Through Rose City Colored Glasses

Last week it became apparent that I am out of touch with the rest of the world. The distance between myself has never geographically changed, but the chasm between me and what some call real Americans, the heartland, the life’s blood of this country has never been larger.

With the SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage, I realized I don’t spend enough time with conservatives; I forgot what their true colors are. Legalizing unions brought out some talk I didn’t think we allowed in this country anymore without politely accepting resignations to spend more time with family in lieu of firings or Jerry Mcguire-esque freak outs. I mean, why should Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and Mike Huckabee surprise me anymore?

I blame you, Portland. Sure, Oregon is more of a split state, but Portland is the liberal poster child we slap on bumper stickers and paint on postcards to hide the bigotry and tradition that hold sway outside the I-5 corridor between Autzen Stadium and the Rose Quarter.

With Portland as my cocoon, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart as my newsmen, Google preferences, RSS feeds, a steady diet of Farmers Markets and brunch, ironic barbershops and beard competitions, I kind of forgot that under the proud waving of confederate flags, pot, and even love were reviled in whatever is out there in the wastelands once ya get past The Dalles.

Legal weed (hell, free weed until we figure out how to sell it), legalized unions, words like artisanal and organic being as ubiquitous as hand-crafted and locally grown are our foundations. We thank the bus driver as we disembark, celebrate every single summer weekend as a city with blues festivals, musicfests, city fair, rose festival, craft beer festivals, food bazaars, and get probably 1/4 of our dietary need out of trucks. This city bikes through the streets naked and then runs through them to fight cancer. We gather food by the ton and collect toys by the truckload every year for our friends and neighbors we haven’t met yet. Oh, and we love our football club more than you love yours.

With all that, it is easy to both forget that some see equal love as the darkest times in this country’s history (Ted Cruz’s words). Our darkest time? In our history as a nation? Others call it the end of democracy. The end? This was the thing? Legal unions will topple a checks and balances government with free elections which is part of the G7, UN Security Council, and wields the world’s most advanced and well-used militaries? I kind of feel like gay people don’t have the kind of power it takes to unravel nearly 300 years as a free republic.

Others call for the end of SCOTUS. Even though they are written into the constitution, this is not the country our forefathers envisioned…that’s probably correct. I don’t think they’ve had this in mind since we stopped employing children, owning minorities, or let women…I don’t know, think, maybe? I’m pretty sure we turned their minds to jelly with manifest destiny or just inventing our way to jet lag. They were ignorant white men who lived before radio, so let’s cut them some slack, they were no Isaac Asimov so they probably didn’t see this (waves hand around the room at everything) coming.

Look, I’m not saying I don’t read the news. I keep up as much as the average guy, but my time isn’t spent railing against freedom. I don’t waste my breath spouting threats of setting myself on fire if gays get licenses. I don’t claim that this nation is now less free because states now need to recognize gay unions. I don’t spend my time slighting a group that wants nothing more than equal standing. I don’t have time for that, I live in Portland. I’ve got a hackerspace open house to attend. I’ve got to find the city’s best thai food, try all the beers in the WW summer rundown. Need to check off as many to-dos for the summer before the rains set in. There’s the bite and the beer festival coming up. Shoot, when is MFNW? Wait, did I miss WTF? Damn.

Portland keeps me busy, keeps me insulated from the hate, and has for better or worse, made me not a more tolerant person, but an indifferent person; it’s your life, and frankly I am too busy to spend my time trying to keep people marginalized. Gay marriage isn’t a thing here. Ted Cruz and the bigots were just the last to get the hashtag, just like racists were the last to get the message before them. History doesn’t smile kindly on those that were the last to know. Darkest hours don’t come in rainbow colors, folks, so let’s tone down the rhetoric. Now if you’ll excuse us, but Portland will go back to snickering about how ridiculous you all sound and get our tickets to the next awesome thing we do that everyone is equally invited to attend.

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AARP Discounts for the Poor: Another Half-cocked Concept

In our ongoing series of half-cocked ideas we’ve done everything from legalizing selling organs to changing how SNAP works at the local level. Spitballing and seeing what sticks results mostly in bad ideas and unfeasible contraptions you see in old timey videos on you tube right before they catch fire or go crashing to the ground (flight has so many of these perfunctory apparatuses). But you’ve got to start somewhere.

This time we’re looking once again at helping the poor, i.e. myself and my friends and family, somewhat in the same way we looked at raising the minimum wage to $15…what if we did absolutely anything else? So, adding to the idea is the following list of what I think the poor deserve: senior discounts.

It’s surprising the benefits that come from crossing the barrier sweet barrier from old to just about elderly. After fifty years old, the discounts just start piling up.

But why? What’s the premise on which to give the elderly discounts on daily items, services, goods? There are two options: Either they get the discounts because they’re old and they deserve it at their age, the honored age group; or it’s because they’re on a limited, fixed income and we need to incentivize them to spend their finite and waning wealth as much as we can before they die, the expiring consumer.

I know, morbid, but accurate. I think it is most often the latter of the two possibilities. Retirement means a lot of free time, but limited income. Why not throw discounts at a marginally small portion of the population to get what money we can from them. The larger swaths of society not receiving the discounts can cover the difference in volume. Hey, makes sense to me.

But can’t this same premise be applied to the poor? Fixed, limited income who can’t afford much, but let’s give ’em a break so maybe they’ll spend a little more and there’s a little financial relief. You don’t think a family of four would benefit from a 10% discount on groceries on the first Wednesday of every month at Albertson’s, 10% at Fred Meyer the first Tuesday and New Season’s every Wednesday? I think they might enjoy that. So, if an AARP cards gets you $8 off a haircut why can’t your EBT card do the same?

Best of all, it just takes a business making the choice. No votes, no petitions, no marches, no signs, nothing. Just a local business deciding that some of us need just as much help as grandpa from time to time.

The below list was compiled by Steve Harman on Facebook in 2013 and I found it on

YOU must ASK for your discount !

Applebee’s: 15% off with Golden Apple Card (60+)
Arby’s: 10% off ( 55 +)
Ben & Jerry’s: 10% off (60+)
Bennigan’s: discount varies by location (60+)
Bob’s Big Boy: discount varies by location (60+)
Boston Market: 10% off (65+)
Burger King: 10% off (60+)
Chick-Fil-A: 10% off or free small drink or coffee ( 55+)
Chili’s: 10% off ( 55+)
CiCi’s Pizza: 10% off (60+)
Denny’s: 10% off, 20% off for AARP members ( 55 +)
Dunkin’ Donuts: 10% off or free coffee ( 55+)
Einstein’s Bagels: 10% off baker’s dozen of bagels (60+)
Fuddrucker’s: 10% off any senior platter ( 55+)
Gatti’s Pizza: 10% off (60+)
Golden Corral: 10% off (60+)
Hardee’s: $0.33 beverages everyday (65+)
IHOP: 10% off ( 55+)
Jack in the Box: up to 20% off ( 55+)
KFC: free small drink with any meal ( 55+)
Krispy Kreme: 10% off ( 50+)
Long John Silver’s: various discounts at locations ( 55+)
McDonald’s: discounts on coffee everyday ( 55+)
Mrs. Fields: 10% off at participating locations (60+)
Shoney’s: 10% off
Sonic: 10% off or free beverage (60+)
Steak ‘n Shake: 10% off every Monday & Tuesday ( 50+)
Subway: 10% off (60+)
Sweet Tomatoes: 10% off (62+)
Taco Bell : 5% off; free beverages for seniors (65+)
TCBY: 10% off ( 55+)
Tea Room Cafe: 10% off ( 50+)
Village Inn: 10% off (60+)
Waffle House: 10% off every Monday (60+)
Wendy’s: 10% off ( 55 +)
Whataburger: 10% off (62+)
White Castle: 10% off (62+) This is for me … if I ever see one again.

Banana Republic: 30% off ( 50 +)
Bealls: 20% off first Tuesday of each month ( 50 +)
Belk’s: 15% off first Tuesday of every month ( 55 +)
Big Lots: 30% off
Bon-Ton Department Stores: 15% off on senior discount days ( 55 +)
C.J. Banks: 10% off every Wednesday (50+)
Clarks : 10% off (62+)
Dress Barn: 20% off ( 55+)
Goodwill: 10% off one day a week (date varies by location)
Hallmark: 10% off one day a week (date varies by location)
Kmart: 40% off (Wednesdays only) ( 50+)
Kohl’s: 15% off (60+)Modell’s Sporting Goods: 30% off
Rite Aid: 10% off on Tuesdays & 10% off prescriptions
Ross Stores: 10% off every Tuesday ( 55+)
The Salvation Army Thrift Stores: up to 50% off ( 55+)
Stein Mart: 20% off red dot/clearance items first Monday of every month ( 55 +)

Albertson’s: 10% off first Wednesday of each month ( 55 +)
American Discount Stores: 10% off every Monday ( 50 +)
Compare Foods Supermarket: 10% off every Wednesday (60+)
DeCicco Family Markets: 5% off every Wednesday (60+)
Food Lion: 60% off every Monday (60+)
Fry’s Supermarket: free Fry’s VIP Club Membership & 10% off every Monday ( 55 +)
Great Valu Food Store: 5% off every Tuesday (60+)
Gristedes Supermarket: 10% off every Tuesday (60+)
Harris Teeter: 5% off every Tuesday (60+)
Hy-Vee: 5% off one day a week (date varies by location)
Kroger: 10% off (date varies by location)
Morton Williams Supermarket: 5% off every Tuesday (60+)
The Plant Shed: 10% off every Tuesday ( 50 +)
Publix: 15% off every Wednesday ( 55 +)
Rogers Marketplace: 5% off every Thursday (60+)
Uncle Guiseppe’s Marketplace: 15% off (62+)

Alaska Airlines: 50% off (65+)
American Airlines: various discounts for 50% off non-peak periods (Tuesdays – Thursdays) (62+)and up (call before booking for discount)
Continental Airlines: no initiation fee for Continental Presidents Club & special fares for select destinations
Southwest Airlines: various discounts for ages 65 and up (call before booking for discount)
United Airlines: various discounts for ages 65 and up (call before booking for discount)
U.S. Airways: various discounts for ages 65 and up (call before booking for discount)
Rail:Amtrak: 15% off (62+)
Bus: Greyhound: 15% off (62+)
Trailways Transportation System: various discounts for ages 50+

Car Rental:
Alamo Car Rental: up to 25% off for AARP members
Avis: up to 25% off for AARP members
Budget Rental Cars: 40% off; up to 50% off for AARP members ( 50+)
Dollar Rent-A-Car: 10% off ( 50+) Enterprise Rent-A-Car: 5% off for AARP members Hertz: up to 25% off for AARP members
National Rent-A-Car: up to 30% off for AARP members

Overnight Accommodations:
Holiday Inn: 20-40% off depending on location (62+)
Best Western: 40% off (55+)
Cambria Suites: 20%-30% off (60+)
Waldorf Astoria – NYC $5,000 off nightly rate for Presidential Suite (55 +)
Clarion Motels: 20%-30% off (60+)
Comfort Inn: 20%-30% off (60+)
Comfort Suites: 20%-30% off (60+)
Econo Lodge: 40% off (60+)
Hampton Inns & Suites: 40% off when booked 72 hours in advance
Hyatt Hotels: 25%-50% off (62+)
InterContinental Hotels Group: various discounts at all hotels (65+)
Mainstay Suites: 10% off with Mature Traveler’s Discount (50+); 20%-30% off (60+)
Marriott Hotels: 25% off (62+)
Motel 6: Stay Free Sunday nights (60+)
Myrtle Beach Resort: 30% off ( 55 +)
Quality Inn: 40%-50% off (60+)
Rodeway Inn: 20%-30% off (60+)
Sleep Inn: 40% off (60+)

AMC Theaters: up to 30% off ( 55 +)
Bally Total Fitness: $100 off memberships (62+)
Busch Gardens Tampa, FL: $13 off one-day tickets ( 50 +)
Carmike Cinemas: 35% off (65+)
Cinemark/Century Theaters: up to 35% off
Massage Envy – NYC 20% off all “Happy Endings” (62 +)
U.S. National Parks: $10 lifetime pass; 50% off additional services including camping (62+)
Regal Cinemas: 50% off Ripley’s Believe it or Not: @ off one-day ticket ( 55 +)
SeaWorld, Orlando , FL : $3 off one-day tickets ( 50 +)

AT&T: Special Senior Nation 200 Plan $19.99/month (65+)
Jitterbug: $10/month cell phone service ( 50 +)
Verizon Wireless: Verizon Nationwide 65 Plus Plan $29.99/month (65+).

Great Clips: $8 off hair cuts (60+)
Supercuts: $8 off haircuts (60+)

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SNAP: Rethinking the food stamp program locally

Originally published in the #5 Poppycock:

With this issue’s half-cocked concept, we turn our eyes to SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps, costs the American taxpayer some $80 billion annually. We take a look at how Portland and Oregon to a greater extent could rethink how this financial relief is allocated, and how our local economy might benefit.

Renamed SNAP in 2010, the Food Stamps program remains the same as it has, mostly, for decades. It is the vast majority of funding allocated by the Farm Bill, it is a point of great contention for politicos, and it is constantly under threat of reduction despite a need by many as not just supplemental income, but a cornerstone for many families.

When we get right down to it, it’s a handout from the government. Tax money used to support families same as unemployment, WIC, and welfare. SNAP is financial relief for one of life’s constant, increasing expenditures, but it’s just money. I mean, if money is money and relief is relief, could we just rethink how we use that money?

In October of this year, Oregon released benefits exceeding $98 million. That’s approximately $225 per household or $126 per person receiving benefits. SNAP is basically a gift certificate, it’s handicapped money. It’s money that can’t do everything that real money can do. You can buy candy, but not vitamins. You can buy fresh lobster, but not diapers. You can buy cake, but not medicine. With junk food allowed but soap and toothpaste not, we did away with the “supplemental nutrition” premise and examined the issue without it as a limitation in our systems. If you can do your grocery shopping at a CVS and a Chevron, but can’t buy medication or gasoline, then I think we can all agree that nutrition is taking a back seat.

We also saw an issue with limiting a buyer’s rights. If this isn’t about nutrition, then it needs to be about straightforward financial relief. If the household is receiving $225 in relief, why shouldn’t they decide what that relief is spent on? Essentially, we need to think of a better way Oregonians can spend and profit from their benefits while getting the relief they need. The ideas we came up with had to meet three criteria: scaleable, local, and sustainable.

Data isn’t readily available on the buyer’s habits, nor is it easily released as to which stores and companies are receiving a majority of the buyer’s attention.

One such piece of information was released in Oklahoma a few years ago. In 2012, Walmart received approx. 50% of the $1 billion dollars in benefits paid out that year.

Reports show that buying local keeps more dollars in the community: 48 cents on the dollar stay local compared to the 14 cents when buying from a national chain. This 34 cent difference sounds like the kind of margin that could change a community.

So, how do we make those dollars stay local, improve and enrich our communities while delivering the relief families and individuals need, without losing money?

The Hybrid

We deliver 70-80% or current SNAP benefits as is, and then we add a local discount system. Find 50, 100, maybe 500 locally owned and operated stores and companies that will honor a partially subsidized discount on goods and services. This is where the buying power of the consumer is found. There is more to life than just food, and sometimes needs change month to month. The flexibility of a local discount card allows the individual and the household to decide what they need this month. A family gets the relief they need in food and then has some flexibility in other areas of their lives. Also, it introduces a group of local business owner to a wealth of new consumers with incentive to shop with them.

Discount Card

Tweaking that somewhat, what if we took all limits off of SNAP benefits, and created a capped discount card? 50% off public transit, 40% off grocery food items, 30% off local clothing retailers, 20% off household items at local stores, 10% of car maintenance and select other local services (everything from remodeling, cleaning, improving homes and maybe even services like insurance with local companies and discounted warranties to ensure things last families longer). Same financial benefits, capped at a set amount per household per month, but the added bonuses of buying empowerment and 100% local spending. An economy keeping 48 cents on every dollar is one growing while everyone gets the help they need from the money we already allocate.

Local Store Credit

What if we actually increased benefits, but the local economy footed the difference? If the difference between chain and local in revenue circulation is 34 cents, than why not offer a discount for shopping local that is less than the gap? You see it all the time with secondhand stores. You could get $50 cash for your goods you’re selling, or get $65 in-store credit. Apply this to food stamps, and we’ve got a growing economy. You can have your benefits as a family, but what you spend locally only costs you 85 cents on the dollar compared to chain stores. Your family gets $225 a month in benefits if you want to shop at 7-11 and Walmart. Choose People’s Co-op and CHOP Butchery? That’s $258.25 in benefits.

Any of these ideas could include monthly deals and coupon books for those receiving benefits. Additional savings if recipients shop with this store or that one, locally owned. Maybe there is a credit with every household that is worth a home gardening kit designed to get a home growing part of their diet; the “teach a man to fish,” theory.

The two things standing in the way of this are obviously the buying power of this money (strictly allocated to certain goods as it is), and the lobbyists against it. Companies who partner with the US government as well as lobby for the current system have a lot to lose if restrictions change. I don’t need to point out Walmart’s stake in the SNAP market, but what about 7-11’s stake.

7-11 and the convenience store lobby has spent a lot of money to make their point that SNAP benefits should be able to be used in their locations. There’s $80 billion a year at stake here. Not to mention the stake of WIC partnership companies; maybe a bit more than a little to lose in the US grain production business.

Whether we do away with the food stamps all together and adopt a capped discount system, or if we offer subsidies to a select list of local businesses in order to encourage competition, or if we offer the scaled value system leaning toward local purchasing, we need to refuse to accept that this is the best we can do and be constantly refining the system with pilot programs and test groups. We also need to be tracking buying habits to see if the system is even doing what it was intended for. Are we throwing money away on junk food and fresh lobster, or are families actually spending the money on nutritional food stuffs? I think we might be shocked if we ever got to see those numbers as a nation.

In just one month, if we spent locally the $98 million in SNAP benefits, that would be a gross total of $47 million of revenue in our state each month that will stay local. If every dollar was spent in a chain? Just $13 million. It’s no more or less help than families were receiving before, no more expense to the taxpayer, but an increase in the wealth in our communities and does with government handouts what we need to see more of, making every dollar do more than it did before. Shopping local and empowering even the poorest of our community is that little difference that could make all the difference in Oregon if we can break our habits and makes a few changes in a system that isn’t going away any time soon and arguably went off the rails when we approved lobster but not vitamin supplements.

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Minimum Wage Hikes Ask One Question: What Does Our Toil Owe Us?

The argument for or against the minimum wage increases is not one easily proven by numbers. A $15 minimum wage in some states would be outrageous given local economies and cost of living adjustments. We all know the obvious difference between the cost of living in Branson, MO; and Los Angeles, CA.

As cities have made the change in part or in full from Seattle to LA, the affects of the change won’t be felt for some time. The models we often rely on prove inconclusive  as to what that cost to businesses and the influx of income for the worker may end up truly costing us.

The factors less mentioned are the strain on the local, small business. Will this lead to fewer jobs? Will it lead to fewer hours for employees? If I’m getting paid as minimum wage employee twice as much, but the business cuts my hours in half, what have i gained? More free time to find another job, one that may be hard to find in a community reeling from wage hikes.

That same future for some is a brighter one. More pay means more discretionary spending, and that money goes back into the community further bumping up the local economy. A worker with more money, spends more money, and they spend in those businesses that were saddled with higher labor expenses. Economies adjust with market changes.

Minimum wage is seen one of two ways. It is either the legally binding least amount of money an employer can pay a person for their time and service, or it is the minimum wage needed to make a living; the living wage.

These have forever been different numbers depending in which study you read. Don’t get bogged down in the numbers, the theories, or the impact before you ask yourself if the minimum wage should ensure a comfortable life or simply protect the least skilled of our workforce from being being paid competitively less than the next guy; a race to the bottom.

Fifteen bucks an hours sounds good. It fits in a headline, makes for a decent chant, a great soundbite, and best of all makes for a solid picket sign, but it is a made-up number, an unproven threshold. I can find 100 different wages we should get paid from state to state, city to city, and based on some arbitrary number that presents the minimum life a person should be allowed to live.

Why aren’t we demanding paid vacation for all employees? Aren’t family vacations and trips of a lifetime something inherently promised in a pursuit of happiness? Why should I need to forego two weeks of paid time off because a business “can’t afford it”? Legally mandate that instead of a wage hike.

What about medical insurance provided by the employer even for part-time employees? The understood rule for avoiding medical and vacation for employees (if it is a company benefit at all) is simply hire them and work them slightly less than the threshold for full-time employment. Hire more part-timers, save more money. Close the loophole and keep our workers healthier; a well employee is a better employee.

We want a better life for minimum wage workers? A bright future is one where work is optional. Mandate retirement planning for all employees, matching their contribution to company 401K’s up to 15% of their pay. Maybe offer high school students or person under 25 that same financial matching for college funding instead. Get creative with wages now for a brighter tomorrow.

From there maybe you require promotion from within companies for 30% of all position changes. Make the minimum wage job a temporary one by definition and educate your workforce to create better employees who are qualified for jobs above minimum wage. Maybe we simply require all minimum wage jobs to include work incentives for bonuses, incremental raises after employment periods for the first few years every six months. Maybe we require profit sharing within a company, a small piece of the net profits of a company you worked so hard for based on your hours and performance reviews.

Has anyone looked into the possibility of these choices or a combination of them? You may argue that minimum wage workers need more pay for their toils, but I argue that the minimum wage doesn’t guarantee a livable wage, it was never intended to do that. It protected the worker from exploitation the same as child labor laws kept children from being worked 16 hours a day.

As with most problems, we are looking for the silver bullet. We are looking for the simple solution that will solve all of the issues surrounding a cause; we don’t make enough money in our lowest paying jobs, pay them more money so that there is less struggle. A novel approach may be to not increase wages, but ease burdens and empower the worker. It is no wonder a company will pay unskilled labor a minimum wage, business is about profit. Instead of changing the minimum wage, lets look at the whole picture, the plight of the minimum wage worker and get them out of that job eventually, or make that job better in a lot of small ways, not just one.

No one can tell you exactly what a minimum wage increase of this magnitude would do, it is be definition unprecedented. Are we making less money than we did fifty years ago? Relatively, yes, but what also hasn’t changed is the rights minimum wage workers have to certain benefits. If we can’t agree that minimum wage should guarantee a livable wage, let’s at least agree that steps can be taken to ensure that the worker is provided the chance for a livable life, some liberties, and a pursuit of happiness for those equipped with the work ethic to go and get it.

These are simply a few hair-brained, unfounded, ideas that represent “anything but a minimum wage hike.” This is an entry in our ongoing series, half-cocked concepts. I have no sources I can or will reference. This is a whiteboard brainstorming session, a drunken debate at a dive bar, and an argument amongst the ill-informed, but that’s where ideas get jotted on to napkins or where a conversation begins. If you’ve got a better idea, we’d love to hear it. If you are just going to send a link to someone else’s idea, stats, or some study, you can keep those. Original ideas to solve an issue, or your personal philosophy for this and other issues are much appreciated though. None of us are scholars or experts, so let’s just speak frankly and see if we can’t find one good idea amongst the garbage ones.

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The New IT Disease, Ebola: When Popular Culture Picks a Winner (for about a week)

It was just what was on my mind when I checked Facebook this evening.


WHO data on malaria.

Get lost here and you’ll find a thousand causes. No one more or less valuable or righteous than the other…just ones we forgot never went away when the headlines changed.

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there are sharing economies, and then there are “sharing” economies

The factories are empty or outsourced! Automation and globalization have lifted our economy from the fetters of industry decades ago; but what will production consist of, if not in “making things” (or at least material things).

