After the Gold Rush

5 years on and the enchantment with the “Sharing Economy” is over. Many who set out on the initial journey did not make it, and for now, only very few found gold.

When the pioneers ventured to California in search of gold in the in the 1800s, they were heading into the unknown. Seduced by the promise of wealth and abundance for all, thousands of migrant workers left their homes behind for this quest, losing many comrades on the way. And when they finally reached the promised land, they realized there was almost no gold at all, or at least not where they expected it.

Why did they set out on their journey in the first place? Financial opportunity? Fleeing failing economies? Curiosity? Purpose? While their reasons were likely as diverse as the people themselves, these explorers did have one thing in common: they were leaving something behind in the hope for a better life, freedom, and abundance.

‘Look at Mother Nature on the run’

When in 2011 TIME magazine proclaimed Collaborative Consumption (recently mostly referred to as the Sharing Economy) as one of the top 10 ideas that will change the world, it set high expectations for this nascent movement. After harsh times of economic downturn, it was believed to be able to address social, environmental and economic problems all at once. To idealists it appeared like a salvation. To opportunists, the moment they‘d been waiting for.

Now we can only look back fondly at those early times of abounding, and possibly naive, excitement and hope for these new models. For now, it appears only few are benefitting from the abundance of value that has been created by communities and entrepreneurs worldwide – few organizations that are starting to look suspiciously similar to those they were disrupting – or worse? The gold rush was not profitable for many who set out on the initial journey. And the biggest sacks of gold are going to those providing the picks, shovels and infrastructure, those fueling the gold rush itself.

After the Gold Rush OuiShare Fest

photo credit: Distant Echoes via photopin (license)

‘Don’t let it bring you down’

Yet the problems we had hoped to solve still remain and are growing: refugee crisis, climate change, inequalities. Many are humbly trying to address these challenges, but their social impact is still too small and the value they create is not evenly distributed. Furthermore, the majority of entrepreneurs and innovators are choosing legal, financial and governance structures for their ventures that privilege financial investors only and often fuel the system they are trying to change.

But now is not the moment to despair. The pioneers in the American West may have been disappointed in their quest for gold, but instead they found something else. They arrived in a Promised Land, where they could start over and build something new. The gold rush stimulated trade, spurred technological innovation and ushered in America’s railroad era.

‘Heart of Gold’

What is impactful about a gold rush is not its promise, but the movement it creates and the place it leads us to. And once we have arrived there, what matters most is what we choose to make of it with the people that have come there with us.

We’ve made the journey all the way here, so now let’s have the courage to settle and build ourselves a home we want to live in.

Do you? Then we invite you to join us at the next OuiShare Fest in Paris.

For some musical inspiration, check out Neil Young’s album and song After the Gold Rush.

Photocredit: Andrew J. Russell via Wikimedia

  • Paul Bristow

    The sharing economy started with sharing physical goods – it only seemed to work around the edges of the old economy. Now we need to create the models for the new economy. Some way to facilitate the building of ad hoc teams for commons based projects where we all get paid according to the value we bring, perhaps? This new, decentralised innovation model of networks of individuals needs to work at internet speed and scale if we’re to build a new economy. And we need to find a way for non-freelancers and non-entrepreneurs to participate – not everyone is that self-starting.

    • Francesca

      That is an excellent point Paul, not everyone is self-starting, and this is not communicated much, because there is a strong focus on the famous “microentrepreneur”. By the way, if this is a subject you would like to discuss more at OuiShare Fest in Paris, I encourage you to submit a proposal for our program here: http://2016.ouisharefest.com/join#_getinvolved

  • The reason for the ‘disentchantment’ with the sharing economy (just as with the bio-based or circular economy) is that a crucial driver of the system is left out of the picture, viz. the monetary system. As long as our sharing transactions are only facilitated by bank issued (debt based) currencies with (in principle) positive interest, the social dynamic must inevitably turn into a competitive one. Bank money by its design is scarce and so ‘to pursue your self-interest’ becomes ‘rational behaviour’ (either that or perish).

    So the transition towards a sustainable economy (working for the well-being of all, including future generations and other species) requires four strands of innovation:
    1. share = transform social relations and transactions, cooperative and collaborative
    2. circular = transform production processes and renewable use of natural resources and energy
    3.ecomonetary = create an ecosystem of currencies that facilitate specific – cooperative, ecological, caring etc – transactions and consumption
    4. paradigmatic = holistic and transdisciplinary knowledge (instead of specialist knowledge that is blind for the ‘externalities’ of its innovations) and legal frameworks (based on the premise of collaboration and care instead of on that of exploitation and extraction).

    As long as one of those four strands is left out, innovation on either of the other three strands is bound to be drawn back into the old model.
    So for the sharing economy to remain cooperative it needs to also create collaborative monetery systems, also known as ‘community currencies’. Some communities have well understood this and already make local taxes payable in local currencies.

  • “[The pioneers] arrived in a Promised Land, where they could start over and build something new.”

    Dear Francesca, looking forward to the Fest. Don’t you think that the “Gold Rush” metaphor remains still stuck in the perspective of the a self-righteous Western coloniser of the “Promised Land”, ignorant and indifferent to the devastation of Indigenous communities? By decolonising our imaginary, we can get inspiration and wisdom from the stories and cosmologies of those who are most impacted —a just response, especially needed in times of climate crisis. I am sure there will be great opportunities to discuss these in the Fest! and to build together something new, slow not rushed, vibrant not hyped, transformative not lucrative 🙂

    • Francesca

      Thanks a lot for your comment, of course I agree that the metaphor of the western coloniser does not fit ideally in this case :). You need to see the theme in a more lose sense, from which we simply have taken ideas and concepts we like to tie them in with what we currently see happening in the economy and the subjects we will address at the next OuiShare Fest!

      And actually, the imagery around ancient wisdom and tribes resonates a lot with the messages we are trying to convey as well – you should check out a project called NEOTRIBES we are currently involved in: http://www.neotribes.co/en

      See you at the Fest!