I Came to San Francisco to Change My Life: I Found a Tribe of Depressed Workaholics Living on Top of One Another

Hacker House Blues: my life with 12 programmers, 2 rooms and one 21st-century dream.
By David Garczynski / Salon September 18, 2016

I might have been trespassing up there, but I would often go to the 19th-floor business lounge to work and study. Located on the top floor of the a luxury high-rise in the SOMA district of San Francisco, the lounge was only accessible to residents of the building. Yet for a while I found myself there almost every day.

Seventeen floors below, I lived in an illegal Airbnb with 12 roommates split between two rooms. There were six people packed into my bedroom alone — seven, if you included the guy who lived in the closet. Three bunk beds adorned the walls, and I was fortunate enough to score a bottom bunk. Unfortunately, though, it was not the one by the window, which, with the exception of one dim lamp, was the only source of light in the room. Even at midday, the room never lit up much more than a shadowed cave. At most hours of the day, you could find someone sleeping in there. Getting in and out of bed was a precarious dance in the darkness to avoid stepping into the suitcases on the floor, out of which most of us lived.

In the shared kitchen, the sink more often than not held a giant pile of dishes, and the fridge, packed with everyone’s groceries and leftovers, emanated a slightly moldy aroma. Mixed in there were the half-eaten meals and unfinished condiment jars of tenants who had long since moved out — all left to rot, but often too far buried in the mass of food to be located.

Let’s just say the room was not as advertised.

The Airbnb posting did boast of access to a 24-hour gym, roof deck and bocce courts. The building has an indoor basketball court, an outdoor hot tub and even a rock climbing wall. The 19th-floor business lounge alone comes with a pool table, a porch, several flat-screen TVs and an enviable view of much of San Francisco. For $1,200 a month, it all seemed worth it. The post did say it was a four-person apartment, not 13, and included a picture of a sunny room with a pair of bunk beds, but I figured for a short sub-lease while I attended coding school, it wouldn’t be so bad. The reviews, after all, were pretty positive, too: mostly 5-stars. However, none of them mentioned the fact that I wouldn’t even be given a front door key.

I’d have to sneak into the building every night. The only way I entered the building was by waiting until someone exited or entered, and then I’d slip through the door before it closed. From there I’d walk straight past the front desk guard and head to the bank of elevators. Despite my nerves, that part was surprisingly easy. The building caters to the young tech elite, so a backwards hat and a collegiate T-shirt practically made me invisible. When I got to my floor, I’d make sure none of the neighbors were watching, and if no one was around, I’d stand on my tiptoes and grab the communal key hidden atop the exit sign. Once the door was unlocked, I’d return the key to its perch for the next tenant to use.

I had moved to San Francisco to break into the tech world after being accepted into one of those ubiquitous 12-week coding boot camps. I had dreams of becoming a programmer, hoping one day I could land a remote contracting gig — a job where I could work from wherever and make a good living. My life would be part ski bum and part professional.

In my mid-20s uncertainty, the coding route seemed to have the most promise — high paychecks in companies that prized work-life balance, or so it seemed from afar. I knew the road wouldn’t be easy, but any time I’d mention my ambitions to family and friends, they responded with resounding positivity, affirming my belief that it was a well-worn path to an obtainable goal.

All of the people in that Airbnb were programmers. Some were trying to break into the industry through boot camps, but most were already full-time professional coders. They headed out early in the morning to their jobs at start-ups in the neighborhood. A lot of them hailed from some of the top schools in the country: Stanford, MIT, Dartmouth. If I was going to get through my program, I needed to rely on them, academically and emotionally. Once the program started up, I would find myself coding 15 hours a day during the week, with that number mercifully dropping to 10-12 hours on the weekends. Late at night, when my stressed-out thoughts would form an ever-intensifying feedback loop of questioning despair — What am I doing? Is this really worth it? — I would need to be able to look to the people around me as living reminders of the possibility of my goals.

Every night, the people whose jobs I coveted would come home from 10- to 12-hour shifts in front of a computer and proceed to the couch, where they’d open up their laptops and spend the remaining hours of the night in silence, sifting through more and more lines of code. Beyond preternatural math abilities and a penchant for problem solving, it seemed most didn’t have much in the way of life skills. They weren’t who I thought they would be — a community of intelligent and inspiring men and women bouncing ideas back and forth. Rather they were boys and girls, coddled by day in the security of companies that fed them, entertained them and nursed them. At home, they could barely take care of themselves.

Take for example the programmer who lived in my closet: Every night he’d come home around 9 p.m. He’d sit on the couch, pour himself a bowl of cereal and eat in silence. Then he would grab his laptop and head directly into the closet — a so-called “private room” listed on Airbnb for $1,400 a month. It was the only time I’d ever see him. The only way I could tell he was home was by the glow of his laptop seeping out from under the closet door. Hours later, deep into the night, the light would go out, and I would know he had to gone to sleep. By the time I arrived, he had been living there for 16 months, in a windowless closet with a thin mattress placed right on the floor. During the day he codes for Pinterest. Yeah . . . that Pinterest.

Maybe there were people working in this city who were living out the tech dreams of everyone else, but I’ve realized the number of people who dream about it far outnumber of people who obtain it. Everyone I spoke to in this town seemed doe-eyed about the future, even while they were living in illegal Airbnbs and working at failing startups across the city.

The odds weren’t in my favor. Most likely I’d find myself in the 92 percent of start-ups that go under in three years, trapped like some of my friends — much smarter and better programmers than I’ll ever be — bouncing from failing company to failing company.
Or maybe not. Maybe I would make it, only to become like my friends who earn six-figure paychecks and still lament that they’ll never be able to buy a home here. What illusions could I continue to maintain then?

There was a good chance I’d find myself in a situation like another roommate’s. During salary negotiations for a job at a start-up, he was encouraged to accept the pay tier with a lower salary but higher equity stake. Now he works 12-hour days just to try to keep the company (and his potential payout) afloat on a paycheck not much higher than some entry-level, non-programming jobs.

The most likely scenario, however, was that I’d become like the mid-30s man who slept in the bunk above me. The reality of his situation slowly slipped him into a depressive state, until he was sleeping most hours of the day. The rest of his waking hours were spent walking around slumped and gloomy.

