The vision of a sharing economy has gripped the public imagination in recent years, but what does it mean in relation to the world’s converging crises?
In this book, Mohammed Sofiane Mesbahi argues that the idea of sharing resources should always have been directed towards our governments, particularly in response to the tragedy of needless poverty and hunger. He envisions what it means to implement the principle of sharing in world affairs via the United Nations, which has profoundly personal as well as political implications. For as the author elucidates, we cannot bring about a just economic order without a sense of our global unity and oneness, and ultimately a new spiritual education based on the Art of Living and Self-realisation.
Part I: What does it mean to ‘share’?
Part II: From the inner to the outer sharing economy
Part III: A spiritual education for the Art of Being
Part IV: The esoteric significance of the United Nations
Part V: The problem of modern technology
Annex: The gift economy and barter
About the author
A print edition of this book is available from our online store
As this book is printed in late 2021, five years after it was originally published online at sharing.org, it is interesting to observe how excitement for the idea of a sharing economy has significantly diminished. The term was always ambiguous, with widely differing interpretations of its authentic meaning. Much of the general public today are still likely to understand a sharing economy in its traditional and communal sense, as people freely sharing possessions among one another, or voluntarily helping the less fortunate in society. At the same time, many modern proponents of sharing remain enthusiastic about the development of peer-to-peer technologies to transform human relationships and address urgent social problems.
It was never the author’s intention to directly engage with this nouveaux sharing movement, or to critique its sudden evolution in the post-financial crash years. However, it is notable that the predictions made in the first chapter have turned out to be prescient. The new business ventures of the profit-driven sharing economy have made millions for their investors, but have they done anything to raise public consciousness about the world’s escalating human and environmental emergencies? Is it not, therefore, inevitable that these commercialised forms of interpersonal sharing should eventually ‘collapse and become redundant in the longer term’?
Yet the truly moral and political idea of a sharing economy retains the utmost relevance for our lives in the twenty-first century. From the author’s perspective as the founder of Share The World’s Resources (STWR), that idea has always belonged to the poor, especially those who suffer from acute malnutrition and other severe material deprivations. And it is an idea that should always have been directed towards our governments, not only nationally but also globally through the United Nations in order to end poverty, conflict and ecological destruction. The real social movement for sharing is therefore grounded in the strenuous pursuit of justice and human rights, and it consists of all those who are valiantly struggling to reorder the world’s priorities on behalf of the greater common good.
This simple understanding of a sharing economy is, sadly, still far from reaching a mainstream audience. But Mohammed Mesbahi goes much further in contemplating the inner or spiritual dimensions of the principle of sharing, which points to its most long-lasting and inwardly transformative implications. We are consequently led to ponder the significance of a new spiritual education based on the Art of Being and Self-realisation, as reflected in the Ageless Wisdom teachings that have been released to humanity over millennia.
Such a line of enquiry comprises the highest interpretation of a sharing economy whose time is yet to come. Hopefully it won’t be long until people everywhere embrace this pioneering vision, and so begin the hard work of transforming our tragically divided world.
London, UK, June 2021
The energy that we call love has always
been here to guide us within our personal
lives and throughout our spiritual evolution.
But life after life we have tended to look
in the other direction, which has ever written
the sad and painful history of our
What is the sharing economy, and what is its meaning and significance for the world we live in today? If you try and investigate this question through the internet, there are many debates and misleading definitions that you will soon come across. The sharing economy is commonly understood as a rising phenomenon of the new millennium that leverages information technology through peer-to-peer platforms, empowering individuals to share goods and services through bartering, leasing or the swapping of private assets. There is also a revival of non-monetised initiatives under this broad umbrella which enable communities to share more in their daily lives, whether it’s through informal groups that come together with a common aim and purpose, or cooperative endeavours that provide shared access to skills, time, knowledge and productive spaces. Despite some controversies that have dogged the most popular initiatives in recent years, many of their leading advocates continue to espouse an idealistic vision of how the sharing economy can help to catalyse a social transition towards a more egalitarian, participatory and environmentally sustainable world.
But are these technology-driven innovations really the sum total of what it means to ‘share’ in modern societies? And is it true that the sharing economy is still in its infancy today, as is so often stated by those who comment on this fast expanding trend? The fact is that sharing has always been with us as a distinctly human characteristic, and even applies to the sub-human kingdoms of nature as well as to the higher spiritual realms that are much hypothesised in esoteric philosophy. We have always shared within our homes and peer groups without the need for smartphones and high technology. This would include the sharing of food, possessions and the other basic necessities of life, as well as the living space, conviviality and mutual support that is fundamental to our health and prosperity. We share the common lands with our neighbours and communities. We share the roads, the public transport, the air and nature that surrounds us. Our human civilisations would never have survived since the first known hominins unless we practised sharing on an interpersonal and communal basis. It is, indeed, an evolutionary trait that behavioural scientists and anthropologists have long recognised as intrinsic to our essential nature.
