future.
Founded in 2014, Omni is a startup that offers users the ability to store and rent their lesser-used stuff in the San Francisco Bay Area and Portland. Backed by roughly $40 million in venture capital, Omni proclaims on its website that they “believe in experiences over things, access over ownership, and living lighter rather than being weighed down by our possessions.”
If you’re in the Bay Area, you can currently rent a copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo from “Lan” for the low price of $1 per day; “charles” is renting a small framed lithograph for $10 a day; and “Tom” is renting a copy of the film Friends With Benefits (68 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) on Blu-ray for just $2 a day. Those prices don’t include delivery and return fees for the Omni trucks traversing the city, which start at $1.99 each way.
In 2016, Omni’s CEO and co-founder Tom McLeod said that “lending enables Omni members to put their ‘dormant’ belongings to good use in their community.” That same year, Fortune said Omni “could create a true ‘sharing economy.’” For a while, the tenets of the sharing economy were front and center in Omni’s model: It promised to activate underutilitized assets in order to sustain a healthier world and build community trust. In 2017, McLeod said, “We want to change behavior around ownership on the planet.”
Just three years later, those promises seem second to the pursuit of profit. In 2019, the Omni pitch can be summed up by the ads emblazoned on its delivery trucks: “Rent things from your neighbors, earn money when they rent from you!”
For years, the sharing economy was pitched as an altruistic form of capitalism — an answer to consumption run amok. Why own your own car or power tools or copies of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up if each sat idle for most of its life? The sharing economy would let strangers around the world maximize the utility of every possession to the benefit of all.
Sharing was supposed to transform our world for the better.