Programming for me was never supposed to be more than a means to an end, but that end started to feel farther and farther away. The longer I lived in that Airbnb, the longer I realized my dreams would never be met. In all likelihood I would be swept up in an economy here that traded on hopes and dreams of the people clamoring to break in. The illegal Airbnbs that dot the city can afford to charge their amounts because there is no shortage of people wanting to break in. There is another smart kid around the corner who believes that despite the working and living conditions this is just the first step to striking it big. Never tell them the odds.

I had hinged my happiness on an illusion and naively fought to get into a community that wouldn’t help me advance in the direction of my dreams. Maybe in the end I would get everything I needed or at least a nice paycheck, but I’d lose all of myself in the process. I’d be churned and beaten by the underbelly of the tech world here long before I could ever make it out.

If you are interested, it’s not that hard to sneak up to the 19th-floor lounge. I still do sometimes, despite having long since moved out and given up programming. From up there the view of San Francisco takes on the artificial quality of a miniature model. To the north, you’ll see a sea of tech start-ups, their signs and symbols a wild mash of colors. From this distance, it can all look so peaceful. Just know that somewhere in that view is another “hacker house” with bright kids living in almost migrant-worker conditions. Somewhere out there is a coding boot camp with slightly inflated numbers, selling a dream. Their fluorescent halls and cramped bedrooms are filled with the perennially hopeful looking to take the place of those who have already realized this dream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

It is a beautiful view, though. Just one I no longer want for myself.

David Garczynski has lived in the Bay Area for one year now. In that time, he’s lived in an illegal Airbnb, on his cousin’s couch, in two short-term subleases, and has been evicted once. He just signed an official (and legal) lease last week.


How the hipster aesthetic is taking over the world

Same old, same old.

Industrial furniture, stripped floors and Edison bulbs: why must we aspire to such bland monotony?
The Fortitude Coffee shop in Edinburgh.
The Fortitude Coffee shop in Edinburgh. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Observer

Go to Shoreditch Grind, near a roundabout in the middle of London’s hipster district. It’s a coffee shop with rough-hewn wooden tables, plentiful sunlight from wide windows, and austere pendant lighting. Then head to Takk in Manchester. It’s a coffee shop with a big glass storefront, reclaimed wood furniture, and hanging Edison bulbs. Compare the two: You might not even know you’re in different spaces.

It’s no accident that these places look similar. Though they’re not part of a chain and don’t have their interior design directed by a single corporate overlord, these coffee shops have a way of mimicking the same tired style, a hipster reduction obsessed with a superficial sense of history and the remnants of industrial machinery that once occupied the neighbourhoods they take over. And it’s not just London and Manchester – this style is spreading across the world, from Bangkok to Beijing, Seoul to San Francisco.

It’s not just coffee shops, either. Everywhere you go, seemingly hip, unique spaces have a way of looking the same, whether it’s bars or restaurants, fashion boutiques or shared office spaces. A coffee roaster resembles a WeWork office space. How can all that homogeneity possibly be cool?

In an essay for the American tech website The Verge, I called this style “AirSpace”. It’s marked by an easily recognisable mix of symbols – like reclaimed wood, Edison bulbs, and refurbished industrial lighting – that’s meant to provide familiar, comforting surroundings for a wealthy, mobile elite, who want to feel like they’re visiting somewhere “authentic” while they travel, but who actually just crave more of the same: more rustic interiors and sans-serif logos and splashes of cliche accent colours on rugs and walls.

Hence the replicability: if a hip creative travels to Berlin or Tallinn, they seek out a place that looks like AirSpace, perhaps recommending it on Foursquare or posting a photo of it to Instagram to gain the approval of culturally savvy friends. Gradually, an entire AirSpace geography grows, in which you can travel all the way around the world and never leave it.

You can hop from cookie-cutter bar to office space to apartment building, and be surrounded by those same AirSpace tropes I described above. You’ll be guaranteed fast internet, strong coffee, and a comfortable chair from which to do your telecommuting. What you won’t get is anything interesting or actually unique.

There are several causes of AirSpace. The first is that mobility is increasing: more people move more quickly around the world than ever before, mostly passing through the same urban hotspots (London, New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong), and carrying their sense of style with them. It’s globalisation, but intensified, made more accessible to a wider economic spectrum of people, more of the time. Mobility is not just for the rich any more: working remotely is increasingly common; you can take a sabbatical to work from Bali and not miss a beat.

Taste is also becoming globalised, as more people around the world share their aesthetic aspirations on the same massive social media platforms, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or Foursquare, with their hundreds of millions or billions of users. As algorithms shape which content we consume on our feeds, we all learn to desire the same things, which often happens to involve austere interiors, reclaimed wood, and Edison bulbs, like a metastasised real-life version of Kinfolk magazine or Monocle.

Startups are also growing to provide these experiences of sameness as a product, predicated on the fact that we now prefer consuming ready-made generic spaces to creating new ones of our own. We’ve been infantilised. The companies use technology to foster a sense of easy placelessness; Roam, for example, is an international chain of co-living and working spaces that offers the same lifestyle (and same furniture) in Madrid, Miami and Ubud, and residents can live anywhere for £1,500 per month. WeWork’s WeLive branch creates wan dormitories for mobile tech workers, each with its own raw-wood furniture and mandated techno-kitsch interior decorating.

But the king of AirSpace is Airbnb. The platform enables users to travel seamlessly between places, staying in locals’ apartments. Its slogan is “you can belong anywhere”. But all Airbnbs have a way of looking like AirSpace, too – consultants who work with Airbnb hosts as well as the company’s own architects told me that a certain sameness is spreading, as users come to demand convenience and frictionlessness in lieu of meaningful engagement with a different place. Heading to yet another copycat coffee shop with your laptop isn’t “local”. Why go anywhere if it just ends up looking the same as whatever global city you started from?

It’s not just boring aesthetics, however. AirSpace creates a division between those who belong in the slick, interchangeable places and those who don’t. The platforms that enable this geography are themselves biased: a Harvard Business School study showed that Airbnb hosts are less likely to accept guests with stereotypically African-American names.

There’s also the economic divide: access to AirSpace is expensive, whether it’s a £3 cortado or the rent on a WeLive or Roam apartment. If you can’t afford it, you are shut out.

AirSpace is convenient, yes. It helps its occupants feel comfortable wherever they are, settled in amid recognisable reminders that they are relevant, interesting, mobile and global. You can change places within it with a single click, the same anonymous seamlessness of an airport lounge but distributed everywhere, behind the facades of local buildings that don’t look like hotels, but act like them.

