The Sharable Economy and American Dream 2.0

The shareable economy is home to some of the most inspiring practices and promising tools to help everyday Americans earn money, save money and create jobs. Collectively, we call these shareable approaches the “American Dream 2.0,” a set of solutions to rebuild the American Dream using new technology and practices. 

The old American Dream promoted individual consumption; the new one could be based on collaborative consumption. Essentially, the shareable economy is about taking an old-fashioned “barn raising” social approach to the problems that we face, bringing people together to solve problems collectively as a “nation of neighbors.” By deliberately birthing “friend and favor” economies at the local level, the 99 percent can help to reinvent the American Dream itself.

The shareable economy is comprised of technologies and practices that center on barter, gift, direct exchange, and peer-to-peer loans. These include high-tech solutions such as Kickstarter and Kiva, platforms that support crowd-sourced funding and people-powered finance. It also includes “high-touch” solutions such as “resilience circles,” which are small, face-to-face support groups. Members of resilience circles help each other meet unmet needs by offering each other their skills, talents, resources, and unused time. Such circles enable people to achieve their American dreams by helping one another.

There are countless sources of inspiration, from the success of farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture (CSAs) to peer-to-peer marketplaces like Etsy (for handmade goods) and Airbnb (for accommodations), and even peer-to-peer lending services such as Prosper, Lending Club, and Zopa.

Through Airbnb, anyone with a spare room can now earn extra money by renting out their space. Through Kiva, the poorest of the poor can now have access to the capital needed to start a small business. Through Culture Kitchen, immigrant women can earn an income by teaching others to cook in the style of their homeland. Having discovered that the average American uses her or his car just 8 percent of the time, new platforms like Getaround, RelayRides, and Zimride have sprung up to enable the sharing of autos owned by individuals. Some users of RelayRides make enough to offset their car payment each month.  

The local living economy is championed by the Business Alliance of Local Living Economies (BALLE) and its sister organization, the Social Venture Network (SVN). Cooperative economics can be a cornerstone for building community power. 

The Movement Vision Lab’s Sally Kohn wrote about a successful effort in a June 2011 edition of the Nation:

One prime example of a viable economic alternative model is the $80 million “community economy” created by the Alliance to Develop Power, in western Massachusetts. It all started with housing. ADP was organizing public housing residents to demand that basic safety and repair standards be met. In 1995 some leaders realized that the law allowed nonprofits to buy federal properties to keep them affordable. Today ADP owns twelve hundred units of housing, structured as tenant-run cooperatives. Meanwhile, in 1997, when going over the budget for its first housing cooperative, ADP member Terry Allen was shocked by the sizable line item for landscaping. “Why don’t we mow the lawn ourselves?” he asked. So ADP started a member-run landscaping business, a worker center for immigrant day laborers and several food co-ops. Today, 106 people are employed in ADP’s community economy and, perhaps most notably, their economy continued to grow even when the national economy contracted. This year there will be fifteen new jobs for ADP members to fill, weatherizing homes with money secured from the local utility company through an organizing campaign.

There are other smaller, local initiatives that are also promising. In the Boston area, activist Chuck Collins has pioneered Common Security Clubs, which are small group gatherings focused on learning, mutual aid, and social action. 

Although the sharable economy has great potential, its share of the total economy is still very small—greatly below its vast potential. The 99 percent can help to scale and popularize “shareable economy” tools to drive sustainable and collaborative consumption by working together to facilitate innovation, entrepreneurship, and build distribution systems to tackle their economic and financial problems together.