12.2 Degrees of Moral Responsibility

A value-based approach to addressing the challenges raised by the advent of the peer-to-peer platform economy, informed by adequate attributions of both retrospective and prospective responsibility.

Project info

Project consists of following studies
Online peer-to-peer platforms (also known as 'sharing platforms') such as Uber, TaskRabbit and Airbnb, have often been heralded as the protagonists of a new economic paradigm. Through technological innovations and novel business models, these platforms have opened up a whole new realm of transactions that were not―or hardly―possible before their emergence: exchanges between individuals (‘peers’) in the excess capacity of their belongings, skills and/or time by means of a digital infrastructure. Indeed, after their swift advent into our daily lives, it is now hard to imagine a world without peer-to-peer platforms. In the timespan of a decade, some of these businesses experienced spectacular growth rates in market valuations as well as in users. As such, they increasingly press their marks on western economies and people’s livelihoods―both to the good and to the bad. While it is widely recognized that peer-to-peer platforms have the potential to generate significant economic and social benefits, in recent years the problematic consequences of their advent have gained prominence in both public and scholarly debates. A well-known case in point is the vast expansion of Airbnb rentals in residential areas of cities around the world, which has been shown to contribute to touristification, overcrowdedness, and exacerbation of inequality induced by rising housing prices (Bivens, 2019; Duso et al., 2019; Frenken and Schor, 2017; Garcia-López et al., 2019; Koster et al., 2019; Oskam, 2019; Schor, 2017). Another much-discussed issue is the precarization of platform workers’ livelihoods, spurred by the externalization of risks onto these drivers and the lack of social security, enabled by their (contested) classification as ‘independent contractors’ (Ahsan, 2020; Bieber and Moggia, 2020; Calo and Rosenblat, 2017; Chai and Scully, 2019; Dubal, 2017; Halliday, 2021; Schor et al., 2020; Tomassetti, 2016). It is of pressing importance that light be shed on the question as to how we may direct the online sharing economy onto a path of sustainable cooperation. This requires that we come up with adequate responses to the problems generated by the advent of the online sharing economy, while heralding its potential for economic and social value creation. A major step in this endeavor will involve a normative evaluation of the sharing economy in terms of backward-looking responsibility (i.e., blame for past events) as well as forward-looking responsibility (i.e., moral charges for bringing about a future outcome thought to be beneficial). Nonetheless, a normative analysis of the peer-to-peer economy that hinges on moral responsibility alone is bound to remain unsatisfactory in terms of securing stable value creation on the part of platforms. For one thing, such an analysis merely tells us who ought to be burdened with addressing the problems at stake from a moral point of view―it doesn’t tell us how these problems should be addressed, nor what proposed courses of action should aim for. Furthermore, venturing to tackle platform-generated challenges through responsibility allocations restricts us to (mainly) look at what the agents involved are capable of doing from their respective positions, and thus necessarily constrains our field of vision to their feasible set of actions. In other words, solely relying on responsibility allocations leaves us without specific plans, without benchmark and relatively close to the status quo. In light of these considerations, I adopt a value-based approach to assessing existing proposals for addressing the challenges raised by the peer-to-peer platform economy, which―together with my analysis in terms of moral responsibility―will inform my judgement as to what course of action we are to pursue. This approach includes values that function both as (i) devices for assessing the impact of peer-to-peer platforms and identifying perks and problems, and (ii) as desiderata for possible ways to address the challenges thus identified. In such a way, adopting a value-based can be conducive to enlarging our field of vision to extend beyond the set of feasible actions of the players directly involved, and lead us to consider also institutions, structures and principles.
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Behavioral theory
Rijks Universiteit Groningen
Rijks Universiteit Groningen
Vrije Universiteit
Rijks Universiteit Groningen
  • Ethics
  • gig economy
  • Philosophy
  • Platform cooperativism
  • Responsibility
  • Theory of the firm
  • Transaction cost theory
  • Value-based
  • Economics
  • Governmental policymakers
  • Organisation science
  • Policy advisors
  • Trade unions
Work package
  • Synthesis
Sustainability threat
  • Feedback Cycles
  • Shared responsibility and sustainable cooperation
Theoretical background
Research design
In my research I draw on philosophical, economic and organization-theoretical literature. It involves an in-depth analysis of the nature of sharing platforms and the transactions they facilitate (i.e. an ‘anatomy of sharing platforms’), as well as their economic and social impact. In addition, I develop a conceptual apparatus of moral responsibility, which I subsequently apply to the online sharing economy, illustrated by multiple concrete cases. After having taken stock of how far the ensuing distributions of backward-looking responsibility brings us in terms of the aim to abate the problems associated with the online sharing economy, I indicate avenues for improving the normative architecture surrounding this new realm of economic value creation. This will be informed by a value-based analysis of existing proposals for addressing peer-to-peer platform challenges.
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