Like our ancestors before us, we live in a world regularly disrupted by technological advances and human ingenuity. Whether through Galileo’s advances in observational astronomy, the battle to repeal the Corn Laws or the mechanisation of the mills, genuine progress has always faced resistance from the established order. It is testament to the power of the Internet age that such significant changes now occur at an unprecedented pace. The journey from Copernicus to Galileo took a century; the journey from the first email to the first video call took but a fraction of this time.
A significant, potentially transformational aspect of the modern digital age is the Sharing Economy. Best defined as a range of new business models based on Internet and mobile services, the Sharing Economy facilitates the renting of goods and services, allowing individuals to monetise under-utilised assets and time. Until the recent advent of widespread internet usage, platforms that enable peer-to-peer sharing and commerce have not been viable.
The Sharing Economy is, above all, characterised by its flexibility. New actors may now enter markets with far greater ease than before. Airbnb for example, allows individuals to easily rent out spare spaces via a website and mobile application Introduction (app). Furthermore, since the product or service is based as much around intellectual property as it is around physical property, and because the available market is only limited by mass internet usage, many traditional barriers to business development evaporate.
This presents an array of challenges for policy-makers. Regulation has consistently lagged behind the rapid evolution of the Sharing Economy, hindering the government’s ability to harness such change in its favour. In addition, policymakers now face the political consequences of tackling angry and noisy vested interests who feel their traditional market dominance is being infringed upon.
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