It is also a trait that is necessarily expressed, however incipiently or insufficiently, on both national and global levels through appropriate government activity on behalf of the common good. The Roman Empire is renowned for institutionalising many forms of economic sharing, for example, while the contemporary welfare state has its roots in the social insurance schemes introduced by Bismarck in Germany during the 1880s. The National Health Service created by the United Kingdom in the 1940s is perhaps a foremost example in modern history of a sharing economy that exists to protect all citizens from the insecurities of life, as similarly established across Western Europe and other industrialised nations in its various forms. Of the many different levels and modes of sharing within nations, the ideal of universality in social protection through redistributive policies is, arguably, the most practical expression of economic sharing that humanity has yet realised.
But not everyone would agree with this simple observation. In our day, the founding principles of such publicly-funded systems—concerning equality of opportunity, the equitable distribution of wealth, and the collective responsibility for securing everyone’s basic human rights—are increasingly being jeopardised by the market orientation of our societies. And as we shall broadly elucidate, the worldwide implementation of these core principles through intergovernmental cooperation is far from a reality in the early 21st century, regardless of the rapid process of international economic integration over recent decades. Nonetheless, it remains a fact that the sharing economy has always been with us in one form or another. It should be obvious that sharing has forever played its part in our everyday lives, however long we have managed to avoid its crucial manifestation as a principle that underpins our global economic system. Only now, it appears, are we suddenly becoming aware of the importance of sharing and cooperation as the keystone of economic life, even if that understanding has been largely limited to the emerging forms of collaboration in commercial spheres.
To be sure, these new social activities based on access to rather than ownership of resources are still in their infancy, although they are really the revival of ancient practices of social interrelationship that are now being facilitated by modern business methods and advanced computer technologies. The underlying mode of interaction is comparable to much earlier human civilisations, except that everything is now happening so much faster than before, and through such digitalised and sophisticated techniques, that it gives rise to the illusion of being completely original.
There is also a curious relationship to be observed between the advancing technologies of recent decades and the seemingly rapid passing of time. This has further given rise to the sense that society is evolving very quickly, and that we are even approaching a new era in which sharing could become the defining modus operandi in economic and social affairs. That impression may well prove to be true, but have we properly understood what sharing means for the world as a whole, however earnestly we may be responding to this visionary thoughtform that is everywhere pervading human consciousness?
Before we add the word ‘economy’ to the word ‘sharing’, we should first ponder the human value of sharing per se in the context of this unfortunate planet in which the forces of commercialisation are creating such havoc and devastation. If we are seriously interested in investigating what sharing means in relation to world problems, we must start from the awareness that rampant commercialisation is the greatest danger facing humanity today, based as it is on the opposite propensities to sharing in both its theoretical and literal meaning. This may sound like a rather elementary observation, but how can you have a viable sharing economy in a world that is so unequal as a result of centuries of colonialism, imperialism and laissez-faire globalisation, leading to such discrepancies in living standards within and between different countries? Yet few sharing economy advocates appear to begin from this fundamental standpoint, which is to perceive the urgent necessity of sharing the world’s resources as an antidote to the enduring crime of widespread penury amidst plenty.
Perhaps you believe that the prevalence of poverty is steadily improving, and as such it is an issue that can be left to our governments to resolve. After all, most leading politicians and business executives continue to propagate such a message during high-profile conferences, like the annual World Economic Forum in Davos. Even some aid and development organisations have fallen into the trap of believing the myth that rising prosperity for the few will eventually benefit the majority, notwithstanding the visible evidence of widening inequalities of wealth and income on an unprecedented scale.
Heads of state may have vowed to end all forms of poverty by 2030, as recently enshrined in the United Nation’s Post-2015 Development Agenda. But it’s not difficult to perceive the fallacy of such promises while governments remain subject to the ‘commercialisation paradigm’, as we have discussed elsewhere. That is to say, a prevailing political context in which major corporations exert excessive influence over government policymaking decisions—until it becomes implausible to conceive of States committing to the international arrangements necessary to respect, protect and fulfil every individual’s established socio-economic rights. The moment there is another global financial crisis, as widely anticipated, do we really believe that the dire hardships of the poorest individuals will be immediately prioritised by our existing government administrations? And do we believe that the noble elites who gather in Davos will make any less profits in their business dealings, even if the extreme poverty rate drastically surges?
One might presume that these are the kind of political and moral questions to ask oneself, if we are truly concerned about seeing the principle of sharing implemented as a global process that can meet the common needs of all people in all countries. But unfortunately, the sharing economy as presently understood is not remotely born of the awareness that humanity must share its resources more equitably in response to multiple converging crises, and on the basis of a civilisational emergency. It seems that the sharing economy today is predominantly related to commercial activity, to a vaguely collectivistic notion of accessing profitable amenities, but not to the awareness that we must share the bounteous produce of this earth if humanity is to survive. It is certainly not related to the idea of helping the world’s hungry and destitute, the three billion people or more who suffer from undernourishment and other severe poverty-related deprivations.
Even those who espouse the sharing economy’s environmental benefits are not rightly concerned with the meaning of sharing in relation to the critical world situation. Consider the arguments that car sharing will mean there are less cars on the road, or that tool sharing libraries will mean less new products are purchased by individuals in affluent communities. Such a case may be empirically validated, but if that is the extent of our thinking on sharing then we are still trapped within the conditioning or ‘ism’ of consumerism, and limiting our awareness to the idea of ‘consuming less’, which has nothing to do with the sharing economy as properly envisioned and universally expressed. We should be careful to perceive how commercialisation hides in those new technologies, and how it makes us blind to the forces that condition us to buy and endlessly consume expensive merchandise, while we remain indifferent to the greater environmental and social problems all around us.
Possibly 90 percent of the supposed sharing economy is associated with commercial profit-making and self-interest to some degree, regardless of any positive social effects that may result from the usage of these cooperative internet platforms. Are we really convinced that this is where the true meaning of sharing is to be found, in accordance with its deepest philosophical and spiritual connotations? What we have really created is a new method for comfortable living, although that method is so constrained by money-making incentives that it is better described as a gentler form of commercialisation. The human mind loves to create new methods and ‘isms’, like the priest who believes in a particular conception of God, and then goes to study in a seminary that God which his own thinking has created. Without being aware of our mental conditioning and social conformity, the sharing economy advocate is sadly the same in promoting a more convenient and enjoyable way of life within an unsustainable, grossly unjust and increasingly unequal society that has no meaningful connection to the spiritual reality of our interdependent lives.
Thus instead of directing our sharing economy idea towards an emancipatory conception of justice and human rights, we continue to lower ourselves to the same level of consciousness as the corporate marketer who convinces us to ‘buy one and get one for free’. There may be nothing wrong with promoting the ideas of collaborative consumption or shared ownership for budding entrepreneurs, but let’s not pretend that we have reinvented the principle of sharing for the greatest good of the greatest number. In psychological terms it should be understood, at best, as a less stressful mode of living for the more privileged.
To look at the nature of sharing in its profoundest spiritual aspects, it may be discerned that the above-mentioned forms of interpersonal sharing are associated with the personality or lower self, which is a meagre reflection of the higher level of soul awareness that is conscious of the inherent unity and interconnectedness of humanity as a whole. We are all capable of realising this higher awareness that lies dormant and ever-present within us, however much it is suppressed by solely focusing our energies on what makes us feel comfortable and emotionally undisturbed within the little boxes of our social lives.
If you try and talk to someone whose energies are preoccupied with the lower personalised forms of sharing and collaboration, they will surely not be interested in listening to your case for sharing planetary resources between the governments of all nations to irrevocably end poverty, conflict and environmental destruction. Despite a deeper awareness of sharing lying dormant within them, they will refuse to look at it and unconsciously reject its transformative implications, because they feel more comfortable with the easy idea of sharing personal belongings within a local community. Yet the economic implementation of the principle of sharing is unlikely to be a comfortable experience at first, for there is so much work to be done, and so many oppositional forces that must be confronted in business and political spheres. Without a doubt, those powerful forces will eventually disturb us in our self-absorbed lives and well-intentioned endeavours. It will not be long until we are pushed, one way or another, to awaken to the necessity of transforming society as the world’s crises prolong and climax in coming years.
The true vision of a sharing economy represents the end of the old ways defined by the pursuit of profit and competitive self-interest, while a new age of global cooperation can only begin through the channel of ending hunger in a world of such material and financial abundance. For now, the sharing economy begins with the poor, belongs to the poor, and remains beholden to the poor from any moral or real-world perspective. It will never begin from a petty notion of enhancing the convenience of our everyday lives. And as long as the idea of sharing is reduced to such a complacent and self-referential understanding, it will inevitably collapse and become redundant in the longer term. In the meantime, however, there may be lots of opportunities for making money under the commercialised banner of sharing, if that is our primary concern. How convenient indeed!
There is nothing to stop us from capitalising on the new sharing technologies and so-called disruptive business models, but we should at least try to be aware of and honest about our underlying motives and psychological attitudes. Are we really thinking about others and the state of the world as we carry on with our consumer-driven sharing behaviours? Or is it all about ourselves once again? Please look very closely at the sharing economy initiatives that have so far arisen throughout the Western world, and ask yourself if they have anything to do with the inner faculties of spiritual awareness that exemplify love, right relationship and the highest intelligence of man.
Most of the sharing advocates of today are pursuing the easiest and least stressful mode of human relations in affluent society, compared to the millions of marginalised people who are fighting for justice in poorer countries by giving their blood, their freedom, their families and often their lives. That is the hard-core way of sharing, the real and toilsome path that is witnessed through the struggles of dispossessed indigenous peoples in India, the Palestinians in Gaza, the landless labourers in South America, the shack-dwellers and smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, the exploited garment workers in special economic zones across Asia, and so many others. All of the world’s downtrodden masses are crying, however invisibly, for their government to implement a sharing economy that fulfils their most basic human rights.
Many popular uprisings are also indirectly calling for a sharing economy to be instituted through more inclusive and redistributive government policies. This includes the Arab Spring wave of demonstrations that aimed at deposing corrupt political regimes, as well as the anti-austerity demonstrations and Occupy movements that have mobilised in the name of increased social and economic equality. We can perceive for ourselves how all these diverse protest activities are the manifestation of a growing call for sharing, even if that call is unconsciously expressed through a raw response to the injustice that stems from the imposition of an unfair economic system. To stand up for justice in a world that is characterised by growing inequalities and economic precariousness for the majority is inevitably a stressful undertaking. So it is understandable that the word ‘sharing’ is not on the lips of those activists who oppose the major corporations with their exploitative and profit-seeking activities, as well as the governments who uphold the interests of those powerful bastions of privilege and wealth.
Observe, also, the frontline servers of humanity within groups like the Red Cross or Médecins Sans Frontières. Together, they demonstrate the most human expression of the terms ‘sharing’ and ‘economy’ by working ceaselessly to assist neglected citizens in war-torn and impoverished regions, irrespective of caste, creed or race. There are many unrewarded heroes of a sharing economy, in this respect, who inadvertently define the sincerest meaning of sharing in their advocacy work and plans for world reconstruction. The list is long and familiar, comprising as it does the myriad grassroots activists, civil society organisations, and political campaigning networks who seek a more just and ecologically sustainable form of development. These committed individuals may not recognise the interrelation of their fight for justice with the explicit need for economic sharing, but the connection is palpable and real for anyone who perceives the problem of our dysfunctional societies with a compassionate awareness of the whole.
How closely, then, are the commercialised sharing initiatives of today aligned with these great social struggles and peoples’ movements? None of the sharing economy practitioners in community-level movements appear to be interested in dedicating their efforts towards urging political leaders to share each nation’s surplus wealth and resources on behalf of the subjugated poor. Not even, that is, to prevent the deaths of circa 40,000 people who die prematurely each day from poverty-related causes, often from malnutrition and childhood diseases that are barely witnessed in more affluent countries. If that becomes our heartfelt and motivating concern, and not the comfort or convenience of our privileged lives within our communities, then perhaps we can rightfully identify ourselves as an ambassador for humanity through the principle of sharing. But if our idea of sharing remains limited to the confines of our own neighbourhood or social peer group, then we clearly have no idea what sharing can achieve as the royal road towards environmental sustainability, peace and justice.
There are innumerable communities around the world that have attempted to share among themselves and achieve a more harmonious and sustainable way of life. But perhaps it is time to ask ourselves what good such communities can achieve when the world’s ecological crises are rapidly reaching the point of no return. While manifold spiritual communes and eco-villages have long emerged and then disbanded in the fullness of time, the intensifying trends of commercialisation over recent decades may eventually end all possibilities of achieving a self-sustaining community idyll. Indeed, how long can these trends remain left unchecked in a world that is becoming irremediably divided and environmentally degraded?
This is not to decry the countless grassroots initiatives that aim to reduce individual carbon footprints within modern societies by conserving the earth’s natural resources. Many provide invaluable models for how to shift towards sustainable modes of food production, housing, transport, energy generation and so on. The ethics of sharing and sufficiency on a small and local scale may soon become the watchwords of our time, as long recognised by sustainability practitioners in various fields. Yet even these pioneers of community resilience often fail to mention the words ‘poverty’ or ‘hunger’ in their literature and ideas.
Does this mean they are empowered with an awareness of the whole, and immersed in the human reality of the critical world situation? To believe we can find peace by retreating to a remote community is still a fantasy, no matter how frugal or self-sustaining our lifestyles, for the civilisational crisis we face is spiritual in its origins and the outcome of millennia of destructive human behaviours. Throughout our ancestry and our many past incarnations, we have all played a part in repeating the gross injustices and divisions that are passed down from generation to generation. The intention of leading a peaceful, secluded and sustainable way of life amidst all the turmoil of these times is therefore to divide oneself from the inherent unity of the human race, unless we also contribute our energies towards creating a more equal world in which everyone has their basic needs fulfilled. That spiritual understanding, that inner realisation, and that motivating ideal is the only real peace we can experience within ourselves at this perilous juncture in history. For then we are not alone in the struggle for a world that ‘shares’ in any meaningful sense of that term.
What does this mean for the modern sharing advocates whose intentions remain knowingly or unknowingly overshadowed by commercialisation, and who have already undignified the principle of sharing with their mental blindness and concern for moneymaking? To be interested in the sharing economy without any concern for the dire suffering of others means that your ideas are merely created by habitual thoughts, and without connecting to the inner awareness of the heart. Hence you will only succeed in reducing a profoundly human and spiritual conception into another ‘ism’ that has no relationship to the real nature of justice, balance or the oneness of humanity. Out of your desire to create and enjoy a new method for comfortable living, you will inadvertently abduct the principle of sharing for your own self-interested pursuits, until ‘shareism’ becomes the norm.
Is that not already the case, and should not the proponents of sharing in its many commercialised forms be ashamed of themselves? With the obvious knowledge that extreme poverty is still rampant on this earth, how is it possible that the idea of sharing is not directed towards saving our brothers and sisters who are dying from preventable diseases, starvation, wars and climate disasters? What makes man so blind, so poor within and indifferent to the one Life that surrounds him? Why does he limit his awareness to his community, to his new innovations and his fragmented way of living by continuously being attached to his indifference—an indifference that dismisses the wisdom and the many silent cries of his heart? What makes man so small, so trapped and confused within the mechanism of his vain ideations, when he is so free, so great within the very presence of his own soul—a soul with a divine purpose that says LOVE ALL and SACRIFICE FOR ALL THAT LIVES…?
