David Bollier: Kevin Kelly’s sharing economy is limited to market forms

On the Internet, a great deal of value exists as a verb. It exists only in the context of a lively social community. Now try telling your economics professor to plug that one into his spreadsheet!

Our friend David Bollier also read Kevin Kelly’s piece on the sharing economy, and asks, but why is his vision limited to market forms?

David Bollier:

“I think Kelly is conflating the words price and value, when in fact, they may be very different things. I may value something with a high price, but I may also value something that has no price at all (the social community that revolves around this website; the submissions to my favorite wikis). Price may influence our feelings about ownership, but maybe the most important questions to ask do not involve price or ownership, but about value: What do we value, and how do we express it?

Kelly seems to assume that markets are the chief arena in which value expresses itself (via prices), and that the things that are “free” (i.e., available at no cost) are not worth owning and therefore have negligible value. For Kelly, the “sharing economy” consists of leasing, licensing, time-sharing and subscribing – types of “shared ownership.” (And he is correct that the rental economy, or shared ownership in this sense, constitutes an enormous fraction of the economy.)

But it’s worth pondering the other “sharing economy” that has nothing to do with market transactions. Precisely because the sharing that occurs in a commons cannot be assigned a price or quantified, its value-creation is conceptually invisible. It is off-the-books, at least by the terms of Kelly’s blog post.

Yet this sector is enormously large in its own right and growing. Moreover, as numerous commentators like Yochai Benkler have pointed out, commons-based innovations are performing some serious economic production – either as a substitute for markets or as raw or winnowed feedstock for the market. Think how viral videos and music are often snapped up by commercial film studios and record labels, saving them the enormous costs of identifying and developing new product and amassing a customer base.”

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