Shape of Things to Come: The On-Demand Economy and the Normative Stakes of Regulating 21st-Century Capitalism

European Journal of Risk Regulation, Forthcoming

12 Pages Posted: 28 Nov 2016 Last revised: 2 Dec 2016

Date Written: November 25, 2016


The “sharing economy” represents a growing challenge to regulatory policy. In this article, I argue that these debates about the sharing economy are better understood as a broader normative and policy problem of updating our regulatory tools for the new dynamics of 21st century capitalism. The underlying issue is less about “sharing” and more about the shift to an “on-demand” economy driven by deeper structural changes in business organization, finance, and technology. I argue that we should analyze these changes through the normative lens of economic power: what is especially troubling about the on-demand economy is the way in which it outstrips the modes of accountability and countervailing power enabled by 20th century labor, safety net, and economic regulations. The article then suggests key frontiers for regulatory innovation, in particular: (1) expanding regulatory oversight of concentrated market and economic power among on-demand platforms; (2) expanding the relative power of workers to counteract the concentrated power of platforms in the on-demand economy (for example by expanding safety net protections and the ability to organize collectively); and (3) by reinventing systems for collective urban planning to account for the ripple effects of an on-demand economy. All three of these focus areas for regulation would entail a variety of specific interventions, but share a common premise of rebalancing economic power in this new economic order. Done right, these shifts would encourage more than an increase in welfare or efficiency, and instead offer the foundation for a new 21st century social contract that realizes genuine economic freedom and independence from domination of various kinds.

Keywords: On-demand economy, sharing economy, regulation, economic power, social contract, democratic theory

Suggested Citation

Rahman, K. Sabeel, Shape of Things to Come: The On-Demand Economy and the Normative Stakes of Regulating 21st-Century Capitalism (November 25, 2016). European Journal of Risk Regulation, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

K. Sabeel Rahman (Contact Author)

Brooklyn Law School ( email )

250 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
United States

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