Yet the discontent of this phenomenon is a creeping anxiety. Is everywhere really starting to look just the same? Glance around and you might be surprised.

The next time you pick out a cafe or bar based on Yelp recommendations or Foursquare tips, or check into an Airbnb, each system driven by an audience of similar people, check if you see reclaimed wood furniture, industrial lighting, or a certain faux-Scandinavian minimalism. Welcome to AirSpace. It will be very hard to leave.


The DNC Is One Big Corporate Bribe


Drink up—it’s on us! Then go protest the TPP to your heart’s content.

To get to the Democratic National Convention, you take the subway to the AT&T Station and walk to the Wells Fargo Center. Along the way, you’ll stroll by the Comcast Xfinity Live complex, where delegates and honored guests can booze it up. You’ll also see the “Cars Move America” exhibit, an actual showroom sponsored by Ford, GM, Toyota, and others. Finally, you’ll reach your seat and watch Democrats explain why we have to reduce the power of big corporations in America.

Party conventions have always been collection points for big money. But many major corporations sat out last week’s Republican gathering for fear of Trump contamination. There’s no such reticence here in Philadelphia; in fact, it feels like they’re making up for that lack of investment.

It’s hard to ferret out all the special interests at the DNC, because there’s no full public schedule. Invitations are doled out individually, and people whisper about this or that event. But enter any official hotel where a delegation is staying, or any Philadelphia landmark, and you’re likely to have a complimentary drink thrust into your hand.

As Politico’s Ben White reported on Monday, private equity firm Blackstone has a meet-and-greet on Thursday. Independence Blue Cross, the southeastern Pennsylvania arm of the large insurer, held a host-committee reception Tuesday; their chief executive is the finance chair of that host committee. The same day, Le Meridien hotel had a private event for Bloomberg LP, and the Logan Hotel hosted “Inspiring Women, a Luncheon Discussion.” The sponsors included Johnson & Johnson, Walgreens, AFLAC, the Financial Services Roundtable (the industry trade lobby), and New York Life. (How many people were they serving, given the number of corporations involved?)

Facebook commandeered a bar inside the Wells Fargo Center for delegates and guests. Twitter rented out an entire restaurant, bestowing attendees with free breakfast, lunch and an open bar. (Full disclosure: I had a slider and some salad. The way I see it, I’ve boosted their market value through the free labor of tweeting and deserve something back.) And when the speeches end, convention-goers fan out to a sea of mostly industry-sponsored parties. A particular favorite of convention delegates is the Distilled Spirits Council kickoff, which in Philadelphia featured music from Jason Isbell and former Eagle Joe Walsh.

Those are just the liquor and cocktail-weenie bribes. An entire other category of corporate cash goes toward “policy discussions,” must-see educational roundtables with a host of luminaries. On Tuesday, Obama campaign guru David Plouffe (now with Uber) and Gore consultant Chris Lehane (now with Airbnb) unveiled new polling data on the sharing economy; a second Airbnb event celebrated the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Party, featuring actor Bryan Cranston. On Wednesday, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation convenes its own technology conference, featuring four members of Congress, a Federal Trade Commission member, the president of the biotech lobby, representatives from Microsoft and Facebook, and former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, now at Amazon.

A softer version—in perfect concert with the “Hillary works for families and children” theme of the week—is the corporate PR booth, highlighting charitable work, usually with children. JPMorgan Chase has its summer youth employment program. Johnson & Johnson (they get around) has the Save the Children Action Network, committed to eradicating rural poverty. I saw House Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn holding court at their booth when I passed by yesterday.

None of this is considered money toward the convention, which is being entirely privately funded for the first time. The donors who are actually paying for the festivitities in Philly are anonymous. So God (and Debbie Wasserman Shultz) only knows where it all comes from. And clearly the DNC wants to keep it that way.

The DNC’s host committee refuses to disclose the names despite a court order, allowing corporate benefactors to hide behind anonymity. The 2014 “CRomnibus” budget law massively increased contribution limits for political convention committees, which can raise up to $800,000 from a single donor per year. And overlooked by emails showing possible anti-Bernie Sanders bias by DNC officials in the Democratic primaries, the WikiLeaks trove released last Friday actually detailedhow the DNC woos big donors with gifts and perks.

The whole spectacle is not technically considered lobbying, but it may have a more insidious effect. Not only are elected officials compromised by their proximity to big money—a version of this happens daily in Washington, after all—but the delegates, usually the grassroots activists most likely to pressure their members of Congress to stand up for Democratic values, get caught up in the muck as well.

Big money didn’t necessarily overshadow Day 2 of the convention, with the historic selection of the first female president and a succession of speakers hailing Hillary Clinton’s lifetime of work. But it pervaded the whole scene. Right before the roll-call vote, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, himself one of the most prodigious corporate fundraisers in Democratic history, addressed the convention. In an interview directly afterward, he suggested that Clinton would eventually come around and support the Trans-Pacific Partnership corporate trade deal, “with some tweaks.” Clinton campaign aide John Podesta had to refute McAuliffe; for his part,  Podesta has jumped in and out of government and corporate lobbying for three decades.

Wasserman Schultz, supposedly banished to Florida after resigning as DNC chair, was still hanging around Philadelphia, and slipped into the Wells Fargo Center to watch the roll call. She got to see the vice presidential nomination of her predecessor as lead party fundraiser, Tim Kaine, who ran the DNC from 2009 to 2011. During the roll call, lobbyists with the Society for Human Resource Management, which helpedstall the signature equal pay bill in Congress, cheered from the floor.

Former Attorney General and corporate lawyer Eric Holder took time off from his work with Uber and Airbnb to address the convention. Former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, now Global Chief Communications Officer for McDonald’s, showed up in a video. Howard Dean praised Hillary Clinton on health care, but strangely left out her support for the public option. Perhaps that’s because he’s a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry, which doesn’t want government insurance plans driving down prices. Even former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who added her praise of Clinton to others’ on Tuesday night, has her own lobbying firm. And Tuesday closer Bill Clinton also has a certain, er, comfort with the corporate world.

The best speech I saw on Tuesday happened five miles from the Wells Fargo Center. In an afternoon address she should have unleashed the previous night—and not sponsored by anyone but her own Senate office—Elizabeth Warren gave a couple hundred delegates a Power Point presentation showing how the economy shifted from broadly shared prosperity to a funnel of practically everything to the very top.

The average American holds 15 times more debt than a generation ago, Warren noted, and one in three with a credit file is dealing with a debt collector. “I went to college for $50 a semester,” Warren said, but now fixed costs on education and health care have skyrocketed, making it impossible for the middle class to keep up. The reason: disinvestment in the public good, deregulation of banks and industry, and policies that pushed practically all economic gains upward.

Warren pointed the finger directly at lobbying, which grew seven-fold in the past 30 years. After the speech, I asked her about the corporate underwriting of practically everything in Philadelphia this week. “Too many CEOs have learned that they can invest millions in Washington and get billions in return with special deals with the government,” she said. “This is the central issue of 2016.”

You wouldn’t know that from the official, industry-sponsored proceedings. Maybe the ideological split within the Democratic Party has something to do with Bernie Sanders’s supporters distaste for the ostentatious display of corporate money, and how it has affected the party. The rare moment when overturning Citizens United gets a mention in a convention speech, loud whoops and cheers go up. But corporate influence on the party goes way beyond SuperPACs and campaign contributions; in Philadelphia, it is everywhere.


10 Takeaways About the Gig Economy That Has Pushed Europe to Say No to These Predatory Capitalists

Europe knows what undermines economic stability, says author Steven Hill.

Photo Credit: rmnoa357 / Shutterstock.com

The gig economy, exemplified by ride-service companies like Uber, housing rental companies like Airbnb and freelance brokers like Upwork, is not a harbinger of an empowering new tech-driven economy. These are predatory corporations using age-old practices to exploit workers, dodge government oversight and evade taxes.

Those are the takeaways from the new book Raw Deal: How The Uber Economy and Runaway Capitalism are Screwing American Workers, by Steven Hill, a fellow at New America Foundation. Hill, who splits his time between California and Europe, intriguingly notes that unlike the states, the continent has not embraced the gig economy mainstays in its midst.

AlterNet talked with Hill about how Europe—particularly Germany, where he has lived for most of 2016—has not bought into the sector’s claims that it is somehow futuristic, different and above government regulation and public accountability.

“I first started looking at this myself because I live in San Francisco and I’ve been watching the impact of technology on jobs, and specific companies like Uber, TaskRabbit, and Upwork, which I think in some ways is the most alarming of these companies,” he said, referring to a firm that farms out freelance work to the lowest global bidders. “Having studied that here, and these companies are now operating in other countries as well, I wanted to see how other countries are reacting to the pressures that they’re getting from these companies.”

What follows are 10 of Hill’s observations about the burgeoning gig economy.

1. Not following the laws, anywhere. “The first thing for Americans to realize is that a lot of these companies aren’t following the laws, aren’t paying taxes. Uber comes in and just doesn’t follow local laws for taxis. Not only in terms of background checks, insurance laws, qualifications for drivers, but even in terms of paying livery taxes. Airbnb, same thing. Upwork and TaskRabbit, these companies aren’t following minimum wage laws.”

2. Europeans are not okay with that. “Americans sort of accept some of this. But the first thing you notice when you go to France or Germany, they say, ‘No, this is a taxi service. I don’t care that you are using technology to connect a driver to a passenger.’ In fact, Uber changed its name to Uber Technologies just so they could say they were a technology company, not a taxi company. Across Europe, people say, So what? We don’t care that you’re a technology company. It is the same service you offer, therefore we expect you to follow the same laws that we have for taxis. We expect you to follow the same laws that we have for hotels or any of these other services and platforms.

“So there is this interesting and I would say refreshing perspective: Of course, you’re going to follow the laws. You don’t get out of following laws just because you think you are something new and different.”

3. Anything but a new business model. “Airbnb, for example, will tell you, ‘Look, we want to pay taxes—the hotel and occupancy tax that hotels pay—and we want to follow local laws, but we’re in 34,000 cities and we just haven’t had time to research all of these cities and their laws, and we’re going to get to it.’

The thing that’s rather remarkable is they are asserting this new corporate right that you can set up operations first and figure out the local laws and taxes later on. If Boeing, for example, were to set up an airplane assembly plant here, and said we’ll figure out the taxes and local laws later on, we’d live in a very different world. Corporations don’t get to set up where they want and figure out the laws later on. But that’s what these companies are insisting on being able to do.”

4. Europeans are trying to reel this in. “In Berlin, where I was living for the last five months, they passed a law two years ago saying, ‘There’s going to be the new rules we are going to insist on [for Airbnb rentals]. We are not going to have it take effect for two years so everyone can have a chance to get ready.’

Well, the law just went into effect on May 1, and it basically says that you cannot own multiple properties, you can’t rent out your whole house—you can only rent out a spare room in your house or apartment; they put a percentage on it, and you have to register with the city. They are not looking to shut it down completely. Most people realize that the core idea of Airbnb, that you can allow people to rent out a spare room and make some extra money, is okay. But the problem is a lot of it has been completely taken over by professional real estate operatives, some of whom have dozens of properties. So cities like Berlin and Copenhagen are trying to return it to that earlier core business, where you can still have someone rent out a spare room, but you’re not going to create an opportunity for professionals to circumvent local laws or use Airbnb as a massive loophole.”

5. Pushback in U.S. lags far behind. “San Francisco just passed a law for tougher Airbnb rules. They already have a law that folks have to register, which has been in effect for almost a year and a half. This new law is going to put the burden on Airbnb and says you can’t list folks who haven’t registered. If you do list folks who have not registered, you are going to be fined… Other cities are looking at it.

“The problem, in terms of Airbnb, is that many of these laws have turned out to be unenforceable. Unless you have the data from Airbnb, it’s hard to know how many nights they’re renting out, how much they’re charging, these sorts of things. Airbnb is the only one that has that data, and has refused to give it up, despite requests. So this is a big problem in terms of enforcing any of these laws.”

6. Europe is increasing enforcement. “In Berlin, in contrast, they’re ramping up enforcement. They are actually going to have people go door to door. They are encouraging neighbors to start reporting on neighbors who are illegally operating as Airbnb hotels. That’s interesting, as it taps into a whole history of Germany reporting on neighbors, going back to the Stasi [secret police] and everything else. It’s just a lot of different approaches that are happening. We’ll see if any of them are effective.”

7. Europeans are more concerned. “The public in Europe, in general, expect corporations to be better citizens. There is more of social dimension to the economy there. So when companies like Uber come in and say, Hey, we’re going to give you a new service, people take a second look.

First of all, in Europe, taxi service is pretty good, whereas here in the U.S. taxi service is not. There aren’t enough taxis on the road because of medallions and those sorts of things. But in Europe, there is not as big a need. There’s good public transit. That makes Europeans react by saying, If you want to operate here, that’s fine, but you have to follow the law. You can’t do it on the backs of your drivers, cutting their pay, and those sorts of things.”

8. The gig economy hasn’t exploded there. “It hasn’t hit there like it has here, partly because they insist that you follow the law. So Uber and Lyft and TaskRabbit and these other companies say it is a bigger uphill battle for them. They haven’t tried to push into there as much as in India or China. Europeans are aware of the gig economy. Some call it the digital economy. Some just call it the Internet economy. They’re aware that some of the ways that these companies operate really strike at the core of their social model.

“When you talk to business people in Germany and say, This is what these companies are; this is how they operate; they want a labor force they can turn on and off like a garden hose, they understand what that means for the economy. They have good labor relations and it’s part of their economic successes… So that is a barrier to entry for these kinds of companies.”

9. But European business people are worried. “The companies that are most concerning to them are a company like Upwork. It is based in San Francisco, in Silicon Valley, and has 250 employees who use technology to oversee 10 million freelancers from around the world. If you go on that platform, you see workers from Germany saying, I want 60 euros an hour for this job. And you can see a worker from Thailand or India saying, I’ll take two euros an hour. Some of those workers in Thailand or India are very skilled, have access to technology and can do the job.

“So, if you’re a business person in Germany, you feel torn because you can get someone for a lot less, but understand it undermines something crucial about the German economy, and the relationship between employer and employee, and the basis for their economic success. That’s the dilemma.”

10. American workers are less protected. “A lot of Americans who are working in these jobs just need the work. They know the jobs are not very good. If you look at Uber’s own numbers, it shows that 50 percent of their drivers last a year on their platform and then move on. So it’s a temporary job. It’s something they do because they can’t find anything better.”

The biggest takeaway 

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from listening to Hill is that the gig economy flourishes when the public faces a mix of economic anxieties and an absense of government oversight. On both those counts, the U.S. sits between Europe, which has resisted these exploitive firms, and Asia, where they are able to rapidly expand. Indeed, if Americans didn’t have as many economic anxieties at home, there would be less of a need to work longer hours and wrest more income from one’s assets.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).


The Gig Economy Is Ripping Out Floor Below Middle Class

Gig economy profits are mostly going to wealthy executives.

Photo Credit: Image by Shutterstock, Copyright (c) tostphotos

The latest tech-driven gyrations upending traditional employment and increasing the divide between the haves and the have-nots are as profound as they are poorly understood by the public and federal lawmakers.

In what’s called the gig economy, companies like Uber hire people to use their own cars as taxis; property owners use firms like AirBnB to rent homes and rooms; and the well-off use firms like Instacart for on-demand shopping. While this may seem to offer more freedom of choice to all, some say the gig economy not only erodes wage-based work and benefits, it poses systemic risks to the economy as income becomes more erratic.

That was the takeaway from a talk by David Cay Johnston, the renowned investigative business reporter, at San Francisco Public Press, an independent non-profit outlet. Yet according to just-released findings by Pew Research Center in the first national survey about this corner of the “new digital economy,” most Americans have little idea of the changes underway.

“Imagine that you are a mortgage lender. Are you going to lend people money for 30 years if they don’t have the security of employment?” Johnston said, offering an example of how the successful push by the technology sector to undermine and overturn the labor laws created during the New Deal are tilting too far toward piecemeal purveyors and will create new instability.

“People are working without salary, benefits and the stability to buy a house and raise a family,” he said, saying that the blame can be placed at the foot of high-tech lobbyists who have donated to congressional campaigns and federal officeholders who subsequently loosened federal laws to their benefit.

Meanwhile, according to Pew’s New Digital Economy report, 61 percent of Americans have never heard of “crowdfunding,” 73 percent are not familiar with the “sharing economy,” and 89 percent have never heard of the “gig economy.”

Johnston is a registered Republican but schooled in the belief that business prospers when wages and benefits are reliable and income is spent locally. He described how the fundamentals of middle-class stability are being further eroded by a new technology-based oligarchy. Despite all the hip apps and marketing, gig economy profits are only going to executives while the jobs offered are intrinsically unstable, fiscally unpredictable and most of the risk and expense are placed on contract workers.

During Johnston’s presentation, he said the protests against companies like Uber are not going to be enough to address the underlying disparities became they are based on federal law—or an absence of regulation—to create a healthier balance for employers, workers and the economy. Johnston believes these underlying issues and resulting shifts in the economy are neither recognized nor understood by 2016’s presidential candidates.

I spoke with him after his talk to further elaborate these points.

Steven Rosenfeld: What’s really going on with the gig economy?

David Cay Johnston: The gig economy is really about pushing down the costs of labor. And it’s government rules that help corporations pay less for labor and therefore make more profits, unless they push so far that they don’t effectively run the business. And they’re going to push them down and down because government policy lets them do it. When you pay people as employees, they get a regular paycheck. That means the employer takes more of the risk and the worker gets reliability. And that’s a much better system, because most people can’t live in a world of unreliability. How are you going to finance a mortgage if you don’t have a reliable income?

SR: You said these protests on the street against Uber aren’t really going anywhere, and neither is a litigation strategy because the federal courts are stacked with judges who are anti-labor, so where’s the pressure point?

DCJ: Demonstrations like shutting things down can be very beneficial, but they are a tactic, not a strategy. The strategy is we have to break the campaign finance system. We have to vote out of office those politicians in both parties who are rigging the game in favor of the oligarchs, who are feeding them and against everybody else. And how do you do that? Well, a lot of people were elected to Congress because they went door to door in their district and knocked on every door for a year—things like that. Or they got other people to do it with them. And they repeatedly went to people with a message and they got it across.

SR: The thing that I see as a reporter is that what unites the Bernie people and what unites the Trump people is they feel vulnerable. They feel unprotected against big systems—some big systems are government. Most big systems are corporate and private. And the gig economy is part of that, because people are not empowered and have fewer choices. So what do people do? 

DCJ: The underlying problem here is in the law. We’re getting the law wrong and we’re getting the principles wrong. People don’t understand that at all. First, of all, you can’t be too abstract. I am in this bizarre position in the people I champion in my books are the people going with Bernie or Donald. And I’ve written the toughest pieces about both of them that have been in this campaign—to the point where Donald called and threatened to sue me. And yet neither of these people is capable of doing anything.

Bernie Sanders is not capable of making any change. He doesn’t know how to run anything. And Donald, if he gets elected, he doesn’t care about any of this. He’s a narcissist.

So fundamentally we’ve got to find ways to build organizations that aren’t necessarily the organizations that are for people at their work. We’ve got to create social movements and find people who are leaders—this is not me. This is not my area—who will get across messages that will unite people and get them to say, Yeah, we’ve had enough of this and we are not taking it anymore, and elect different people to office.

SR: Everyone agrees with that. But we have a political culture whose language, whose rhetoric, whose understanding seems so dumbed down.

DCJ: My simple answer to that is I am in the diagnosis business. I am not in the solution business. I wish I was. But I have spent my whole life exposing problems and I have offered here and there solutions, but the fundamental solutions of how do you organize this society and a culture to change—I don’t know how to do that; it’s not what I do.

SR: But I’ll tell you what you do do—you analyze the money. Where it goes. You analyze how it’s structured. You analyze whether there is enough to be shifted from a column here as a tax break and giveaway, to a column here as a public benefit that could be a safety net. And as you said earlier tonight, there is enough money there to really have people lead more assured, confident and economically secure lives.

DCJ: So one of the ways to do that is nobody needs or can spend enormous huge incomes. My thought is a couple of reforms that we need is that even high income should be taxed at a much higher rate to discourage those high incomes. Secondly, if it’s wealth—you’re not spending the money, you’re building wealth—you should be able to build all the wealth you want, but when you die we should heavily tax it to take it away. And you shouldn’t be able to borrow against that wealth to live on—that’s how super-rich people live tax-free. If you had $1 billion and are spending only $10 million a year, you can borrow and get richer and richer without paying taxes. We need to stop that. We need to recognize that there is no utility to this.

You know, if you invent something and it makes you $10 billion, god bless you. You keep the $10 billion until you die. And then we should heavily tax that. We have gotten the idea that somehow this is wrong. The only reason you made the $10 billion is because you live in the United States of America. We have the market and the technology that taxpayers have invested to make it possible, and now we’re going to go harvest it. And if we don’t do that, here’s what we’re saying. We’re going to let that rich person who benefited from all that public investment and spending keep the money, and you’re going to be taxed so they can pay less. That’s crazy.

SR: Do you think there is an opening now because millions of Americans are looking to Bernie and looking to Trump to address deep anxieties?

DCJ: No, I think this is evidence of people’s panic. People know that the promise of the Reagan revolution, that it would make them rich, hasn’t worked out. They don’t know why. They don’t know what to do about it. So they have gone to two false prophets. And the difference between them is people who are motivated by racial animus or other bigotry are going to one, and people who have a better—in my view—or more reasonable understanding of society are going to the other. But they are false prophets. They can’t fix anything. They don’t know how to fix anything. And they don’t really care.

Leading members of Congress will tell you that Bernie has never accomplished anything and doesn’t know how to, and he’s a miserable human being if you ever meet him. I know that about him. But he has never accomplished anything. He’s a rabblerouser. We need rabblerousers. But he shouldn’t be president.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).



Uber, Airbnb and the Clash Between Workers and the On-Demand Economy

What the Uber settlement and the SEIU-Unite Here fracas mean for labor as Uber navigates Silicon Valley disruption.

The Uber Battle Has Only Just Begun

It’s one of those universally acknowledged truths that the rise of the on-demand economy creates challenges for the labor movement. Last week, a major court settlement and a backroom fracas between two unions emphasized the immediacy of those challenges.

Ride-hailing giant Uber agreed to pay $84 million to settle two class-action lawsuits from its drivers, essentially buying time before the company has to answer to whether its business model—classifying drivers as independent contractors—is legal. Meanwhile, the Service Employees Union International and hospitality union Unite Here’s competing interests in the sharing economy came to blows when SEIU tried to broker a controversial deal with Airbnb.

Both the court settlement and the SEIU-Unite Here brouhaha have created more questions than answers to how unions—and the labor movement more broadly—can effectively combat the harmful consequences of Silicon Valley’s disruption of the employer-employee relationship.

Uber’s $84 million settlement with drivers made for nice headlines, but as Michael Hiltzik notes for TheLos Angeles Times, when looked at closely it’s a far better deal for the company than the workers. The most active drivers in the suit will receive up to $8,000, but compensation for the vast majority of the drivers involved will likely be just a couple hundred bucks.  Additionally, Uber must now show cause for “deactivating” (its Orwellian phrasing for “canning”) drivers, and not accepting enough rides cannot be one of those causes. Whether this will actually lead to fewer unpredictable firings remains to be seen.

A final concession in the deal requires Uber to “facilitate and recognize” drivers’ associations that can bring up drivers’ concerns and discuss them with the company on a quarterly basis. Again, the degree to which such an association would have any real benefit for workers—or whether it’d be a pseudo-company union—remains unclear.

Meanwhile, Uber’s $84 million payout is a bargain. By agreeing to the settlement, Uber completely avoided any legal ruling on whether the company must classify its drivers as employees. Uber has an estimated valuation of $64 billion (how much of that is attributable to its refusal to acknowledge its drivers are employees is anybody’s guess), and the company likely sees the settlement as a way to buy some legal breathing room on the issue of misclassification as it faces attacks on several other fronts.

For instance, the National Labor Relations Board is currently investigating whether Uber’s drivers are in fact traditional employees, and thus eligible for minimum wages, overtime, workers’ compensation, and importantly, the right to unionize. Unions like the Teamsters are already attempting to organize drivers in anticipation of a favorable ruling and lobbying for legislation that allows for gig workers to unionize. Seattle, which is on the vanguard of passing labor-friendly ordinances, recently passed a law granting independent contractors the right to unionize. Democrats in the California legislature were also pushing a similar law, though they recently announced that they are holding off for now (the California bill apparently gave workers less power than the Seattle ordinance, prompting some unions to temper or withhold their support). The Teamsters have announced that they are forming an association for Uber drivers in California similar to the association they are helping support in Seattle.

The union strategy for gaining ground among app-based drivers so far appears to be a rather chaotic approach of throwing everything—organizing, lawsuits, legislation—at the wall and seeing what sticks. Central to a cohesive strategy is the question of whether labor can force companies like Uber to classify its drivers as employees, which may result in the happiest outcome for workers but which also may require a long, expensive battle in the courts.

An alternative route, pioneered by Seattle, is to push for collective bargaining rights for independent contractors, which would ensure workers’ right to organize but gives employers flexibility and enables them to duck many of traditional employers’ legal responsibilities. Some centrists in the Democratic Party favor establishing a new, third classification, often called a “dependent contractor,” that would extend some legal guarantees to workers like Uber drivers; many in labor see this as an unnecessary concession to employers who just want to craft new, less comprehensive regulations to better fit their business models. The Uber settlement settles none of these issues; indeed, it merely ensures that the debate, both within and without the labor movement, will continue.

When Solidarity Softens

Early last week, news broke that SEIU was trying to reach a deal with home-rental company Airbnb. In exchange for the union’s tacit seal of approval, the company would endorse a $15 minimum wage and promote the use of unionized housekeepers to its hosts. When Unite Here, which represents hotel workers, heard that this deal was in the works, it furiously mobilized a coalition of labor and housing activists calling on SEIU to pull out.

“We are appalled by reports that SEIU is partnering with Airbnb, a company that has destroyed communities by driving up housing costs and killing good hotel jobs in urban markets across North America,” said Unite Here spokesperson Annemarie Strassel in a statement. “Airbnb has shown a blatant disregard for city and state laws, has refused to cooperate with government agencies, and turns a blind eye to the fact that its business model exacerbates the affordable housing crisis.”

“They are essentially selling cheap cover to an American corporation for union dues from a few members,” said Peter Ward, head of the Unite Here local in New York. “It goes against all the principles of the labor movement.”

It was also discovered that former SEIU President Andy Stern was acting as a representative for Airbnb in the negotiations, reigniting criticism from many within labor that the union (and Stern in particular) was too inclined to cut deals with corporations that might add to its membership rolls. But SEIU quickly released a statement saying that they were merely having an early-stage conversation and denying that they had reached a deal. “We actively and regularly engage in conversations with companies who are committed to doing right by their workforce by paying better wages and giving them a voice at work through their union,” an SEIU spokesperson said in a statement. Airbnb is one such company, however, there is no formal relationship or agreement between SEIU and Airbnb.”

Later in the week, reports surfaced that the SEIU-Airbnb deal had crumbled, and after privately meeting, Unite Here and SEIU agreed “to find a common approach to protect and expand the stock of affordable housing in all communities across the country and to protect and preserve standards for workers in residential and hotel cleaning while also growing opportunities for these cleaners to improve their lives,” according to an SEIU statement.

The not-so-small irony here is that SEIU has for years been funding and directing probably the largest union campaign in history to have directly benefited millions of workers—the Fight for 15—despite the fact, as the union must know, that it has faint prospects of turning the vast majority of those workers into dues-paying members. And yet, when the union was presented with perhaps the first such campaign that could have generated more members—the Airbnb initiative—it came at the expense of another union, Unite Here, which has a vested interest in the industry where most of its members are employed, as SEIU does not. Understandably, Unite Here took SEIU’s pursuit of the Airbnb deal as a direct affront to its own mission, and it had no trouble rallying affordable housing advocates and other unions to its cause.

This is far from the first time that unions have had contentious turf battles. However, with membership rolls diminished, the more active unions (such as SEIU and Unite Here) are constantly searching for new organizing opportunities. Silicon Valley and its startup economy bring with them both organizing opportunities and organizing conundrums. But unless and until labor can agree on a common strategy and appropriate jurisdictions, the SEIU-Unite Here fracas will just be the first chapter in what could be a chaotic period within the movement.

Justin Miller is a Writing Fellow at The American Prospect. 



Is Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky Telling Us the Truth About His Company?

Posted: 10/17/2015 9:46 am EDT Updated: 10/19/2015 11:59 am EDT

The following post was excerpted from:
RAW DEAL: How the “Uber Economy” and Runaway Capitalism are Screwing American Workers
Reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Press
(c) 2015 by Steven Hill, published on October 20, 2015


The third actor in this passion play is Mr. Brian Chesky himself, Airbnb’s 34 year old CEO and co-founder. A former bodybuilder and graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Chesky’s rise to the ranks of billionaire hospitality mogul has been remarkable. A video floating around online of Chesky’s commencement speech that he gave at his college graduation shows, if nothing else, major amounts of chutzpah. The future Airbnb chief struts on stage in full cap and gown to the throbbing bass line of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” and proceeds to rip off his black graduation gown, revealing a white tuxedo underneath. He starts clumsily moonwalking and crotch-grabbing to the beat, egged on by the cheers of his classmates, before delivering his address to the graduates, families and faculty. His speech is more entertaining than profound, mixing quips, funny one-liners and even occasional bodybuilder flexes with a 22-year-old’s version of wisdom. The young man in the video is working hard to be liked, is slightly grandiose but also self-aware enough to say that he is uncertain of his future (with an art and design degree, after all). He is confident enough to relish his moment on the graduation stage, and displays definite leadership qualities, kind of like a head cheerleader urging on his homies at their final big hurrah.

That was in 2004, and now in his new role, the chutzpah, leadership and cheerleading have remained and come to the fore. When Chesky spoke at a hospitality conference sponsored by the University of San Francisco in April 2014, he offered no acknowledgement of the complexities, much less the downsides, of his business model. People like Theresa Flandrich and her elderly and disabled neighbors who are being evicted under the pressures of the assault on the San Francisco housing market, which Airbnb’s service has greatly contributed to, are not on his radar. Instead, rather unbelievably, he cast his company into another role in this script–that of the blue helmets saving the world.

“[Airbnb] is like the United Nations at every kitchen table. It’s very powerful,” said Chesky. In the masthead of his company, Chesky has assumed the role of Ideologist-in-Chief. His early interviews as CEO, viewable on YouTube, show an awkward young man, wide-eyed, hands flailing, who scarcely can believe his and his cofounders’ good fortune. He has an “aw shucks” charm. But several years later, as the same old questions become more pointed and specific, Chesky’s vague responses come off as evasive.

