I have already talked about Conservative environmentalism and social justice, and today, since it’s Global Sharing Week, I would like to put forward the small-c and big-c conservative case for the sharing economy.
Let’s start by defining conservatism. At its basic, it is a political philosophy that aims to protect society from radicalism. It proposes that change should be organic, and if something isn’t broken you shouldn’t “fix it” (with a degree of liberalism influencing whether two conservatives think something is indeed broken). Whatever economic system you support, they all have in common the idea that we should live within our means, and keep taxes as low as possible (with variations of ideas of where the threshold should be). It favours individualism, although on a spectrum from personal responsibility for the good of society (paternalism) to anything goes because that’s people’s decisions.
While the Sharing Economy, which is “A system based around the sharing of human and physical resources”, sounds like some hipster radical idea to usher communism by the backdoor, it’s, in fact, a very old concept. Up until the past 50 years it was, in fact, how most people lived. It was a way of living that affected all the social classes in different ways. Dinner parties and long stays in the country for the hunting season, musical entertainment in the drawing-room of a private house and the gentlemen’s clubs are all forms of sharing of the upper classes. As long as there is a resource, be it the baker’s oven, the village church, or an accomplished lady’s ability at the pianoforte, that is not used by the proprietor for their own enjoyment alone there is a sharing economy.
Which brings me back to the idea of living within one’s means: sharing opens access to things that are not within one’s means. It works from car-sharing allowing you to rent a car when you need it but not pay the costs of owning one, to things like many of the projects in the book that affect the way we use the money raised in taxation. Reducing waste means there is less money spent on disposing of things, which is on average 32% of a council’s council tax revenue. It also makes our areas look more pleasant, therefore making us happier. Other projects show how organising informal networks of social care reduce the need for professional care, and co-housing can also help those whose caring needs are fewer, freeing up the resources to help those whose needs require more intensive care.
Elderly people who have access to informal care have reported fewer and less damaging accidents, which in turn affects their cost to the NHS. Another project that affects the NHS that is in the book is Hearts Milk Bank, A report estimates that nationwide availability in NICUs would save £43 millions in care costs, and would prevent £130 millions in productivity losses. They don’t say how the cost compares to buying formula, but as figures surrounding longer breastfeeding were of a £40 millions a year saving I’m sure that even if it was shouldered by the government it would not be a barrier.
There are many ways in which the sharing economy can help our communities, where family breakdown costs over £48 billions according to the Relationships Foundation. The well-known approach to crime prevention from Glasgow shows us just how much one’s environment shapes their future and there are many ways in which the third sector has filled gaps (often with no government funding either). Charities like Street Pastors (for which I do not have data regarding the funding streams) are estimated to save the NHS millions in reduced alcohol-related A&E visits, which cost a few thousand pounds each. Even if they had government grants, the difference in cost would be quite significant.
Conservatives love to talk about tax cuts, and often with good reason. Businesses can be crippled by tax while bigger businesses get away with the proverbial murder, and the Laffer Curve has proven that a lower tax rate brings in higher revenue, but few look at resources already there without generating money that could help lower the size of the state while making sure that everybody is taken care of and sharing in the prosperity of the country. In fact, so many people want to scrap Foreign Aid (which is a negligible expenditure that can be invested for a greater return to both the receiving country and Britain) when there are a lot more expenditure cuts that can be made, and I don’t mean with austerity measures which cut the government budget with no plan for how to fill the gaps, and so have been really damaging to those with no recourse elsewhere in our fractured society.
There is a lot more that I could say about how the sharing economy is a vision for the Conservative Party that both traditions, Thatcherites and One Nation Tories, can equally embrace, so I would invite you to invest in a copy of the book, read up their website, come talk to me and keep an eye out for more content that will come in the future.
“Generation Share” by Benita Matofska and Sophie Sheinwald (IBSN9781447350101) is published by Policy Press (Part of Bristol University Press). Available at www.policypress.co.uk