Living and Dying on Airbnb
Zak Stone

The calculus of supposedly “sharing economy” businesses is no different than that of GM or Toyota calculating the cost of recalls vs. that of lives lost. Only in the case of Internet startups, the refusal to accept any responsibility for liability or human costs is a philosophy — an ethos — embedded into the platform itself.

The net has given investors a new way to extract value from people and places, by setting those “peers” against one another. The more you extract, the worse the economy gets, and the more obligated everyone is to participate or go broke. (You could at least be driving an Uber, right? Or renting out your house?)

Of course, participation in any of these p2p platforms is ultimately a losing game. Drive for Uber, and you’re really just doing r&d for a self-driving car system that won’t include you in the profits. Rent through AirBnB, and you’re surrendering centuries of public safety development and returning to the standards of the late middle ages. The company gets the same or better profits than Hyatt or Hilton, without providing the service, accepting the risk, or actually doing anything. Imagine, again, if the peers owned the platform instead of AirBNB. They would have a stake in the long term viability of the properties and community. AirBNB only has to last long enough for the “flip” to its next set of shareholders.

Meanwhile, the supposed trust of the community is something that really doesn’t happen in a set of entirely long-distance relationships between people from very different place. Especially not when the platform itself does more to break bonds between community members than forge them. People living in the same building with an AirBNB host know what it’s like to lose a neighbor to a business plan.

Safety codes distinguishing residences from hotels are not a communist plot, but a response to the illnesses, infections, fires and, yes, deaths that result from the commercial exploitation of personal property.

Brilliantly written, Zak — especially under the circumstances.