Global capitalism is a wasteful system that produces way too much stuff and uses too much energy shipping that stuff all over world, causing problems ranging from global warming and pollution to trade deficits and exploitation of workers. It certainly makes sense to facilitate more local economic transactions, include peer-to-peer transfers of services, goods, and other resources.
So there is real potential for social and environmental good in the so-called sharing economy that we again cover in this issue (see “Renting isn’t sharing”). But there are also important concerns about equity, access, honesty, and transparency that are being raised within the movement and by its outside critics.
The sharing economy is at a crucial crossroads right now, facing rising demands for government regulation. Yet the greedy self-interest of wealthy investors and the young company executives they fund is threatening to subvert what really could develop into an important movement.
So it’s time for Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, and other local companies to finally come clean with San Francisco and other cities in which they operate, pay their taxes, take responsibility for their impacts, and engage in an honest public dialogue about how to promote what’s best about their companies and minimize the harm they’re doing.
It’s been over two years since the San Francisco Tax Collector’s Office ruled that Airbnb should be paying the city’s transient occupancy tax on the short-term rentals it facilitates, which the company simply refused to do, abetted by Mayor Ed Lee and other powerful supporters.
That’s bad corporate behavior that is an insult to the values espoused within the sharing economy. Now that Airbnb has legislation it helped craft that would legalize and regulate its activities, it has finally agreed to start collecting and paying that tax sometime this summer.
That’s not good enough. Airbnb should pay its back taxes — at least going back two years, or even further if it wants to be a good corporate citizen — before City Hall considers legalizing its disruptions to the local housing market. All the players involved should also be open to a full and open discussion about short-term rentals this summer, with the possibility of substantial changes in the proposed legislation.
The sharing economy genie is out of the bottle and it’s not reasonable to think San Francisco can stop home- or ride-sharing at this point. There are too many people that value these services and they do have benefits. But it’s time to have a more full and honest debate over reasonable regulations that will serve as a model for other cities.
Learning to share and make better use of limited resources is an important goal that could indeed lead to new economic models, but the perversion of that term by greedy capitalists such as Ron Conway is an insult to the shared progressive values of San Francisco.