Shifting Values? Millennials, the Sharing Economy and the (Exaggerated) Death of Asset Ownership

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAhrAAAAJDViOTBmMWVjLWVlZjAtNDljNC1iN2VjLWUxNDAxZTU1Y2JmNAA millennial friend of mine recently mentioned the shift from CapEx to OpEx in the millennials as something that was likely to define new models in lots of industries.

‘The what now?’ I asked

‘No one buys anything any more,’ he said. ‘The most visible are ride-sharing apps like Uber, but it’s everywhere.’

The corporate world has been doing it for years, starting with sale and lease back, then business process outsourcing and all manner of ‘servisification’, which migrated to cloud based models for service delivery. Now the suggestion is that it’s infecting consumer models too. While home ownership rates worldwide have in general been rising, they have been in decline in the US for some time. While there are other examples of similar declines, it is too early to say whether this represents a millennial shift, or more part of the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis. In addition, the most significant declines in home ownership in the US have actually been with 35 to 44 year olds.

There remains a good degree of data on car ownership declines among millennials, and Uber’s stated objective is to eliminate private car ownership altogether. The Atlantic published a wonderful piece in 2012 about how millennials were the cheapest generation, and Time magazine labelled them lazy and entitled narcissists, but the theory doesn’t seem to be holding water – Millenials are buying more cars than ever for their age group, even in the US. Ultimately, economically, it’s better for the world that we don’t own cars. They’re parked for 95% of their lives, and as such represent an appalling waste of resources. But it’s not quite happening yet.

The has a lot going on besides cars and houses. Cryptocurrencies and have the potential to scale community currencies, which have been in operation for decades. There’s a bunch of Marxist theory attached, and certainly political concern at the notion that currency control should somehow be diluted by uppity anarchists. So there’s real potential for significant social and political change with these concepts; the reactions we’ve seen to AirBnB and Uber in relation to trades unions, licensing authorities, tax controllers and other regulators represent merely the tip of the iceberg.

So, the data doesn’t really support a death of car ownership, and the jury’s still out on whether home ownership has really been impacted by some Millennial cultural shift. But these are cultural changes on a grand scale. Those of us who have been alive for the early years of the Internet will probably not be around to see its most profound impacts on the world – but there’s still a lot going to happen in the next few decades!

  is Telecommunications Industry Offering Leader, Watson IoT Division at IBM