Post-pandemic: Putting the sharing economy in focus

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When it comes to the sharing economy in Hong Kong, Raymond Ho of Momentum 107 says, “Catch up!”

Photo courtesy of Stock Catalog / CC BY 2.0.

Even children know ‘sharing is caring’ and humanity has been doing it as long as we have breathed air.

But sharing as an economic concept has a more recent intellectual history. The “sharing economy”, also known as “collaborative consumption”, is an economic concept explored by Marcus Felson, a professor of sociology at Texas State University, and Joe L. Spaeth, a professor of sociology at the University of Illinois, in their jointly published paper “Community Structure and Method of Collaborative Consumption” in the year 1978. They claimt the activity of “sharing” has been prevalent since humanity was largely composed of nomadic society. Activities such as the sharing of tools and household items were commonplace, and such items belonged to the whole community and no individual alone.

In the book “The Sharing Economy”, Ma Huateng, the Chairman of Tencent Holdings Limited, divides the sharing modes of remaining resources under the sharing economy into three types: “Sharing of Remaining Rights of Usage”, “Sharing of Remaining Ownership” and “Sharing of Remaining Time”. The first two are based on the sharing of physical resources, while the third is based on the sharing of time.

“Sharing of Remaining Rights of Usage” is the sharing of currency and items until its depletion. “Sharing of Remaining Ownership” is the bartering of items and the recycled usage of items. “Sharing of Remaining Time” is the maximisation of the time of an individual and their resources; case in point, receiving a monetary pledge whilst streaming online when one is fast asleep.

The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely impacted individuals and organisations the world over, and countries are preparing for the cash-poor economic depression that follows. The bartering and recycling of items, prevalent in modern societies normally only after a war, are quickly becoming the norm under the economic depression.

The development of science and technology, however, can  accelerate the promotion of different types of activities of the sharing economy, and organically link the sharing economy with traditional economic vectors.

Contrarily, Hong Kong seems to be pushing against the sharing economy trend. Whether it be bike-sharing, food sharing or car-sharing, all such activities in Hong Kong are subject to severe impediments imposed by strict bureaucratic regulations, causing our city to fall behind in the development of the sharing economy. Ironically, we still boast of our dreams of building a smart city, while anti-sharing rules dumb down our economy.

Among such suppressed sharing activities in Hong Kong is Uber, a global leader in car-sharing services. Among others, it has recently also fallen victim to the city’s bureaucratic grasp. Out of all the places in the world, Hong Kong is the only one which has not implemented a standardised legislation for such services. Just this week, Uber has announced the potential relocation of their Asia-Pacific Headquarters from Singapore to Hong Kong. Regardless of the legal limbo, Hong Kong hosts  close to 250,000 driver partners and over 6,400 restaurants who cooperate with them to deliver meals to customers. The benefits that standardised legislation will bring to sharing activities are valuable beyond imagination.

As of writing this article, Uber Technologies Inc. is valued at  USD 82.4 billion and its business activities have decreased significantly during the pandemic. Its stock price, however, has not fallen correspondingly. This proves that the market’s view of this business practice is positive. In a post-pandemic era where public health will be held in high regard, access to hygiene information of shared cars will allow passengers to be even more comfortable when renting shared cars.

The ingredients needed for Hong Kong to flourish as a smart city are laid out, but the government needs to clean up its act and open up to the ideas of innovation and development – before it severely falls behind and finds itself unable to keep up with all the other cities that have surpassed it.

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