Commodifying our Humanity

This week I came across an interesting thought related to the so-called Sharing Economy – that vast and growing collection of  startups, non-profits and cooperative structures that are moving services and goods from the formal sector to a more peer-oriented personal economic system. Think Craigslist and Airbnb, SideCar and SupperKing.  Rachel Botsman describes the sharing economy, or collaborative consumption, as a social revolution that allows people to “create value out of shared and open resources in ways that balance personal self-interest with the good of the larger community.” Why wouldn’t you want to help someone out, if you could earn a quick buck while doing so? It seems that perhaps the sharing economy has at its core a basic human desire for connection. It sits a little uneasily then to think of these new organizations as capitalizing on our desire for contact, connectivity and community, to coin a couple of dollars. But essentially that is what is happening; we are increasingly monetizing goods and services that were once available for free. SupperKing is a “mobile app that allows people to share home-cooked meals with a trusted community”. The startup sets out to “enhance the dining experience by adding a social friendship layer to an otherwise solitary event”. But let’s not pretend this is all altruistic since “how much money a host can make depends...

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Blessed are the rich, for we make them so.

I found an article I read this week titled ‘Private Gain to a Few Trumps Public Good for the Many’ quite interesting  and thought-provoking. It deals with the disparity between rich and poor and also highlights some of the journey and process as to how and why the rift was widened in such a way: ‘We’re losing public goods available to all, supported by the tax payments of all and especially the better-off. In its place we have private goods available to the very rich, supported by the rest of us.’ That is the conclusion Robert Reich reached at the end of his piece and it was very enlightening to see how he thought it all happened: Since the late 1970s, almost all the gains from growth have gone to the top. But as the upper-middle class and the rich began shifting to private institutions, they withdrew political support for public ones.  Education, for example, was less a personal investment than a public good — improving the entire community and ultimately the nation. But in a post-Cold War America distended by global capital, distorted by concentrated income and wealth, undermined by unlimited campaign donations, and rocked by a wave of new immigrants easily cast by demagogues as “them,” the notion of the public good has faded. The article is...

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A Reading List on Income Inequality

Recently, Jon Sutter, a columnist at, collaborated with his readers to compile a “must reads” list on the topic of income inequality. The list they created contains a bunch of excellent sources (I’m partial to #16 and #66 myself), which are all the more relevant as the gap between rich and poor in America continues to widen. However, though I’ve read many items on this list already and intend to read many more soon, if I’m honest with myself I will probably never get around to reading every single book and article on this list. I figure that’s probably the case for most of us (however, if you have read or honestly plan on reading all of them – kudos!). So in the interest of narrowing the field even further, and of helping us create an even more refined list: what do you consider to be the most important books, articles, and documents on this list? If you had to select from this list just one or two, which ones are the real cream of the crop? Why do you recommend this source over all the rest? Or, which books or articles on the topic of income inequality would you recommend that you feel Sutter’s list...

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Wealth and Culture

How do the worldviews of the predominant cultural atmosphere we find ourselves in shape our views on wealth and material possessions? Perhaps more importantly, how do these worldviews influence how we read and respond to scripture, and specifically Jesus’ teaching on wealth, poverty, abundance, and what it is to “be blessed”? I agree with Siu Fung Wu in this article, Wealth and Culture, that Christians with a Western worldview, with its individualistic and guilt-based culture, often concern themselves with questions of rights, justifications of self and assuage of guilt in interacting with Jesus’ teachings in Luke 6:20-26. It seems that often, “our main theological concern tends to be about ensuring that the ownership of material possession is valid. Also, given our guilt-based culture, we naturally want to make sure that we are not guilty of possessing money. In other words, when we come to the Scriptures that speak negatively about material possession, we feel that we need to respond by saying that wealth is not sinful and that the principle behind the Bible’s teaching is concerning the right use of wealth rather than the ownership of it.” When I read this passage I too feel that its main attention is not on the rightfulness or wrongfulness of individuals to be wealthy, but rather a concern for the well-being of...

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Put your money where your mouth, um vision, is.

Mark Scandrette is a good friend of ours at Common Change, so much so that he added a link to our non-profit collaborative giving tool at the end of his latest book ‘Free: Spending your Time and Money on What Matters Most’ as what we help people do falls in line with a lot of what he is suggesting. In this article by Tony Jones, Tony compares him to an emergent version of Dave Ramsey, starting with a nail-on-the-head description of Mark: ‘Mark is an uncommonly honest person. In fact, chances are that within 5 minutes of a conversation, Mark will ask you something rather intimate about one of two little-discussed topics: sex or money. And he won’t break eye contact until you answer him.’ And continuing with a description of how Mark is open and candid about both of those topics in his own life. I had a walk through part of San Francisco with Mark just the other day and the majority of our conversation focused on money and how we can use it in our lives rather than the other way around. It is something he has lived out and so he definitely has a lot to offer in terms of speaking wisdom into other peoples’ lives. The article is a simple overview look at the book...

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