Friday, 27 January 2017

Book Review - Against "On the Move with Uber", Chapter 4 of What's Yours Is Mine:Against the Sharing Economy" by Tom Slee

Tom Slee, a self-acknowledged resident of Kitchener-Waterloo has written a book. It’s called “What’s Yours Is Mine” and  the subtitle is “Against the Sharing Economy.” In case his position on the Sharing Economy is not yet clear, let's clarify: he’s against it. Still, he is locally aware enough to note that co-operative carshare Community Carshare was founded in Kitchaner in 1998. But this reference features as a mere link to the bigger fish he has to fry, such as Uber and Zipcar which, Slee notes, “brought a new ambition to the [carsharing] space" [p.51]. Coupled with his description of co-operative carshares as “around for some time” it seems the fact that some carshares are non-profit co-operatives and some, as he notes, are for-profit, is peripheral to his larger purpose and co-operative carshares are even, perhaps, one gathers, a little dated. 

It would be unfair to Slee,whose gaze in the text is much wider than carshares, especially given the relative recentness of the development, to point out that Community Carshare has by now spread to several Ontario cities including Hamiton, London and Guelph among others. Thus, lack of ambition is at this point hardly a justifiable carshare characterization. Furthermore, carshare co-op Modo, in Vancouver, predated Commmunity Carshare and has been operating successfully since 1997. The point is that non-profit co-operative carshares work, are growing and are different from the Ubers and Zipcars of this world that are the automobile game that Slee rightly hunts, at least in part.

A complete assessment of Slee’s ambitious and timely work exceeds the horizon of this review but the main point here is this: there is a philosophical and political difference between non-profit co-operative organizations, be they carshares or anything else, and for-profit corporate entities like Uber and Zipcar. The former value community and non-exploitation, the latter: money and profit, as the purpose of their activity. The one builds social solidarity, the other is part of the mainstream capitalist economy where exchange assets (aka money) are the goal. This is a crucial difference that Slee passes over without comment in his apparent haste to diss "carsharing", be it real or reductively semantic. 

At which point this reviewer must declare his own strings attached, as a co-founder of TorontotheBetter, a worker co-op and Toronto's original online social economy hub, and a long time member of Community Carshare (once on its board). But when one’s own “interest” is, as in a non-profit, in NOT having  a financial interest then perhaps this represents an effective “divestment”  of the kind a certain U.S. president refuses to make. 

In ending I invite Tom Slee to meet us at Community  Carshare in Kitchener to learn more about how non-profit co-operative carsharing differs from the so-called “Sharing Economy” trend that he rightly critiques in this important text. At the same time we encourage him to ponder some of the many new principled economic alternatives available, and growing, particularly after the latest breakdown of the mainstream neo-liberal marketplace in 2008. To echo the still important and valid sentiment of the 2001 World Social Forum “another world is possible”. And in enterprises like Community Carshare, it is real, not merely possible.                
               Reviewed by TorontotheBetter'sTaodhg [Tim] Burns
 By the way,  if you want to buy the book that is the subject of this review send an email to with Sleebook as the Subject  

1 comment:

Taodhg said...

Thanks to Tom for taking up our invite and meeting with Community Carshare. There is much we could do together to create an opportunity to replace "false sharers" with the real thing.