Thursday, September 12, 2013


James Surowiecki has an insightful column on the sharing economy ("Uber Alles") in the Sep 16 New Yorker.

Owning is no longer all it's cracked up to be. There is a lot of slack in what is owned but not used. Much of the not-in-use stuff can now be shared because, thanks to the internet, transactions costs are falling.  People are OK not owning but sharing/renting. Re the signaling model, he cites NYU Prof. Ann Sundararajan, "Instead of being tied to owning one car, I can drive twenty different ones." There is a signal!

There will always be the lobbyists and their regulator buddies to slow things down.  Re the one-million dollar price of a NYC taxi medallion, economists have been saying all along that regulators can reasonably regulate safety without closing the market. Well look at this: "If these companies become more established, they’ll have to reach some kind of accommodation with regulators, perhaps along the lines of rules that California’s Public Utilities Commission recently proposed, which would let Sidecar, Lyft, and Uber operate if they implement certain safety and driver regulations."

For 2011, the ACS reports there were 138.3 million U.S. workers, of which 76.4% drove to work alone. Transportation planners rue all of the "wasted" empty seats being driven around. But that's the wrong question. Carpooling has high transactions costs but Surowiecki reminds us that car-sharing has transactions costs that many people are surmounting.