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ZipCar Capitalism: A New Economic Model?

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on October 30, 2008

I’m off to the World Economic Forum conference in Dubai on Tuesday night after I vote. Some 700 folks, including Jeff Jarvis at Buzzmachine, are going to brainstorm about making post-crisis world a much better place. I spent time on the subway this morning thinking about what a new economic model might look like and what might have any chance of succeeding and came up with ZipCar Capitalism. Treehugger calls it Rentalism but that doesn’t ring well in my ears. Actually it’s Tamara Giltsoff in Treehugger who did the fantastic article.

I sent off my thoughts to the dozen or so people who form the Global Action Council that I belong to—the design one. Yep, it’s a GAC. A design GAC.

Here’s what I said: “
With the WEF-GAC just a few days away, I’d like to build on Toshiko’s ideas for an inclusive, holistic and humanitarian economy by suggesting we look at a model that is beginning to get traction in the US and UK—Zipcar Capitalism. Treehugger calls it “Rentalism.” It is a Rent/Share/Collaborate/Interaction economic model rather than our current Own/individualize/Transaction model.

The benefits of this economic model are many. It builds on the existing collaborative behavior of the Gen Y cohort in much of the world and fits into the more communal cultures of Asia and Africa. It works off the web/tech grid that is increasingly so much a part of our lives. It is premised on sustainability—generating Green Growth, while shifting away from conspicuous consumption in the West to a more modest way of living that isn’t centered on owning stuff (the story of stuff). It offers a structure for corporations that is different (perhaps they “own” the stuff and recycle it when consumers return it a la the German model for autos). Etc.

Zipcar capitalism also has the virtue of being a BIG IDEA encompassing many groups, technologies and interests. It offers avenues of cooperation among countries.

Food for thought.”

So, what do you think? Jeff’s idea is for the internet to become an individual right. I like the idea but think it’s too narrow. The web is a tool that enables models (collaborate, distributive, etc.) but any number of models that can lead to good or bad are possible.

Again, what are your thoughts.

Reader Comments

Robin Chase

October 31, 2008 1:58 PM

As Zipcar (and founder and former CEO, I totally agree. In fact, I've given a number of lectures over the last four months on this topic. I think of it as "consumption 2.0" or "collaborative consumption."

And I believe we should push this paradigm farther yet, to start thinking about collaborative financing and collaborative infrastructure. While Zipcar is an excellent example of this (all members have access to a fleet of vehicles across a huge geography, that is "financed" by each member paying for a fraction of the fleet), my favorite example of this is mesh networking.

Imagine a world in which most wireless devices (the ez pass in your car, your pda or cellphone, your laptop) all serve as routers and repeaters of data. We would have a very low cost wireless infrastructure built on the back of individuals' devices. We can build a wireless mobile internet this way -- which much the same impact on economic development as the fixed internet. See my TED talk:

I'm about to post to my own blog on this topic. I see a deep fundamental economic need to start maximizing collaboration by identifying excess capacity -- wherever it exists -- and building platforms for engagement/cooperation with others. This is a mechanism by which we can maximize our return on investment and resources -- a fundamental requirement for this world in which governments, companies, individuals, and the planet -- need to make efficient use of what resources we have.

My blog:

Bernie Michalik

November 1, 2008 3:08 PM

Effective sharing optimizes the value of any good available. It allows for reuse, and it shows better economy. Indeed, it is something both those on the left and the right should agree is a good idea.

We already take for granted alot of things that we share, whether it is infrastructure, public facilities like libraries, and public services like the police and the military. We also share personal and property risk through insurance.

With the global economic and environmental difficulties we suffer, ZipCar Capitalism/Rentalism is due.


November 1, 2008 6:23 PM

If you start thinking, you will go toward commusim, which the bankers dont like. Resource management is all commnism which you guys hate as hell.


November 3, 2008 10:08 AM

I'm thinking.
'Good grief, would humans now start behaving sensibly?'

Alright- hippies had pointed out how silly excess consumption can be but I am glad we are now, finally, seeing solutions emerging.

I believe in the model and am eager to see how sharing can change our economic landscape.


November 5, 2008 4:47 PM

People share out of goodwill or necessity. Goodwill implies abundance and necessity implies scarcity. We face a world order in which our lives, consumption patterns and daily existence will be increasingly shaped by scarcity of resources, which will, out of necessity, lead to a greater commitment to shared resources. We are not there yet, but as we are forced about doing more with less we will have to think anew about ownership, individual and communal, about how we are, whether we like it or not, owners of "public" services, public infrastructure, etc. We are driven today by personal ownership - it will require hardship indeed for us to forego that notion of ownership and consider common or shared ownership.

Bobbi Jo Hart

November 15, 2008 7:12 PM

I am an American expat who has been living in Montreal for 10 years. At the end of the day, when thousands of American children have no health care, the economic model is flawed.

The socialist-style model in Canada is not perfect, but it is extremely humane... that those who have more should help care for those less fortunate, and so on. I feel great pride in how Canadians will not give up socialized healthcare, and are flabergasted how the USA does not assure each citizen such a basic right.

The ultimate challenge of assuring any humane and effective economic model is the human propensity toward GREED.

It is extremely ironic that the World Economic Forum is being held in one of the world's most ostentatious symbols of greed... Dubai. A oasis for the filthy rich to escape the inconveniences of poverty, torture and inequality that are the direct biproducts of the Milton Friedman's economic model of ruthless capitalism that has been enforced by his Chicago Boys for decades.

I fear that unless we ultimately dismantle the C.I.A. and reveal the corporatism and greed that drives it, and literally control the politics and media in America... we will never fully realize the ZipCar Capitalism or any other more human economic model dream.

Sorry Mr. Orwell and Mr. Friedman, but greed is... not good.

Jeff Friedman

July 5, 2009 2:39 PM

The Zipcar idea was clearly born of genious. It disrupted the common paradigms towards multiple endeavors - car leasing, transportation and commuting,making reservations,and, in fact, urban lifestyles.

As such, the underlying idea of sharing in the Zipcar sense can be expanded into other economic and social areas such that we can optimize use of all of our precious resources. Robin is absolutely correct about this. Laptops come quickly to mind, as individual and company work can easily be stored in LAN systems, why carry around a laptop computer if there are terminals for public consumption everywhere? Or maybe for a small monthly fee there are terminals or laptops to pick up wherever in the world one happens to be?

Arla Wuensche

November 24, 2010 8:24 PM

Can not believe Google thinks this is news!

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December 5, 2010 10:21 PM

This page seems to recieve a great deal of visitors. How do you get traffic to it? It offers a nice unique twist on things. I guess having something authentic or substantial to say is the most important thing.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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