How the Internet, the Sharing Economy, and Reputational Feedback Mechanisms Solve the 'Lemons Problem'
50 Pages Posted: 27 May 2015 Last revised: 6 Jun 2018
Date Written: May 26, 2015
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 regulations, and regulators, have spent decades attempting to overcome. Section I provides an overview of the sharing economy and traces its rapid growth. Section II revisits “lemons problem” theory as well as the various regulatory solutions proposed to deal with the problem of asymmetric information, and provides some responses. Section III discusses the relationship between reputation and trust and analyzes how reputational incentives have been used historically in commercial interactions. Section IV discusses how information asymmetries were addressed in the pre-Internet era. Section V surveys how the evolution of the Internet and information systems (especially sharing economy reputational feedback mechanisms) addresses the “lemons problem” concern. Section VI 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 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.
Keywords: sharing economy, collaborative economy, asymmetric information, lemons problem, Akerlof, online innovation, regulation, inefficiency, reputation feedback, markets, network, public interest, regulatory capture, rent-seeking, e-commerce, ride sharing
JEL Classification: D45, H7, K22, K23, L1, L2, L5, L8, L9, M2, N7, O3, R4
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation