How the internet, the sharing economy and reputational feedback mechanisms solve the ‘lemons problem’
This paper argues that the sharing economy — through the use of the internet and real-time reputational feedback mechanisms—is providing a solution to the lemons problem that many regulators have spent decades attempting to overcome. Section I provides an overview of the sharing economy and traces its rapid growth. Section II revisits the lemons theory, as well as the various regulatory solutions proposed to deal with the problem of asymmetric information. Section III discusses the relationship between reputation and trust and analyzes how reputational incentives affect commercial interactions. Section IV discusses how information asymmetries were addressed in the pre-internet era. It also discusses how the evolution of both the internet and information systems (especially the reputational-feedback mechanisms of the sharing economy) addresses the lemons problem. Section V explains how these new realities affect public policy and concludes that asymmetric information is not a legitimate rationale for policy intervention in light of technological changes. We also argue that continued use of this rationale to regulate in the name of consumer protection might, in fact, make consumers worse off. This has ramifications for the current debate over regulation of the sharing economy.
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