Sharing and Renting Cluster
Rental/leasing/sharing of land, houses, apartments, cars and other goods, car sharing (as a business or P2P), informal or formal sharing of household goods, sharing of assets among businesses or other organizations, libraries (of books, artworks, tools, etc.). This differs from service provision in categories listed above in that the user has control over the thing being used for the duration of the rental contract.
On a broader societal scale, sharing includes systems of redistributing income through social welfare programs, and international aid or emergency assistance. This aspect is not discussed on this page as of yet, but may be added in future.
Both owner and renter/user can be an individual or any type of organization or group.
- 1 Context within NORA
- 2 Understanding current patterns of abundance and scarcity
- 3 Approaches to creating greater abundance
- 4 Links
- 5 Member Links and Publications
- 6 Literature
Context within NORA
Relationships to Needs
We share the air with all living things, breathing in the oxygen tha plants emitted. When we smell something or somebody, molecules from that person or thing enter our nose and body.
We share in the use of water supply infrastructure (distribution systems, wells, etc.) and of water itself as in a shared bath or a swimming pool.
People in the same household share their food and shelter, and welcome guests through the sharing of food and often shelter. Travelers may share food as well as temporary shelter. Sharing of food is in fact quintessential of community in many different contexts. We have a sense of of being at home with those people with whom we share, and indeed sharing is a key aspect of supportive relationships. Shelter and housing can also be rented.
Clothing can be shared as well as rented; the latter usually pertaining to clothes for special occasions (e.g., tuxedos).*
People have always found greater security in groups, finding shared security behind town fortifications, or by together supporting a defensive force (though that could easily be an oppressive force as well…). Police, fire services, emergency response services and the like are supposed to serve the shared, public security of a locality. Armed forces (mercenaries) as well as armed guards can be rented.
To support our mobility, we share in the use of paths, sidewalks, streets, roads, buses, trains and other vehicles. Vehicles of all kinds can be shared or rented.
The sharing of air and water can contribute to the transmission of diseases, undermining our health. We can also share in the use of medical facilities and equipment.
When we learn from each other, we share our knowledge and life experiences. The free sharing of knowledge, however, has a separate page devoted to it.
Self-expression to others, as well as meaningful livelihoods, help establish and depend on shared understandings of the world, and shared meaning-making. Labor contracts for wages and salaries are a form of rental agreement (we rent ourselves for a certain period of time) and are a dominant form of livelihood, though often that is meaningful neither to the workers nor to the employers. We share time with others whom we enjoy being with.
When we experience spiritual connection, we feel a sense of shared identity with a larger unity or group.
Participation in economic and political decision-making means shared responsibility, shared governance and rule making, concerning all the things which we share.
Relationships to other Organizational Forms
Self-provisioning can be enhanced or complemented by sharing and in some cases renting. Community solidarity involves sharing as one of its key features.
Free knowledge involves the sharing of knowledge, and is thus closely allied with the sharing/renting cluster. However, knowledge is a resource that increases the more it is shared, while the sharing/renting cluster deals mostly with resources that do not increase as a result of being shared (though they can be used more effectively as a result of sharing or renting).
The use of currencies and markets differentiates renting (which makes use of them) from sharing (which usually does not).
Coercion and denial of choice cluster, often involves a denial of sharing, or imposed sharing or rental agreements that put one party at a severe disadvantage.
Those people or organizations involved in sharing can be connected in formal or informal networks.
Relationships to Resources
We share in the use of air and atmosphere, since all living things share in the use of the same atmosphere, and water, as we share in the use of rivers and lakes, groundwater, and the seas. Through the atmospheric and hydrological circulation, air and water enter our bodies and leave them again, and circulate all around the planet – we are literally made of the same stuff as all the other living things, the rocks and soils, the oceans and everything else on the surface of Earth.
In a similar way, we share in the use of the land. The land was there before humans existed and will remain after we die, and in that sense we share in its use with all living things that came before us and that will follow us. Even within the present time, however, humans share the use of the land (especially public or common land) because otherwise people would not be able to come together in the same place. Land can also be rented, as can the structures on the land (e.g., houses and buildings).
We share in the benefits provided by living things, including the oxygen provided by plants, shade provided by trees, scenic beauty of entire landscapes, and all the “ecosystem services” without which our Earth would be a lifeless planet and we would all be dead.
