The Sharing Economy: The End of Employment and the Rise of Crowd-Based Capitalism. (2016) Arun Sundararajan. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 240 pp., $26.95 (Hardcover), ISBN 978-0-262-03457
College of Management Advising
Metropolitan State University, St. Paul, MN
The economy is undergoing a radical shift the likes of which have not been seen since the industrial revolution, or so suggests Arun Sundararajan in this ambitious work. Sundararajan attempts to outline the emergence of what he terms the “sharing economy:” a market-based phenomenon characterized by the efficient use of capital, crowd-based networks supplanting traditional business hierarchies, a shrinking distinction between personal and professional life, and a greater ambiguity surrounding what employment means. The author presents real world cases as embodying this shift. Airbnb, for example, facilitates peer-to-peer lodging arrangements. An empty home becomes a source of income for the owner and the tenant has a comfortable place to stay. Through Airbnb, the customer can view a variety of different lodging options online, each representing a unique individual’s home, unlike a hotel chain. The extent to which this arrangement represents employment for the homeowner can vary and this ambiguity is a hallmark of the sharing economy. This and other similar services are changing the way people think about longstanding practices; e.g., rather than allowing a car to sit in a parking lot during the work day, it could be rented out. These changes, according to Sundararajan, merely gesture toward more radical shifts on the horizon, where traditional economic exchange might be replaced altogether.
Sundararajan does not address higher education directly, but the book does have some import for advisors. If, as the author argues, there is a blurring of professional boundaries, advisors could encounter more advisee resistance to policies and practices that depend on these boundaries. In a world where convenient modes of communication are exploding, advisors will need to maintain an awareness of policies like the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and understand the pitfalls of applying it in a shifting landscape. Additionally, this blurring underscores the importance of maintaining a dialogue about navigating the dangers of dual-relationships when working with advisees who might be less inclined to respect the difference between professional and personal roles. Sundararajan’s book also has implications for advising students who will soon enter the workforce. With the ever growing need for career advising, advisors would do well to maintain an awareness of economic trends. Expertise on economic trends is clearly beyond the scope of advising, but a general awareness of important industry changes would allow advisors to speak with greater authority to students eager to know more about the work world they will encounter. More specifically, advisors working with students studying hospitality, entrepreneurship, and other fields more clearly connected to these changes could benefit.
This book is likely worth reading for advisors wishing to bolster their understanding of the way in which student attitudes might evolve in the coming years and understand the trends new graduates will encounter. Nevertheless, Sundararajan’s work is deceptively terse and some of the longer sections, like the chapter outlining bitcoin and the discussion of block chains, could strike advisors as too specialized to be worth their time. Perhaps more concerning is that Sundararajan’s optimism is dependent upon access to internet access. A 2016 report by the World Bank states that “nearly 60% of the world’s population remain offline,” and this division is largely based on wealth. More of an effort to address how these communities could be impacted would have been helpful, and surely relevant for advisors working with underserved communities.
World Bank. (2016). World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends. Retrieved from http://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/wdr2016