To pursue the idea and praxis of sharing within the paradigm of commercialisation is futile in the end, for these two distinct processes are antithetical in both their inner and outer expression. As we have previously observed, one is divisive in its complexity, while the other is unifying in its simplicity. One is manipulative, amoral and harmful towards both man and the lower kingdoms of nature, while the other is predicated on fairness, harmlessness, awareness and the will-to-good. The wider economic expression of sharing even exemplifies love and the profoundest understanding of compassion which our present-day culture has again degraded into its lowermost and often sentimental meaning. Surely the thoughtform of a sharing economy will evolve into a more moral and inclusive idea over time. But as long as it is not grounded in a political conception of justice for the world’s poor, then it is certain that a transformative vision of sharing resources between governments will remain in its infancy for many, many years to come.
There are an increasing number of intellectuals who are now beginning to engage with the authentic meaning of sharing as a new economic and political paradigm. While it is an encouraging sign that many able thinkers are examining such concepts as ‘fair shares’, ‘the commons’ and ‘degrowth’ through an academic lens, what do these scholarly definitions achieve for the poorest people who are desperately asking their governments to share a measly portion of the nation’s wealth, just so they and their family can eat a square meal each day?
That modest plea from an impoverished person is the embodiment of a sharing economy in all its purity and essence, so how does the well-fed intellectual often overlook this simple truth? Few appear to acknowledge the fact that millions of innocent lives could be saved each year, if only the plentiful resources of this world were adequately shared. The call for sharing in its manifold forms is invariably an expression of common sense. Yet it is possible to respond to common sense in an overly cerebral manner that can exclude the less educated citizens and eventually confuse, misguide and entangle us in endless hypothetical debates about the right path forwards. For this reason again, any investigation into the meaning of a sharing economy must begin with a preliminary understanding that chronic undernourishment must be effaced from this earth as a leading societal and political priority. As long as we start from this fundamental standpoint, our inspired analyses and policy proposals cannot go too far astray.
Consider the example of those physicians working for Médecins Sans Frontières who would like to see an end to the insanity of war, but first they must deal with the reality that thousands of people in conflict zones are being neglected by their governments, and are thus in need of life-saving medical attention that is sorely lacking in this sorrowful world. By analogy, the intellectual idea of sharing within modern societies is important to debate and hypothesise, but first we must redirect our attention to the millions of people in poorer countries who continue to suffer from severe deprivations without any form of government welfare or public support.
Try to contemplate the inner relationship you may have between your own daily concerns in a relatively privileged and comfortable household, and the reality of life for a person who is at this moment dying from a preventable disease or malnutrition. Your heartfelt awareness about the lives of those who are less fortunate than yourself, and your private intention to do something to help end this spiritual blasphemy in our midst—that awareness is, in itself, an awareness of the need for a sharing economy to be instituted across the world. Any act that tries to contribute towards ending the prevalent suffering caused by absolute poverty is, in itself, the purest expression of a sharing economy via the heart, via our maturity and via common sense, especially if that act is focused on trying to persuade our political representatives to commit to sharing the resources of the world.
Have you ever held someone in your arms who is dying from malnutrition in a poor region such as sub-Saharan Africa, knowing that back home your family and friends are able to access adequate food, shelter, healthcare and other necessities as a basic human right? Following that profound and tragic experience, it is assured that your understanding of the sharing economy will assume a very different resonance and meaning within your heart and mind, and it is very unlikely to be directed solely towards oneself and one’s more advantaged social peer group.
Consider also the person who loses a dearly beloved family member from an incurable disease or tragedy. As a consequence of that sad event, they may suddenly transform their life purpose by dedicating time and energy to preventing others from befalling a similar fate, such as by creating a charitable organisation or campaigning for social change. Thus that individual’s awareness and empathy has been markedly expanded, while their erstwhile complacency has completely vanished. Such is the hope for the sharing economy idea—and on a scale that is inconceivable—if the millions of people who enjoy an adequate standard of living can together expand their empathic awareness to include the needless deprivations experienced by the poorer two-thirds majority of the world population.
We are not trying to contemplate the deeper philosophical meaning of compassion in these sparse analogies, but simply trying to observe, in straightforward human terms, the need for greater awareness in our societies through the common sense that arises from an engaged heart. It not only concerns the need to end the appalling reality of hunger and life-threatening poverty; it is also about love in the most general and pragmatic sense, as expressed in a civilised and moral attitude to life that cares about the needless suffering of others. The present author has discussed before the meaning of love from a basically spiritual and psychological perspective, which is a motivating energy that can bring about the total reorientation of a person’s life pursuits once an awareness of the heart determines one’s inner attitudes and behaviours.
We can observe the psychological and spiritual transformation of an individual via the awakening of the heart in almost every department of human activity, and the misguided advocates of commercialised forms of economic sharing are no exception. All we can hope is that the self-proclaimed sharers of today will become aware of how they are degrading the higher meanings of this misapplied principle, and hence change their ways by joining with the millions of others who are valiantly fighting for a just world that permits no-one to suffer or die from a lack of access to life’s essentials.
 It may be helpful for the reader to note a marked contradiction that remains between two competing visions of economic sharing, as alluded to throughout chapter one. On the one hand, there are those who reject the materialistic attitudes that have defined recent decades, and who perceive the need for an entirely different way of living that is characterised by connectedness and sharing, rather than ownership and conspicuous consumption. This is the tech-savvy generation of Millennials who embrace the ethic of ‘sharing more and owning less’, and to whom the first chapter of this book was principally addressed. On the other hand, many entrepreneurial individuals hold a very different idea of a sharing economy that involves new business start-ups whose raison d’être is revenue growth, shareholder value maximisation and the monopolisation of markets. Numerous commentators have questioned whether these commercialised internet platforms are in any way compatible with genuine sharing per se, and thus capable of bringing us closer to a more equitable, just and sustainable world.