Virtually all physical, human-made assets can be shared as well as rented, including houses and building, tools, books, party goods, furniture and many others.
Such intangibles as information, knowledge, trust and love are all increased by appropriate modes of sharing.
Understanding current patterns of abundance and scarcity
Sharing and renting are considered together as one cluster in NORA because they differ primarily in the presence or absence of monetary exchange. In some cases, this can lead to profound differences, but in others the use of money can be seen as a means to facilitate the shared use of an asset (e.g., commercial car sharing). In both sharing and renting, there can be unequal obligations or benefits that lead to scarcity for some of the people involved, so both need to be considered carefully in individual instances to assess how much they contribute to abundance.
Despite the above caveats, sharing is usually a means to creating greater abundance by making better use of limited resources or assets, which is of special importance in times of hardship. Even if people are glad that they no longer need to share certain things after easier times have returned, they may have survived the hard times only because they managed to share.
Why do people share?
We share some things because there simply is no other way – for example, we share the atmosphere. We likewise share in our participation in hydrological and nutrient cycles, in the use of oceans and marine fisheries, in the use of public space. For such things, the question is not “should we share?” but rather “how can we share in ways that are the most life-enhancing for all of us, including other species?”
We share because truly human life would not be possible without it. We share our dwellings, our food and drink, and many of our belongings with other family or household members because we have chosen to share our lives with them. We share similar things with friends and with guests for the sake of conviviality. We are after all a social species and want to share our joys as well as our sorrows with fellow human beings. Infants, children, the ill, people with disabilities, and the old would not survive if there was nobody ready to share with them.
We share in order to avoid excessive costs. Sometimes, as suggested above, survival would hardly be possible without sharing (a point made forcefully by Neal Gorenflo in the introduction to the book, “Share or Die,” in which a homeless man states that homeless people who do not share, die). But sharing can also reduce costs for the middle class or the rich. Time-share vacation homes allow several families to have a vacation home (during different weeks) at a fraction of the cost. Car-sharing allows people the occasional use of one or several cars, at a fraction of the cost of actually owning one. We can share tools that we seldom use. Almost anything that we need to use only some of the time and that otherwise sits idle can be shared.
Regarding almost all the things we share, whether by choice or necessity, it is advisable to also share in their governance. If we do not, it is likely that those who make the decisions do so to favor their own interests at the costs of everyone else. Shared governance is at the core of democracy, even if it is often instituted very imperfectly. From a commons point of view, we should share in the governance not only of countries and other political entities, but also of natural resource commons, economic enterprises, and any other shared projects or assets. Shared governance also entails shared benefits, shared responsibility, and shared care.
Despite the fact that we share so much, the very existence of sharing often seems invisible, especially in highly capitalist countries like the United States. Some types of sharing may be taken for granted and therefore forgotten because they are inescapable (as in the shared atmosphere, though we ignore this sharing at our peril). Other types of sharing have been supplanted by various forms of individual consumption, at least for those people with enough money. But perhaps most importantly, the economic discourse of our day portrays humans as being utility-maximizing individuals who only share if they are forced to, as a second-best option to exclusive ownership. This is a good strategy for selling more things (let everybody buy their own lawn-mower!), but it is not a good idea if we want to make best use of the available resources.
Given the necessity as well as the benefits of sharing, it is much more important to ask how sharing can be done better, rather than how it can be done away with. Sharing often has a bad image because it is associated with self-sacrifice, like a child being told to share its toys. But some sharing arrangements truly work better than others, involve less potential friction, and are burdened with fewer moral obligations, while being more joyful. Nowadays, an enormous amount of innovation is occurring in the “sharing economy,” especially concerning the use of information and communication technologies to make it easier for people who are ready to share certain things to find each other. Links on this page will lead to both old and new ways of sharing.
Renting resembles sharing in that a single resource or asset is used by more than one person, or the owner of the asset allows somebody else to use it temporarily. For example, an apartment building is inhabited by a substantial number of households at the same time, and each individual apartment is inhabited by different people in succession.
What makes renting different from sharing is not only that there is by definition a monetary transaction involved, but also that there is a very clearly defined difference between the property owner and the renter. Rental contracts can be used for almost any long-lived asset that is not consumed in its use, such as land, real estate, motor vehicles, bicycles, party supplies, clothing, construction equipment, and photocopiers, to name a few. The periods of rental can range from minutes or hours (e.g., commercial car-sharing, where the user may rent a car for less than an hour), to days (e.g., hotel rooms, conventional car rentals), to months or years (most apartment and office rentals, car-leasing contracts, photocopier leases). In some cases, they can range up to a century (Hong Kong belonged to the United Kingdom for 99 years as a kind of lease from China).
