Democrats Don’t Get the Share Economy

Young adults have been branded with many titles. Millennials, Generation Y, Gen Why?, the iPod Generation, the Boomerang Generation, and Generation Now, among the leading contenders.

Unfortunately, none of those really tell you much about us. Sure we were born around the turn of the millennium, we question a lot of societal presumptions, we indulge in everything with an “i” in front of it, we live with our parent’s in greater numbers than previous generations, and we tend to want things now. But those are but individual slivers of a much larger identity.

Of course, it’s impossible to sum up the complexities of an entire generation with a single word, but one title I stumbled across recently does the trick better than any other: Generation Share.

One of Millennials defining traits is our creation of and participation in the sharing economy, where new business models cater to individual tastes in a way that requires community, not capital.

That economy is typified by things like Uber, which is revolutionizing the car-service business by allowing anyone with a car to earn a little cash by providing a ride. Or AirBnB, which is upsetting the hotel model by allowing people to rent out rooms or houses to traveling guests. Or Etsy, which allows crafty people to directly market their homemade goods. Other popular entries into the share economy range from the well-established eBay and Craiglist to startups like Zaarly (home services) to DogVacay (home dog boarding).

Gary Shapiro writes about the political implications of this growing trend for Investors Business Daily:

Politicians searching for a foothold with younger voters should look no further than an Internet-enabled phenomenon now changing the economic landscape. Forgoing long-term asset investments, millennials are sharing everything from cars and homes to everyday chores — a phenomenon that’s changing the lives of this new generation of voters.

The candidates who best understand and support this new community-minded subset will win these voters’ trust and find an easier road to office.

Increased connectivity among this generation has produced more consumers willing to participate in the sharing economy. People have become increasingly disillusioned with entrenched businesses that offer poor service or have limited availability — taxi cab companies and television networks both spring to mind.

But our generation’s predilection for sharing goes well beyond typical goods and services. It’s not just an economy, it’s a lifestyle. George Anders writes for Forbes:

What do today’s young adults — the so-called millennials between ages 18 and 34 — really want? A new survey calls attention to millennials’ most striking habit: a willingness to shrug off money and careers in favor of exciting, first-hand experiences. Say hello to the ultimate festival-goers: the Burning Man Generation. . .

A major reason for dashing off to all these parties, festivals, road races and taco-eating contests: the fear of missing out. With the rise of social media, Eventbrite analysts point out, skipping the big event doesn’t just mean missing an afternoon of good times; it also means being reminded on Facebook, Tumblr and the like of how much fun everyone else had.

In other words, we like to share our experiences via online social networks. We like to check up with friends on Facebook, we like to see what other people are saying about current events on Twitter, we like to comment on images from Instagram, and we like to get ideas from Pinterest.

All of these preferences are going to dramatically shake up the economic status quo. Entrenched interests like cab companies and hotels are going to fight to erect regulatory boundaries to keep their business models afloat and newcomers off their turf. Laws made for a industry and manufacturing-based economy may not work for a generation that focuses on life experiences, rather than tangible goods. And the pace of innovation and speed of ideas will certainly challenge our slow-footed government.

The looming question is which party will rise to the moment? Who will side with consumers and entrepreneurs to harness the future and which will stick with the special interests of the status quo? The answer to those questions could determine which party can ultimately win the votes of Generation Share.