From this writers perspective, it is a feat of Orwellian doublespeak to conflate the noble principle of sharing with for-profit business ventures that cater to a minority of affluent consumers, and mainly in high-income countries. Ongoing legal challenges over worker exploitation and low regulation have revealed the true nature and direction of this consumer-to-consumer (C2C) model of sharing resources. Not to mention the vast fortunes already made by the pioneers of such online social networks and electronic markets. Clearly, the essential dynamic of for-profit enterprise—to marketise formerly non-economic spheres of life—is no different in the internet-enabled sharing economy than in the dominant corporate sector. By monetising our skills, personal belongings and community activities, the line between the market and non-market worlds is increasingly blurred and intermeshed, which only serves to reinforce the profit imperatives of consumerist societies.
While it is not our intention to provide a detailed critique or typology of the sharing economy in its present understanding, we would agree with many others that the commercial usage of this term is, at best, disingenuous and misleading. More appropriate terms in common usage include crowd-based capitalism, collaborative consumption, the platform economy, access economy, renting economy, or the on-demand economy, among others.
 Contrary to the common misconception that people are individualistic and selfish by nature, anthropologists have shown that gifting and sharing has long formed the basis of community relationships in societies across the world. A recent spate of scientific research has built on this evidence to demonstrate that as human beings we are naturally predisposed to cooperate and share in order to maximise our chances of survival and collective wellbeing. Without the act of sharing and reciprocity, there would be no social foundations upon which to build societies and economies. For a review of academic thought, see for example: Jeremy Rifkin, The Empathic Civilization, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009; Michael Tomasello, Why We Cooperate, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009; Frans De Waal, The Age of Empathy, New York: Harmony Books, 2009; Colin Tudge, Why Genes are Not Selfish and People are Nice, Floris books, 2013.
 During the period between 2011 and 2016, our campaigning group Share The World’s Resources (STWR) emphasised this simple perspective at many events that were focused on promoting the sharing economy concept. With few exceptions, the politics of sharing and its macroeconomic dimensions were neglected in these forums, which were generally concerned with solely interpersonal (peer-to-peer) and/or commercialised forms of collaboration. STWR therefore argued the necessity of broadening our understanding and interpretation of what constitutes a sharing economy. It stands to reason that long-term, systemic issues like climate change and social inequality must be tackled through government policies and effective national legislation.
Indeed, the basic social functions of the state can be understood as a form of collective economic sharing. Through the process of progressive taxation and redistribution, for example, we share a portion of the nation’s financial resources (personal income and assets, as well as company profits) for the benefit of society as a whole. Governments must redistribute a large proportion of tax revenue to ensure that the wider population can access essential goods and services such as healthcare, education, housing and utilities, as well as other important forms of social security. Universal systems of welfare and public service provision—however inefficiently administered—are clearly an expression of social justice that can reduce inequalities and strengthen social cohesion within countries. In such a light, the financial austerity measures imposed on a majority of countries following the ‘Great Recession’ (2007-2009) can be considered the antithesis of a sharing economy by any sensible definition.
This may not be a particularly radical interpretation, but the fact remains that a vast majority of the world population lack comprehensive social protection guarantees—almost four out of every five people, according to the International Labour Organisation. Yet many low-income countries simply do not have the resources they need to build effective tax systems that can finance universal social protection and facilitate economic development. These realities point to the urgent need for scaling up new forms of economic sharing between countries as well as within them. Given the tremendous levels of wealth that exist alongside extreme poverty and destitution, it is imperative that we extend the principles that underpin national systems of sharing to encompass the entire family of nations. This has dramatic implications for, in particular, the current arrangements of overseas aid, which should at least be converted into an international system of pooled funding and automatic transfers, as proposed over many decades. Longstanding proposals also exist for a Global Fund for Social Protection that can help poorer States to meet the gap between what they are able to provide and a minimal social protection floor, in line with human rights commitments.
What we are attempting to indicate here is a wider understanding of what the sharing economy means in political terms, of which there are, of course, many other aspects beyond the domain of social and economic policy. For further introductory perspectives, see: Share The World’s Resources, ‘Financing the Global Sharing Economy’, October 2012, www.sharing.org/financing; ‘A Primer on Global Economic Sharing’, June 2014, www.sharing.org/primer; ‘A Collection of Resources on the Sharing Economy’, May 2014, www.sharing.org/sharing-economy
 See note 6.
 For more on this theme, see: Mohammed Sofiane Mesbahi, ‘Commercialisation: The antithesis of sharing’, in Studies on the Principle of Sharing, Matador books, 2020.
 This poses an instructive line of enquiry for the interested reader, for whose purpose the following brief sketch is offered as a prompt for further reflection and study. We might begin by examining the historical roots of our unequal world system in the processes of plunder and extraction that defined the colonial era. Since at least the fifteenth century, incalculable riches were siphoned out of the global South to chiefly finance Europe’s industrial revolution. Through conquest, enclosure, slavery and violent dispossession, a free market system was fashioned across the non-Western world for the benefit of wealthy elites in Western Europe and, later, the United States. Thus defined the first ‘golden era’ of globalisation, in which the core of the world economic system was designed to extract raw materials and wealth from its periphery, to exploit its labour and to provide new markets for the West’s surplus goods. It is important that we study this painful history in order to understand the origins of the stark inequality between rich and poor nations.
