Rachel Botsman: The Case for Collaborative Consumption

I cheer any chance I get to see an articulate, intelligent woman wishing to change the world. However, there is one downside of collaborative consumption which we have already experienced in world history, and this grand social experiment has failed in many places including both Europe and Asia.  Botsman’s over-enthusiasm for sharing, for example, a land owner sharing land with a farmer in exchange for food services, is veering dangerously into the backward territory of feudalism.

Feudalism was a set of legal and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries, which, broadly defined, was a system for structuring society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.

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I agree that a sharing economy should be encouraged without endangering the concept of ownership.  Niall Fergusson speaks of “6 killer apps” that allowed Western Civilization to achieve imperium over the rest of the world:

  • Competition
  • Scientific Revolution
  • Property Rights
  • Modern Medicine
  • Consumer Society
  • The Work Ethic

It appears that Fergusson argues that 1/3 of of the success of the West was due to ownership.  I believe that, to some extent, property rights and a consumer society is necessary for individuals to feel ownership in the system or “have some skin in the game”.   Land prices may be skyrocketing, but all paths do not have to lead to feudalism.

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The Race of Our Lives — Jeremy Grantham

The collapse of civilizations is a gripping and resonant topic for many of us and one that has attracted many scholars over the years. They see many possible contributing factors to the collapse of previous civilizations, the evidence pieced together shard by shard from civilizations that often left few records. But some themes reoccur in the scholars’ work: geographic locations that had misfortune in the availability of useful animal and vegetable life, soil, water, and a source of energy; mismanagement in the overuse and depletion of resources, especially forests, soil, and water; the  lack of a safety margin or storage against inevitable droughts and famines; overexpansion and costly unnecessary wars; sometimes a failure of moral spirit as the pioneering toughness and willingness to sacrifi ce gave way to softer and more cynical ways; increasing complexity of a growing empire that became by degree too expensive in human costs and in the use of limited resources to justify the effort, until the taxes and other demands on ordinary citizens became unbearable, so that an empire, pushed beyond sustainable limits, became vulnerable to even modest shocks  that could in earlier days have been easily withstood. Probably the greatest agreement among scholars, though, is that the failing civilizations suffered from growing hubris and overconfidence: the belief that their capabilities after many earlier tests would always rise to the occasion and that growing signs of weakness could be ignored as pessimistic. After all, after 200 or even 500 years, many other dangers had been warned of yet always they had persevered. Until finally they did not.

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Another theory for civilization evolution

At the same press conference Matthew Konfirst, from the Ohio State University, discussed the disappearance of the Sumerian civilization and their language. In the cradle of civilization in the Middle East — about 4,000 years ago — there were two major language families, he said. One eventually became Hebrew and Arabic and other familiar languages, whereas the other family, Sumerian, stopped evolving when that civilization collapsed, a linguistic dead end. That collapse coincided with a drought that lasted hundreds of years, he said.

—   Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations

I’ve been studying several theories to explain the rise and fall of civilizations. So far, I’m starting to form the opinion that many were due to or the consequence of climate change. It is nice to know that, based on this article, some researchers are also attempting to corroborate this theory!

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