Milan - “This sector is capable of growth, but we must be careful not to get too carried away. We should keep in mind that these services are gaining ground partly because they are still not very regulated, especially in terms of taxation”. Mario A. Maggioni is a professor of Political Economy and the director of the Cognitive Science and Communication Research Centre at the Catholic University in Milan. He attended the last conference on this area of sharing economy, which took place at the Catholic University, as he himself says, “in a way, to burst their bubble, as economists often have to do”.
Professor, what do we mean when we refer to the “sharing economy”?
“The term describes many different things. In the English-speaking world it is defined as collaborative consumption, although in the sharing economy there is also collaboration from the point of view of production. However, in general the phenomenon refers to those modes of consumption that reduces private ownership; there is also bartering”.
“Couchsurfing, which is the site through which people exchange hospitality on their own couches, free of charge. Airbnb is totally different, since it is a rental arrangement between private parties set up for tourists”.
Recently car sharing has been very popular in Italy, for example, Car2go in Milan.
“Yes, these systems have been very successful, partly because they are very similar to rentals, unlike BlablaCar, which makes it possible to find a ride, or a passenger, if you are going somewhere”.
Are these dynamics being supported by the fact that people have less spending money during an economic crisis?
“Certainly. Schumpeter always said that innovation occurs in times of economic crisis. There has been a real need for intelligent innovation, so it’s no coincidence that these forms of sharing have been flourishing since 2008, when the crisis first began in the United States. The most important benefit provided by the sharing economy, to be perfectly clear about it, is savings. But convenience is also a major advantage. If we take the example of car sharing in Milan, it’s convenient because the Congestion Charge Zone is free, you can use special lanes, and you can park anywhere”.
Will these trends truly grow stronger in the coming years?
“Yes, even in Italy. But all technologies tend to propagate according to an S curve. We are now experiencing the high growth phase, but after a couple of years there will very likely be a drop, and then stabilization”.
So one cannot say that sharing will save us all?
“I would say not. We should keep in mind that according to the latest data 50% of Italian internet users have heard about these kinds of services, and only 20% have tried any of them. And what’s more, Italy doesn’t have a tremendous number of internet users”.