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The Whatchamacallit Economy

The Whatchamacallit Economy

It’s a hip, fast-growing sector of the economy, filled with headline-grabbing companies: Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, Task Rabbit. But there’s a gnawing problem: People aren’t sure what to call it. Many critics dislike the term most commonly used, the “sharing economy,” because there often isn’t much actual sharing going on. Others prefer to call it the on-demand economy, peer-to-peer economy, crowd-based economy, gig economy or collaborative economy.

Uber, Lyft and other e-hailing companies love to say they are “ride-sharing companies,” signaling that they are collaborative and not crassly capitalistic. These companies maintain that their drivers share their cars with passengers and use apps to share information about where they are. But many academics and workers in this sector assert that the business model seems less like sharing than like traditional corporate profit-making that happens to use an app.

Rochelle LaPlante, who works for Mechanical Turk, an internet platform for people to post and find piecework jobs, sees public relations spin behind the term “sharing economy.” “There’s an exchange of money,” she said. “It’s not really sharing if a person’s paying for it.”

Her point: If you’re living in San Francisco and you want to drive to Palo Alto and take a friend with you (perhaps splitting the cost of gas), that’s ride sharing. But if you take an Uber to get to Palo Alto, that seems more like a taxi ride.

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