Sharing Nicely by Yochai Benkler

[…] More generally, I suggest that shareable goods are but one instance of a broader phenomenon outlined by the literature on social norms, social capital, and, most directly, common property regimes. Social production and exchange comprises a third system of production, a class of solutions to production problems that is separate from, and can complement or substitute for, the two more commonly studied systems: markets—through both the price system and the firm—and the state.

[…] We observe in many contexts policy choices and design impulses that take assumptions appropriate to the capital requirements of industrial economies and try to force behavior in the networked information economy into the social and market behavioral patterns that were appropriate for that technological stage and capital structure, rather than for the one we live in today. We must learn instead how to adjust our expectations, assumptions, and, ultimately, policy prescriptions to accommodate the emerging importance of social relations in general, and sharing in particular, as a modality of economic production.

„Sharing Nicely“: On shareable goods and the emergence of sharing as a modality of economic production by Yochai Benkler

Abstract: The paper offers a framework to explain large scale effective practices of sharing private, excludable goods. It starts with case studies of distributed computing and carpooling as motivating problems. It then suggests a definition for “shareable goods” as goods that are lumpy and mid-grained in size, and explains why goods with these characteristics will have systematic overcapacity relative to the requirements of their owners. The paper then uses comparative transaction costs analysis, focused on information characteristics in particular, combined with an analysis of diversity of motivations, to suggest when social sharing will be better than secondary markets to reallocate this overcapacity to non-owners who require the functionality. The paper concludes with broader observations about the role of sharing as a modality of economic production as compared to markets and hierarchies (whether states or firms), with a particular emphasis on sharing practices among individuals who are strangers or weakly related, its relationship to technological change, and some implications for contemporary policy choices regarding wireless regulation, intellectual property, and communications network design.

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