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Proletarian Capitalists

Wanna be a capitalist? One easy way to become one is to use your smartphone and some readily available apps – as I explain in my latest column for AIER. Two slices:

Uber enables someone who would otherwise drive his or her car only for personal use to drive his or her car for capitalist use – that is, to drive his or her car in an income-earning (and, hence, wealth-generating) manner. Uber easily turns a consumption good into a capital good for however long the car owner chooses to operate as a transportation capitalist. Importantly, for whatever number of hours automobile owners use their personal cars as Uber or Turo vehicles, part of the value of those automobiles becomes part of the value of an economy’s capital stock even though formal statistics and M. Piketty do not register it as such. And it is capital owned not by Uber or Lyft, but by the drivers — the workers — themselves.

Uber and other ride-sharing apps supply ready tickets for all who own automobiles to gain admission into the capitalist class.

Likewise with Airbnb. J. Willard Marriott had to buy land and hire construction crews to erect large buildings with rooms for lease in order to enter the ranks of the rentiers. But now you, I, and every other homeowner can easily reap the profits of rentiers — can easily monetize the rental value of some of our real property — merely by signing up with Airbnb.


Marx, of course, also bewailed the fact that under capitalism workers don’t own the tools with which they work. In this allegedly cruel system, the tools belong to the capitalists while the workers are the ones who actually wring from the tools the profits that are then seized by the capitalists. Workers’ ‘alienation’ from the tools that make them productive is responsible for their immiseration.

Happily, the ‘problem’ of alienation (if it be a problem) is solved by sharing-economy apps. As mentioned above, the Uber driver is both the worker and the owner of the chief tool with which she works. Similarly, each of the 4 million Airbnb hosts is both the laborer who transforms spare bedrooms into hotel rooms and the landlord of the rent-receiving estate. No alienation here!

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