It wasn’t until the post-war period that optimism began to grow among the formerly colonised nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Many Southern countries experimented with more autonomous models of national development, based on a strong interventionist role for governments and less reliance on the exports of cheap raw materials. On the global level, it was hoped that the United Nations could act as a conduit for a New International Economic Order to right the economic and social injustice of previous years. The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was formed to articulate the needs of developing countries, with a view to restructuring the world order for the purpose of removing its inequalities and imbalances.
But far from welcoming a fairer distribution of the world’s resources, the dominant industrialised nations—newly christened as the Group of Seven—manoeuvred to further sideline the UN’s role in global economic governance. As a Third World debt crisis mounted, the stage was set for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank to step into the fray during the 1980s and push loans that were conditional on ‘structural adjustment’ policies. This marked a dramatic reversal in economic orthodoxy: stricken governments across the global South were forced to liberalise markets, reduce barriers to trade, privatise state-owned enterprises, conduct massive public sector layoffs, and even cut basic social services and subsidies on essential foodstuffs. Under the pressure to maintain obligations to creditors, social safety nets were often decimated and money diverted from public goods such as healthcare, education and aid to small-scale farmers.
The so-called neoliberal doctrine that underpinned these programmes represented, in effect, the abandonment of the redistributive agenda in promoting human development—a prospect that was anathema to the UN’s founding vision and that would have been unthinkable in the 1950s or 1960s. It put an end to the former policies of national self-reliance and import substitution that aimed to help Southern countries regain some control over their domestic economies. Instead, the IMF and World Bank restructuring process—applied in over 70 countries—compelled recipient governments to dismantle state-led economic structures and expand the scope of the free market which inevitably benefited more competitive Northern interests. Many critics have argued that the real purpose was not to help poorer countries develop, but to roll back their gains of previous decades and get a tighter grip over their economic and financial destinies.
Over the last 50 years, the nexus of power in the world economy has increasingly shifted towards major transnational corporations, multilateral banks, and trading regimes that are heavily biased in favour of rich country priorities. An analysis of data from the UN and other institutions provides a damning indictment of this extreme market-driven model of globalisation. The development industry always promised a closing gap between rich and poor countries, yet inequality has continued to explode since the 1960s (whether measured in terms of per capita incomes or various financial resource flows). The picture is complex, as some emerging markets have benefited from increased inflows of foreign capital (like China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia), while other regions have never been profitably integrated into the world economy, especially across sub-Saharan Africa. Modern globalisation has led to widening income disparities within almost all nations, and created new super-divisions of winners and losers. Possibly two-thirds of humanity are exempted from the global chains of production and consumption that benefit the wealthiest citizens, which some have described as an increasing trend of global economic apartheid in the twenty-first century.
It is impossible for us to summarise in this footnote the sweeping institutional reforms that are needed at the global level to reverse these trends, or the macroeconomic policies of sharing that should underpin a new vision of sustainable development. It may suffice here if we emphasise the persistent reality: that the poorest countries as a whole remain net exporters of capital and resources to the North, despite the growing impoverishment of their societies. That the lavish lifestyles of the affluent are effectively financed by the poverty of the majority world, while wholly inadequate measures of overseas aid and philanthropic activity mask the systemic injustices of the global economy.
 The World Economic Forum (WEF) is an international foundation established in 1971 where political and business leaders gather for its invitation-only annual meeting, held at the end of January each year in Davos, Switzerland. Campaigners for global justice have often mobilised during this time of year to expose the distorted worldview and hypocrisies of a privileged global elite. The World Social Forum, for example, was conceived as a counterpoint to the corporate vision of globalisation upheld at Davos; each social forum was held around the same time to promote alternative answers to world economic problems, as encapsulated by the slogan ‘Another world is possible’.
Discussions at Davos ostensibly focus on key issues of planetary concern, particularly the extreme discrepancies in living standards within and between countries. Notably, the 2015 meeting adopted the slogan ‘sharing and caring’. But as campaigning groups like Oxfam have often illustrated, the only kind of sharing that is championed at Davos is within the context of charity or philanthropy, as opposed to real solutions that require government interventions and a more equitable sharing of wealth, power and resources. To be sure, Oxfam regularly use the WEF annual meetings to highlight gaping global inequalities, in which private billionaire wealth is increasingly soaring to record heights. The year after the WEF’s founder, Klaus Schwab, espoused the slogan of ‘sharing’ in 2015, Oxfam famously revealed how the richest 1 percent of humanity own more wealth than the poorest half of the world combined.
