Taking on Bill Maher: Who benefits from the sharing economy?

Bill Maher recently went on a rant about the sharing economy. Our friends at the Free State Foundation have posted a response: “Bill Maher Does Not Understand the Sharing Economy.” Here are two key points in their rebuttal:

The shift from owning to renting benefits consumers with lower incomes:

Due to the accountability and transparency that many sharing applications provide about their users, the emergence of trust between individuals to share their goods and services has shifted consumer preferences from owning to renting. People who could not afford to own a house, car, or even a power saw can now more easily rent them from others and ultimately enjoy a higher standard of living than they would have otherwise. Additionally, people who would have owned a car or power saw in the past might now rent them instead, saving a significant portion of their income.

Of course, consumers with high-incomes gain from the sharing economy as well. But the savings accumulated from a shift in owning to renting is more valuable to consumers with lower incomes. In economic terms, this is the law of diminishing marginal returns. All else being equal, each dollar earned is valued less than the previous one.

The sharing economy creates entrepreneurial opportunities for poor people that would not exist otherwise:

Similarly, low-income consumers who already own goods that can be rented out stand to gain more from these transactions than high-income consumers. The extra income from sharing a car with someone is much more valuable to a poor college student than it is to a wealthy professional. Airbnb, for example, makes traveling less expensive, not only because it provides competition – and often lower prices – to traditional hotels, but also because travelers can share their living space while away. In other words, as a result of the sharing economy, the same traveler on the same trip may realize economic benefits in his or her capacity as both a lessor and lessee.


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