A few weeks ago, NY Times columnist David Brooks posted an OpEd on The Evolution of Trust. The OpEd is focused on Airbnb, the online platform where people list and book accommodations all over the world, which now has over 600,000 listings in more than 34,000 cities and 190 countries. Brooks thought that people would never rent rooms in their homes to total strangers. “But I was clearly wrong,” he writes. “And Airbnb is only a piece of the peer-to-peer economy. People are renting out their cars to people they don’t know, dropping off their pets with people they don’t know, renting power tools to people they don’t know.”
He attributes the growth of this peer-to-peer economy to 3 main trends. First is middle-class stagnation. Technology and globalizations have significantly reduced the employment opportunities and earning of middle-skill, middle-wage jobs. Many have thus had to invent their jobs and sources of income, including renting out rooms, cars and other possessions, and offering child care, pet boarding and a variety of other services.
Second, quite a number of people find the less expensive, one-of-a-kind goods and services now being offered by unique individuals more appealing than the mass-produced goods and services offered by companies. People with time to travel but little money prefer to stay in someone’s moderately priced spare room rather that in a more expensive standard hotel chain.
And, adds Brooks, “the big thing I underestimated was the transformation of social trust. In primitive economies, people traded mostly with members of their village and community. Trust was face to face. Then, in the mass economy we’ve been used to, people bought from large and stable corporate brands, whose behavior was made more reliable by government regulation. But now there is a new trust calculus, powered by both social and economic forces.”