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The economy of sharing

Of course my neighbour may borrow my drill the few times that he needs it. And every three years I borrow his ladder to clean the gutters. The internet has made the world a lot smaller and has given me ‘more neighbours’. If we want to, and make clear agreements, we can very well share access to make use of cars, washing machines, lawn mowers and what not - and do this for free or pay each other for it.


This has several advantages. Together we can do with fewer devices, which will save costs. This also means that fewer of these devices need to be produced, and that saves resources and environmental damage. And possibly this habit of sharing things with others also provides a stronger social network.


The emerging ‘sharing economy’ is a step in the right direction. Sharing what we have, who could not see the sense of it?


If only we could also come to settlements in a larger context in which ‘sharing’ can be practiced. But the current economy is a kind of obstacle: it is not aimed at sharing but devoted to self-interest. While ‘sharing’ is in everyone's interest!


Imagine that we're going to do things a little bit different: as a consumer I do not buy cars anymore but I pay for the use of a car, for example for 15,000 kilometers per year. I do not buy a washing machine, but pay for the use of a washing machine that keeps the clothes of my family and myself clean. I do not buy a couch, but pay for using a particular couch.

In other words, I do not buy products, but only pay for using the products that I want to use. With the manufacturer of the products I make agreements about quality, performance and maintenance of these products, and we decide on the duration of our agreement and the price I pay for this service.


The products remain the property of the manufacturer. He has made them and he is and remains responsible for them. (Why did we ever find it acceptable that manufacturers produce an endless stream of products and never look at them again after they sold them?)


An attractive idea, this 'circular economy'. Producers will suddenly make sure that their products last for a very long time without needing much maintenance. They will also quickly start to use only materials that can be used again (and again). Their profit will then be found in a truly sustainable production process and reliable services; and that is exactly what consumers want. And of course, just as is the case now, consumers will have to pay for the use. And that is fine with me, because I would rather pay for this kind of economy than for the current state of affairs.


Does this still have anything to do with the ‘economy of sharing’? Yes and no. Because at the end of the day the ‘sharing economy’ may indeed be nothing more than the ‘economy of the whole’, of which we all are part.


John Hogervorst

October 2014

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