Airbnb has ignited a firestorm of opinion pro-and-con regarding its facilitation of rentals of residential property for commercial purposes, even when that property is zoned for residential use only. The overnight or short-term rental of virtually anything is a commercial activity; money changes hands and triggers issues of permits, licenses, regulations and taxes.
Those who sing the praises of the free market are referring in actuality to a regulated market governed by laws pertaining to matters of consumer welfare, health and safety. Such regulations are in place due to the powerful lure of profit encouraging people to cut corners in their efforts to make money in ways that sometimes injure or kill the innocent consumer.
But Airbnb, and more precisely the technology that spawned it, abhors a regulated market; in its stead a new truly free market unconstrained by government has arisen; thus we have entered The Age of Airnarchy.
Today’s Airnarchy movement was born when the Internet released citizenry from the constraints of regulatory control. Empowered by wireless communication and social networking technology transmitted through the air, millions discovered the freedom inherent in simply being a node on a limitless network of nodes. Thus enabled by near-light-speed reach eliminating the constraints of time and space, Airnarchy sent a clarion call to the masses, and all nature of web-driven goods and services have proliferated faster than antiquated structures of government can possibly control.
Since the first stirrings of the Industrial Revolution, the individualistic urgings of Airnarchy resided just below the rippling surface of society. In that revolution’s first incarnation at the beginning of the machine age, formerly agrarian people suddenly found themselves landless and commodified as “labor” – monetized interchangeable parts in a dehumanized industrial machine. This swift cultural shift of people from craftsmen to crankshafts yielded spectacular wealth to the industrialists, who unregulated swiftly cornered land and capital. Commodified land, capital and labor established the “three legs” of modern capitalism, and this “free market” replaced collective social responsibility with the individualized pursuit of profit at any cost.
The State, which suddenly found itself managing starving hoards of poverty-stricken peasants displaced from their traditional land-based subsistence life-style and crowded into filthy city slums, quickly established some regulatory control over the free market to protect the common good. Such regulation has continued into the present, and remains the primary method to offset the destructive impacts of unconstrained capital-fueled greed. Economy, health, food-safety, finance, manufacturing, waste-handling, water quality – virtually every segment of modern life is in some way regulated. The current Age of Airnarchy risks providing such protective regulations far more difficult.
Government cannot possibly cope with Airnarchy’s potential for millions of daily unregulated activities. Digital technology has opened a Pandora’s Box of Airnarchy, much of it untaxed and unregulated. Like air itself, freely available to all without cost, our networked society provides an easily accessible global marketplace for products, services and ideas.
We have entered a period of social and economic upheaval the likes of which has not been experienced for centuries. Nobody can keep up. Rules and regulations are being left behind. The uniform commodification of labor is eroding as more people become web-enabled entrepreneurs. From lodging to taxis, sharing networks to personal shoppers, AirAnything and AirEverything goes. In the truly free market of The Age of Airnarchy all bets are off.