For renters, the main advantage of renting is that they do not have to come up with the total cost of the property they are using – an advantage which is especially great in the case of short-term use (one reason why hotel owners can charge much more for a room than can apartment owners). Many people would never be able to afford to buy the place that they rent. For property owners, the advantage of renting out their property is either that they can obtain a monetary benefit from a property that they are not using for a certain period of time, or that they can get a return on investment for an asset that they have either purchased or built with the intent of renting it out. The benefits for owners and renters can be reasonably balanced if there is no supply constraint on the rented items and if there is a reasonable degree of competition among property owners. This pertains, for example, in car sharing and renting markets, because new entrants can always offer more cars for rental, and because there is competition with other forms of transportation as well as with private car ownership (the latter is relevant mainly to car sharing).
Land and real estate rentals
Rental markets become highly unbalanced at the cost of renters where there is a supply constraint. The most obvious examples concern land (both rural and urban land) and real estate (for commercial as well as residential use). The amount of land surface cannot be increased (apart from relatively trivial reclamation of land from the sea, though currently we a re facing the prospect of sea-level rise as a result of global warming). Land can be changed from non-agricultural to agricultural use in some cases (for example, by irrigation in dry regions), or from agricultural to economically higher-value urban uses. However, the amount of land in a given location cannot be increased. Thus, for example, the amount of land in a fashionable neighborhood, or in a prime commercial area, or within reasonable distance of a major center of employment, is more or less fixed, at least in the short term. The same applies to prime agricultural land in an area. The amount of real estate can potentially be increased in a given area by building higher buildings, but this may involve the demolition or repurposing of existing buildings, and in some cases the change of zoning ordinances. The owners of land and real estate can take advantage of this supply constraint by raising rents up to the point when a few units remain empty, even while a substantial number of people is homeless or landless, and business owners or tenant farmers have to give up most of their potential profit in the form of rent. The owners profit not as a result of their work (the work is being done by others), but as a result of the scarcity of the assets they control.
Landlords have no interest in changing this situation – if they invested too much in new buildings, the rents for their existing buildings would decline, leaving them worse off! Rent controls, meanwhile, may choke off virtually all investment construction of new real estate.
To address this conundrum, several different strategies can be used in the urban context. One that is favored in the United States is to promote urban sprawl – enable people to settle on cheaper land on the periphery. However, this strategy is highly energy-inefficient (it requires automobile transport and highways), consumes large amounts of agricultural land (which surrounds most cities), and usually destroys the very qualities that make cities liveable (e.g., walking around the neighborhood and meeting people there) Another strategy consists of the local or national government stepping in and building large amounts of rental housing that private investors would not build. While this strategy can be successful if implemented with sufficient commitment, it has unfortunately often led to the construction of soulless buildings, ignoring the needs of the people that are to live there. Yet another strategy consists of various forms of co-housing, in which the renters become co-owners of a building, but cannot sell their share at an inflated price relative to when they bought it (this keeps the rents for future tenants from increasing uncontrollably). A de-facto strategy that is too often pursued is to essentially ignore the people who cannot afford the rents, leading to a problem of homelessness (even while many buildings may stand empty). The homeless people may take recourse in building their own homes wherever they can, with whatever materials they can collect or buy, leading to the emergence of shantytowns or favelas. Government authorities in some cases take a hard line and tear down the shantytowns (knowing full-well that the residents have little other alternative than to try to rebuild nearby); in other cases they eventually authorize the settlements and allow the construction of urban infrastructure, so that they can gradually become regular parts of the city.
