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Interest is Rising in Cooperative Alternatives to the "Sharing Economy"

BY Micah L. Sifry | Tuesday, March 17 2015

Trebor Scholz, Sara Horowitz, Nathan Schneider, Saket Soni, Caroline Woolard, Douglas Rushkoff (l-r) at Civic Hall

If last week's turnout at Civic Hall is any indication, a lot of people--technologists as well as organizers--are interested in figuring out how the 21st century economy can be built on more cooperative and less exploitative principles than the libertarian "gig economy" exemplified by companies like TaskRabbit and Uber.

Folks came out for a panel discussion called "Think Outside the Boss: Cooperative Alternatives to the Sharing Economy," which was triggered by a thought-provoking essay in Medium by Trebor Scholz, a professor at The New School. He wrote:

...just for one moment imagine that the algorithmic heart of any of these citadels of anti-unionism could be cloned and brought back to life under a different ownership model, with fair working conditions, as a humane alternative to the free market model. Take, for example, Uber’s app, with all its geolocation and ride ordering capabilities. Why do its owners and investors have to be the main benefactors of such platform-based labor brokerage? Developers, in collaboration with local, worker-owner cooperatives could design such a self-contained program for mobile phones.

It was with those sentiments in mind that Trebor and I sat down for coffee several weeks ago, and decided to pull together a panel to explore these ideas further. With the help of media theorist (and longtime PDM friend) Douglas Rushkoff, who is now teaching Media Studies at Queens College, we recruited Sara Horowitz, the founder of the Freelancers Union; Saket Soni, the executive director of the National Guestworkers Alliance; Caroline Woolard, an artist and organizer who co-founded the coops TradeSchool and OurGoods; and Nathan Schneider, the author of Thank You, Occupy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse.

The resulting conversation probably raised more questions than it answered, but many in the audience made clear that they wanted to keep it going. So, stay tuned as we work on a follow-up gathering. In the meantime, here's the video of Scholz's opening talk and the panel discussion that followed -- and if you want to follow along in real-time, check out these live notes from Microsoft's Matt Stempeck, who was in the audience.