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Tragedy of the commons

June 28,2019
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JEON YOUNG-SEON
The author is an industrial team reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

A few days ago, I saw an electric scooter from a sharing service abandoned in front of Exit 4 of Apgujeong Station in southern Seoul. A customer used it and did not return it properly. I found a bicycle at the same spot the next day. The scooter must have been collected by the service operator.

When discussing sharing economy, the prospects and big numbers are often mentioned. I have grown tired of countless discussions on what sharing economy means. If I have to summarize, it began from the idea of sharing already produced goods as needed to reduce waste and save the earth. The slogan “transition from ownership to access” projects the impression that it is an evolved economic model.

But as the abandoned bicycle showed, humans do not share well not because there is no effective linking system. The biggest factor is human greed. The greed is nothing special. It is the moral hazard that can be experienced when sharing clothes with siblings when growing up. It can be summed up as not taking care of things diligently while hoping for optimal conditions when using them. Even between siblings, sharing doesn’t work well.

Once trivial greed becomes a factor, realizing the ideal of the sharing economy to benefit both users and intermediaries, and the society as a whole, becomes problematic. In order to prevent it, the intermediary adds devices and increases the management fee. In the end, sharing becomes just as expensive as owning.

Earnings distribution among the users, providers and intermediaries is not fair. The intermediary either becomes the winner of the game by realizing a successful model or fails. In the Uber business model, users enjoy convenience and drivers get a job, but the intermediary benefits the most. Just as renting a home instead of owning is necessarily good, you should give up the expectation that users will enjoy increased benefits from sharing.

It is meaningless to deny that business models are changing. But what benefits society the most is questionable. Quality jobs in certain areas are decreasing, while new opportunities arise elsewhere. In the waves of change, it is certain that many will drown and die.
Before the changes, we need time to learn to swim, but I am worried if it is possible.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 27, Page 29