Indeed! The tautology is unraveled! America is no longer “a nation of makers” (the insistence of Jack Donaghy and various car commercials notwithstanding); yet our GDP indicates that things of value are, nonetheless, made.

Cue the dawn of the virtual economy! Cue the dawn of the sharing economy! Cue the dawn of the bubble economy!

We have Airbnb, the Uber of the hospitality industry; we have iCracked, the Uber of the iphone repair industry; we have Uber…the, well, Uber of the transportation services industry. Truly– cyberspace is so dense with innovation, one can hardly remember what it was like ten years ago. Seriously, our sense of time and place in relation to the science fictional world we occupy now is all but lost. Silicon Valley has comfortingly stepped in to actualize the thrill and possibility of our new economic frontier as marginally more convenient access to servants. It makes one stop and wonder: What was cyberspace like ten years ago?

Couchsurfing and Craigslist; Linux and Wikipedia; possibly BitTorrent and its predecessors; youtube, Facebook, and Reddit–I guess it already was a sharing economy. You didn’t pay for these, but isn’t that what “sharing” means?

Despite Uber’s absence in Portland, the sharing economy here is giving way to the “sharing” economy with marked enthusiasm. And certainly, snark notwithstanding, there is nothing wrong with that! As anyone acquainted with the Principles of Basic Economics knows, one drives for Uber because it is better than available alternatives. The destitute choose servitude over starvation, or some such maxim. One does not blame the precondition on the result.

But what if the result cements the precondition? What if innovation becomes mimicry; sharing becomes serving; efficiency becomes sabotage; freedom becomes coercion; ignorance becomes strength (oops!) and the resulting hodge-podge of language sans language is too sticky and amorphous to allow us any further movement?

As Adam Smith cautioned us: “[Businessmen] have generally an interest to deceive and even oppress the public.” That Smith himself has become such an oft-wielded instrument of the deceit he cautioned against is one of the sad ironies of history. Yet here we stand, deceived as to basic implements of language! The innovative early outcroppings of the internet are monetized and mimicked, and then resold to the public as “innovative.” The polarization of wealth on which the “sharing” economy rests is at odds with actual sharing: low-rent venues that facilitate virtual or IRL sharing economies (net-neutrality, free boxes, community warehouses) are pushed out by the simultaneous breakthroughs of the innovative class. Tech workers with “more money than [they] know what to do with” are less likely to peruse the craigslist rideshare section, and more likely to hire would-be companions as servants who will not share their destination. Fortuitous encounters with prospective friends becomes sycophantism calculated to safeguard a precarious position.

Though, once again, this is all non-judgmental sardonicism. Keep on “sharing”! After all, sometimes we don’t want to meet someone new. Sometimes the institutional anonymity of a Marriott or whatever is far more relaxing than a new set of social possibilities. Sometimes the use of money to subordinate strangers is far more fun than sharing with them. I am not being facetious.

So what’s all the fuss about? It’s because Uber and its equivalents sell more than a simple product or service–they offer a brand. It’s the latest development in a long trend of market dematerialization: as economic activity moves from the circulation of basic commodities, products are less themselves and more the attitude they represent. Is Uber really so convenient that it warrants all its hype? Or does it signal a subscription to a broader worldview–where single-unit enterprises, liberated into the free market by their technocratic overlords, herald a utopic world to come? The conception of this organization as a “sharing economy” allows us to imagine that we really are operating at a new sphere of human existence, one defined by caring and sociality, but which is not limiting to the individual.

In this time of economic desperation–when pundits point to relative US wage gains decreasing to the point where domestic industry can compete with China again as something to celebrate–the entrapment and decline of the greater portion of our nation is interpreted as a sign of possibility and hope. The US is plunging into a servant economy, but the reality of desperation is reimagined as a fantasy of liberation. The technologies that have freed such swaths of our economic activity from mere material production have not been paired with commensurate social and political innovations. With wondrous economic means, but a ridiculous economic organization, the possibility of liberation becomes the reality of subordination, and in stubbornness or loyalty, we confuse these categories until sharing becomes “sharing,” and our world seems to make sense once again.

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