 In 2015, all 193 UN Member states ratified the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which contained 17 interlinked goals. Known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or ‘Global Goals’, these comprise a detailed list of targets and indicators with many laudable aims—above all, to ‘end poverty in all its forms everywhere’ and ‘leave no-one behind’. Unlike their predecessors called the Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs apply to countries of both the global North and South, while also including many ambitious environmental targets. However, civil society groups have roundly criticised the Goals for failing to challenge the deeper structural causes of our planetary crises. Nor do they explicitly reflect the necessity of redistributing resources more equally within and among nations. In the present context of global economic recession, a decline in development aid, the downsizing of UN operations and a retreat from multilateral cooperation, there is little prospect of the SDGs achieving their proclaimed transformational vision. For more background, see: Share The World's Resources, ‘Beyond the Sustainable Development Goals: Uncovering the truth about global poverty’, September 2015, www.sharing.org/sdgs
 cf. Mohammed Sofiane Mesbahi, Heralding Article 25: A People’s Strategy for World Transformation, Matador books, 2016 (see Part I: The failure of governments).
 To justify the growing gulf between rich and poor worldwide, it has often been repeated by governments and multilateral agencies that extreme poverty levels have steadily decreased worldwide since the 1980s. The World Bank has consistently painted an upbeat picture of the global poverty situation, which usefully supports the prevailing ideological belief in free markets and liberalisation policies. As long as the poor are slowly becoming better off, the immense wealth of the few generated by corporate globalisation can be viewed as beneficial for everyone.
But reputed analysts have long criticised the World Bank’s statistics on many counts, particularly for its arbitrarily low income poverty line—once fixed at $1 per day and now modified to $1.90 per day. Adults and children living just above this line are still likely to suffer from severe deprivation and face the risk of dying prematurely from poverty-related causes. Our understanding of the magnitude of poverty also changes significantly if a higher poverty line is used, one that accurately reflects how much financial income is needed to fulfil the right to ‘a standard of living adequate for… health and well-being’ (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25.1). More than 40 percent of humanity live on less than $5.50 a day, for example, including some 90 percent of the population in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. A multidimensional view of poverty—wherein other aspects of deprivation are included, such as access to healthcare, basic utilities, education and security—reveals an alarming truth: that the vast majority of all people in the developing world lack sufficient means to live a healthy and dignified life.
At the time of writing in 2021, the World Bank admits that, even by its own measures, global extreme poverty is expected to rise by a further 150 million people due to Covid-19 and its disastrous economic consequences. The first of the Sustainable Development Goals—to bring the global absolute poverty rate to less than 3 percent by 2030—is now considered beyond reach ‘without swift, significant, and substantial policy action’.
 When these words were originally written, such regional uprisings and protest movements were a highly prominent feature in world affairs. Anti-austerity mobilisations were particularly vibrant and ongoing in countries such as Greece, Canada, Germany, England, and also France where the ‘Nuit debout’ movement had recently emerged.
 This figure may seem questionably large, but it in fact probably underestimates the amount of people who needlessly die each day as a result of extreme poverty and inadequate social protection. The calculation was originally based on ‘Disease burden and mortality estimates’ from the World Health Organisation in 2012. Only communicable, maternal, perinatal, and nutritional diseases were considered for the analysis, referred to as ‘Group I' causes by the WHO. Ninety six percent of all deaths from these causes occur in low- and middle-income countries and are considered largely preventable. Yet the true extent of life-threatening deprivation worldwide—largely ignored by the mainstream media—is set to increase considerably as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. At the end of 2020, the United Nations estimated that 270 million people were either at high risk of, or already facing, acute levels of hunger.
 Studies on the Principle of Sharing, op cit.
 The idea of sharing the world’s resources is emerging as a key theme in many areas of progressive policy thinking. For example, central to the UN climate change negotiations is the debate on how all nations can share the limited capacity of the planet’s atmosphere to absorb carbon emissions, and in a way that safeguards the economic interests of both developed and developing nations. The concept of ‘fair shares’ has long been adopted by civil society organisations to frame this debate, which helps to illustrate the need for all people to meet their basic needs without transgressing the planet’s environmental limits. Economic sharing is also central to ‘cap and share’ models for regulating fossil fuel consumption, as well as the widely endorsed ‘contraction and convergence’ framework for equalising global per capita emissions. Metrics such as the ‘ecological footprint’ serve to graphically demonstrate how humanity continues to use more resources than the planet can regenerate each year, while failing to share those resources within the constraints of nature’s bounds.
At the same time, academics and sustainability practitioners have long recognised the need for localised economic alternatives that reflect the concept of ‘One planet living’, which is concerned with how individuals can enjoy a high quality of life without consuming more than their fair share of finite resources. Proposals for post-growth societies or ‘degrowth’ can be appraised from this perspective, where the aim is to reduce material and energy consumption in a socially just manner. Emphasis is therefore placed on a fair distribution of wealth and income, more convivial and participatory societies, and the revivification of the commons. For more background, see: Share The World’s Resources, ‘Sharing as our Common Cause’, December 2014, www.sharing.org/commoncause
 cf. Mohammed Sofiane Mesbahi, The intersection of politics and spirituality in addressing the climate crisis, Matador books, 2016 (see Part II: The inner and outer CO2).
Mohammed Sofiane Mesbahi is the founder of Share The World’s Resources (STWR), a civil society organisation based in London, UK, with consultative status at the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. STWR is a not-for-profit organisation registered in England, no. 4854864.
Editorial assistance: Adam W. Parsons.
To learn more about STWR’s campaign for a global ‘sharing economy’ movement, please visit: www.sharing.org/Article25
Photo credit: Biggles1067, flickr creative commons