Is free working a forlorn hope?

The sharing economy is not only disrupting established business models - it's also turning workers from tenured employees into hyper-individual guns for hire.

by Richard Reeves

The biggest hotel chain in the world owns not a single hotel. A 'transportation company' worth $40bn - more than Delta airlines - has no vehicles. And a multinational 'cleaning company' operating in 32 cities, including London, buys no cleaning supplies and does not employ a single cleaner.

Airbnb, Uber and Homejoy are middlemen of the newest new economy, connecting customers with workers via the 'frictionless interface' of the mobile internet, and taking a commission along the way. Airbnb - so called because it conjures up images of an airbed, inflated by a considerate friend - generates annual revenues of $300m in New York City alone.

Uber operates limo-for-hire services in 200 cities in 53 countries, and has at least 162,037 'active drivers' in the US alone, more than the number of people employed by Starbucks, and about the same as Ford. Homejoy, which allows customers to order a house cleaning or get someone to do their laundry with the touch of an icon on a phone screen, was launched by siblings Adora and Aaron Cheung in 2012, and has raised almost $40m in investment capital.

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