It’s not just that Airbnb refuses to be responsive to the increasingly wide path of destruction it is hewing. It’s also that Chesky wraps it all into a New Age-y kind of rap about trust, sharing, community and belonging. In early 2014, Chesky and his cofounders took a deep breath from their incredible success story to reconsider their mission. Chesky posted his thoughts about the newly revamped Airbnb, an 1100-word sermon to his public that, like his college graduation speech, was another revealing moment into this young phenom.

“Joe, Nate, and I did some soul-searching over the last year,” wrote Chesky. “We asked ourselves, ‘What is our mission? What is the big idea that truly defines Airbnb?’ It turns out the answer was right in front of us. People thought Airbnb was about renting houses. But really, we’re about home. You see, a house is just a space, but a home is where you belong. And what makes this global community so special is that for the very first time, you can belong anywhere. That is the idea at the core of our company: belonging.”

Like that young, slightly presumptuous college speaker holding forth at center stage, Chesky then goes on to wrap his company’s growing commercial empire in a grandiose vision that he positions as a solution to a civilization gone awry, indeed as a reaction to the wrongful drift of history.

“We used to take belonging for granted. Cities used to be villages,” wrote Chesky. “Everyone knew each other, and everyone knew they had a place to call home. But after the mechanization and Industrial Revolution of the last century, those feelings of trust and belonging were displaced by mass-produced and impersonal travel experiences. We also stopped trusting each other. And in doing so, we lost something essential about what it means to be a community… Belonging is the idea that defines Airbnb. . . Airbnb is returning us to a place where everyone can feel they belong.”

Like a newly converted evangelical, Chesky explicitly tries to tap into a rich, red vein filled with the loneliness and isolation of this modern life. He does this as a bid to position his company as more than simply a hospitality business: it’s a vehicle for building a global movement, a community of trust and sharing. But not over religion or to provide humanitarian aid, or to end human rights abuses, as previous visionaries have tried to do – no, Chesky is no Albert Schweitzer. Instead, in a sign of the times, his revolutionary act involves. . . a commercial transaction . . . providing short-term rentals to tourists.

Chesky’s Hallmark greeting card homily to his public was brilliant, akin to channeling John Lennon’s “Imagine” and merging it with a hotel business. It’s even more audacious than Nike’s “Just Do It” or Apple’s “Think Different.” In a topsy-turvy world, in which both government and big business have let us down, leading to the most disastrous economic crash since the Great Depression, Chesky’s words sound reassuring. He simultaneously attempts to mine feelings of loneliness and isolation, a longing for community, a sense of history and an economy gone off the rails, as well as the desire for travel to exotic places–and merge it all with a real financial need among Airbnb hosts in difficult economic times to use their own homes to earn income. To “monetize” their lives and their loneliness. It is one of the most audacious marketing pitches ever deployed.

Like any true evangelical, Brian Chesky seems to sincerely believe his newfound faith. But like so many fundamentalists of one kind or another, he is blinded by it. He deletes from his picture whatever fact or story doesn’t fit. In his talk at the University of San Francisco conference, Chesky crowed, “For us to win, no one has to lose,” and like that college commencement speaker he championed his “on-message” message with such a boyishly good-natured enthusiasm that audience members keyed into the hipness and coolness of his rosy version of the world. Yet sadly, Chesky has rendered invisible all those people like Theresa Flandrich and so many others across San Francisco–across the world–who in fact are not winning because they are being evicted under the housing pressures that Airbnb has helped unleash. He ignores all the upset neighbors who have some pretty strong feelings about the hotelization of their neighborhoods, with complete strangers and their rollaway luggage now traipsing in and out at all hours. He slickly hides the fact that increasingly “regular people” renting spare rooms are not the core of his business — instead it comes from professional landlords and multi-property agents, some of whom have converted entire apartment buildings into tourist hotels, even if they have to evict elderly and sick people to do it. Indeed he ignores all the disappearing housing stock and rising rents for local residents, not all of it attributable to Airbnb but his company has become a key catalytic factor.

Brian Chesky and the rest of Airbnb’s executives and venture-capitalist backers seem to feel little responsibility for upending so many people’s lives. Their company is like a rumbling jetliner that flies low overhead, but doesn’t want to be blamed for its noise. They are either oblivious to their impact, or they have rationalized it away as the necessary collateral damage for their “sharing revolution.”

Perhaps the biggest tragedy in all this is that at the core of Airbnb is a really good idea-it has cleverly used Web- and app-based technology to bust open a global market that connects tourists with financially strapped homeowners. After interviewing some of Airbnb’s “regular-people” hosts, I’m convinced that this service legitimately does help some of them make ends meet. But by taking such a hands-off, laissez-faire attitude toward the professionalization of hosting by greedy commercial landlords and multiproperty agents, Airbnb has become its own worst enemy. As the number of victims piles up, it undermines its own “sharing and trust” ethos.

If Airbnb and Chesky really believed in that ethos, the company could partner with local governments and tenants associations to draft laws that take account of this new business model. Chesky could delist the professional landlords and multi-property agents from the Airbnb site, severely limiting their ability to turn badly needed housing into tourist hotels. He could forbid any professional property agency from managing the listing of another person on the Airbnb site, which would crack down on absentee hosts. He could cooperate with cities like San Francisco and Portland, that require hosts to register with local officials, by delisting any unregistered hosts. Airbnb has the data and knows who all of these violators are.

Chesky’s company also could pay hotel taxes in all 34,000 cities in which it operates, or collect it from the hosts and hand it over to local authorities. He could stop refusing to supply the data that cities need to enforce regulations and taxation, including the number of rental nights and rates charged by each host. This is not rocket science, all that’s needed is the will.

The clear and simple truth is that Airbnb has drifted very far from its origins, and is no longer simply a platform of “regular people” hosts. It has morphed into a giant loophole for professional real estate operatives, allowing them to evade local laws and taxation, evict long-time tenants and convert entire buildings into tourist hotels. Brian Chesky can preach all he wants about sharing, trust and belonging, but he and his investors have shown no willingness to kill their golden goose, despite the damage that greedy professional landlords and multiproperty agents are causing to the very fabric of the cities where they operate. That’s not “sharing,” it’s just raw, naked capitalism.