Sunday, 29 May 2016

NOW Toronto, the "Trading Economy" and the New Commons - The Post-Occupy economy:Part 2

Perhaps in part as moral sanctification for its own ad-crowded "FREE NEWSPAPER" model, now almost universal in  the industry, Toronto's NOW Magazine, ever in search of a cool trend, in its May 26 2016 issue devoted its front page to what it calls the new trading economy. For all the compromises NOW, as a news magazine, must engage in in 2016, this recognition of emergent, let's call them "para-capitalist" economic trends  is important. A sizable portion of the population in all countries is now made up of 20-something  millenials with the baggage of high expectations, stay-in-school parental messaging and precarious employment. Ignoring the independent demographic variable of a large baby-boom generation dominating jobs still, the reality behind what is a substantive economic transformation, albeit a still "alternative" and largely sub-cultural one, is global economic inequality. The 2008 financial meltdown, its subsequent reactive Occcupy movement and lingering eocnomic inertia are evidence of the base behind the sociocultural superstructure TorontotheBetter and NOW are highlighting.

** How far we have come: with Canada's out of time former prime minister Stephen Harper, and now, thankfully, out of place, it is worth noting that TorontotheBetter began online in 2004 in an era of triumphalist neo-liberalism to make the point that economic models based on solidarity values, rather than "rational" individual self-interest, were both realistic and real. In 2016 the whole edifice of neoliberalism is under theoretical onslaught and some of its outlying stuctures are crumbling. Multiple collective forms, be they co-operatives, "benefit corporations" or online exchange fora, germinate and grow, accelerated by the key technological catalyst that is the World Wide Web. What is emerging is what TorontotheBetter sees as a new commons in which, as in the medieval version all "commoners" can contribute and beneft. That the venerable public library, as rightly featured in Carla Gillis' "Sharing Is Caring" section in Now, can vanguard this new economy is only one startling trend likely unnoticed by many in Canada's political and economic elites. In fact it was possibly prescient that one of  Toronto's municipal Ford clan took on public libraries as a threat to his Toronto. To point out that TorontotheBetter itself came from a co-operative with many of its occuppational roots in libraries could be seen as rubbing it in, but sometimes there is no alternative.              

All "new's" are usually of course "old's" too, and the barter, gift, and no-money behaviours of many of today's young (motivated, as in all  previous versons of the phenomenon by necessity), as cited in Now's article appeared in the multiple depressions, including the Great one of the last century. So there is a fair amount of same old in this new, but the whole here is in fact greater than  the parts. Together these trends point to a societal evolution that is puttting practical flesh to  what has been up until recently a preserve of conceptual futurists. This is the evolution from the private property dominated economy empowered by the land enclosures of the late 18th century to a post-private economy model, in which collective ownership is understood by increasing numbers, irrespective of their ideogical launch position, as more productive than its now increasingly outmoded, because narrow, predecessor. This is what Paul  Mason in an important recent overview published in 2015 calls "Post-capitalism" [to be reviewed in this space in future weeks]. Copies of his book may be purchased from TorontotheBetter for a respectable discount from the $31.50 list price - by emailing with "postcapitaism" in the subject line..

NOTE TO READERS: We are not fiully beyond old style trading yet, though at our discretion we will accept goods and/or ideas as well as money in this case. For the  record TorontotheBetter's book sales division offers discounts comparable to Amazon, but unlike that, yes "amazon" we are a locally based unionized worker co-op, so your feel good/do good factor should be higher than if you succumb to Amazon.                        

Friday, 20 May 2016

On Uber: How sharing is "the sharing economy"? - The Post-Occupy economy:Part 1

With the last most serious for a long, long time collapse of the mainstream economy in 2008, from which societies around the world have still not recovered, a whole set of alternative economic models once again (few of these are genuinely new) have been judged worthy of public discussion and in some cases behaviourally implemented. One such change idea addresses that most iconic pillar of North American adulthood: the privately owned, and used, car. 

In 2016 carsharing" has become an increasingly prominent fact of life in many cties. The young, in particular, for a variety of reasons including financial (limited budgets) and cultural (the relative unimportance to many millennials of cars compared to smartphones), are making personal automobile ownership a deferred option rather than an adolescent rite/right. In the meantime young professionals, and many others in inner cities, where car ownership is increasingly fraught, are exploring alternatives. Biking has returned as a viable personal travel mode for some. Sharing cars is another. And there we find two versions - what we may call "sharing cars" (e.g. Uber) and carsharing as in Community Carshare, Kitchener based Ontrario's first, in 1998, Commun-Auto, the equivalent in Quebec, and many others around the world.   
Image result for carsharing

The Uber taxi application has recently been prominent in injecting this  topic into media attention. But Uber is being increasingly referred to as an example of the so-called "sharing economy" that has emerged since the Great Recession of 2008. It can  be argued that Uber is an example of a less wasteful economy, since data show that most private automobiles spend most of their time idle in parking lots or garages and even when driven cover less than 2 kilometers per trip. Why not make cars available to others at times when it would otherwise be idle?  

Well, if environmental concerns are key priorities at this time, then it may be that the car does more social good by being driven less, not more. And since Uber drivers are being paid for driving then arguably the Uber application adds to pollution by motivating more use.  For the same reason the use of the word "sharing" to describe Uber, is, if not consciously misleading, then definitely inaccurate. What is happening with Uber is in fact private care rental, not sharing at all, and therefore Uber represents nothing new or progressive in addressing our polluted and individualistic North American culture.

But if Uber is not the answer to anything there is another option that is genuinely creative and proigressive. It's called "carsharing" and it is growing dramatically in Ontario and elsewhere since it emerged as a non-profit co-operative in Kitchener-Waterloo in 1998. Carsharing requires a community group who commit to using a number of in common cars in their neighbourhood on a more or less occasional basis. They pay a membership fee and adopt a governance model for managing the fleet. Some of these enterprises are for-profit, others, like Community Carshare, are not. Some, again like  Community Carshare, are co-operatives, and some, like Autoshare in Toronto, are not. Some, like the now worldwide Zipcars, are corporate for profit businesses, others are not. What they have in common is the provision of car use convenience at a time when traditional models of private ownership are more and more challenged. What potential users should reflect on before becoming carsharers is what form of carsharing contributes to a better society for all. At least one of the primary original  benefits of carsharing has is to reduce the number of cars on our roads, and thus to reduce the toll in injury, death and pollution that accompany car  use. But there are  others, like community development, social solidarity, respect and conservation,

Based on the values they represent, TorontotheBetter has invited some, but not all, area car sharing organizations, to join us since early in our existence, 10 years ago. Most 21st century lives require car use from time to time, Carsharing, has at least made the way we use the car an open question for a increasing numbers of citizens. 

PLEASE NOTE: in the interests of full disclosure the writer of this post was formerly a member of the board of People's Car, now Community Carshare, of which he is a member, but currently has no position in , or derives any financial benefit, thereby.