Americans’ normative understanding of work is imploding. Throughout most of the twentieth century Americans equated landing a job to a lifetime of smooth sailing. In recent decades, faith in gainful employment has collapsed, and other models are emerging to fill the void. The peer economy is one such model.
Whether by radio, by newspaper or by screen, you cannot miss it. Stories abound about hobbyists who sell crafts on Etsy. Dwellers use Airbnb to rent out parts of their living space to travelers. Ordinary people who use their cars as private drivers for a few hours a day. This is the peer economy. At its base are online, peer-to-peer marketplaces that enable people to monetize skills and assets they already have. Peer economy platforms equip suppliers or providers with tools that empower them to transact with strangers and, in turn, depend on these transactions for ongoing income.
I lay out the expanse of the peer economy and why it is so exciting. The flexibility of working in the peer economy brings in many people who are defined out of the traditional workplace—homecarers, the elderly, the mentally disabled, alongside the underemployed college graduate. Powering this momentum on a macro level are investors, companies, corporations, scholars, policymakers, and more. On the micro-level, however, there are very real risks, and I will detail known problems in the space, including tax remittance, regulatory skirmishes, liability, and operational costs.
Finally, the peer economy’s expanse is also why it is so confusing. Peer economy, sharing economy, collaborative economy, crowdsourcing… liberal use of these terms have led to widespread misunderstandings. I suggest that inaccurate terminology leaves the peer economy vulnerable to criticism and peer economy users in limbo as policy begins to take shape.