In rural areas, the main way to address the problem that a narrow elite controls all the land and exacts extortionate rents from the peasants or sharecroppers, is some kind of land reform. In some cases, as in South Korea, Taiwan, and Kerala (a state in Southwest India), such land reforms have had great success, creating a class of small farmers who own the land they till, and make a reasonable living on it. In other cases, land reforms failed for a variety of reasons. Land reform can also involve a strategy of creating either state farms or collective farms, as happened in most communist countries. Since the wide-ranging reforms in China beginning in the late 1970s, and the dissolution of the communist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, very few state farms still exist. Many state as well as collective farms were divided up into private holdings, but others decided to continue operating as collective farms in order to share equipment, spread risk, and allow vacations for their members. These experiments have led to different outcomes in different places, though well-managed ones have been highly successful for their members. In Brazil, the Landless Workers Movement has attempted to take land reform into its own hands by occupying unused land belonging to large landholders, taking an advantage of a constitutional provision that obliges owners of agricultural land to make use of their property. Many of these formerly landless people have been able to build up sustainable livelihoods as a result of these occupations. Similar occupations have also occurred in many other countries, with vastly differing degrees of success (and vastly differing responses of the state).
While selling people as slaves is nowadays illegal, renting yourself is legal – in effect, when one works for a wage or salary, one is renting oneself to one's employer. This relationship is typically highly unequal, in that the alternative to employment for the majority of employees is a drastic reduction in income or no income at all, while the employer is merely forced to look for somebody else to do the job. Alternatives to selling one's labor as an employee include various forms of self-employment, or joining others to create a partnership or a cooperative. Workers form unions and otherwise push for improved rights of workers in order to strengthen their bargaining positions.
Leasing consumer goods
William McDonough, Michael Braungart and others promoting the “cradle-to-cradle” concept that goods should be designed to be fully recyclable as well as long-lived, have suggested that manufacturers should not sell the goods they produce, but instead lease them. The rationale is that a seller of a good wants to sell as many items as possible, and therefore has an interest in the buyers throwing that good away after a fairly short period of time in order to buy a replacement. This has led to “planned obsolescence” where goods are designed to break down after a certain period of time, or are built in such a way that it is almost impossible and very expensive to replace parts or to upgrade the equipment with components of a newer model (e.g., to install faster chips in old computers), or fashions are made to change very frequently so that the old models no longer seem up to date. If consumers instead leased long-lived items, along with a service contract, the leases of goods that last long and that require few repairs would be cheaper than those of goods that do not last and require many repairs. Lease contracts of this kind do exist for some goods (e.g., office photocopiers, commercial airplanes), but are not commonly used for most consumer items. Their potential as an incentive to promote better design is worth exploring.
Approaches to creating greater abundance
sharing economy examples
- car sharing
- couch surfing
traditional sharing examples
taxation and redistribution of income
- social services
- public provision of infrastructure
- public education
conventional renting – other than land and real estate
- machinery and equipment
- party supplies
land and real estate
- public housing
- legal protections for renters, including rent control
Conrad, Jessica, and On the Commons. 2014. Sharing Revolution: The Essential Economics of the Commons.
Ecobasa – an effort to build a global gift economy
Shareable and Sustainable Economies Law Center. 2013. Policies for Shareable Cities: A Sharing Economy Policy Primer for Urban Leaders.
Sharewiki: a wiki about sharing
Miemis, Vanessa, January 8, 2012: 93+ Superhero Schools, Collaboratories, Incubators, Accelerators & Hubs for Social & Tech Innovation. On Emergent by Design.
to be added: sites on co-housing, car sharing
Member Links and Publications
Burns, Rebecca. January 27, 2014. The Sharing Hype: Do companies like Lyft and Airbnb help democratize the economy? Interview with David Golumbia, Neal Gorenflo, and the Solidarity NYC Collective. In These Times.
Harris, Malcolm. 2011. Share or Die: Youth in Recession. Shareable. Mountain View, California: CommonSource.
Makwana, Rajesh. 2014. Global Justice, Sustainability, and the Sharing Economy. Argues that "sharing" has to go far beyond sharing of inessential items among individuals.
Mauss, Marcel. 1967. The Gift: forms and functions of exchange in archaic societies. New York: Norton. Originally published in French, Essai sur le Don, 1924.
McDonough, William, and Michael Braungart. 2002. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things.
Oltermann, Philip. 17 March 2014. Berlin "borrowing shop" promotes the benefits of sharing. The Guardian. The site of the shop: Leila (in German).
Orsi, Janelle, and Emily Doskow. 2009. The Sharing Solution: How to save money, simplify your life & build community. New York: North Point Press.
Packard, Vance. 1960. The Waste Makers. New York: D. McKay Co.
Walljasper, Jay, and On the Commons. 2010. All That We Share: A field guide to the commons. New York and London: the New Press.
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