opinion | Use economy: a model that dwarfs capitalism?

Published 17 Feb. 2022 at 17:16Updated February 17th. 2022 at 17:39

At the heart of the capitalist economy, which today still values ​​the principle of property, the question of the use of the good is no longer a highly specialized discussion. Many companies have already adopted this model, especially in the automotive sector, and this is just one of the companies where leasing has a great future. Indeed, according to C-Ways research, leasing finance accounted for almost 47% of new car purchase finance in 2021, up from 21% in 2015.

However, this success is not new. The usage economy is not the result of a brilliant unicorn concept or a disruptive startup, it originates in a changing economic model run by large market-leading companies such as Xerox. These same players, in order to provide ever better and therefore more expensive products to as many people as possible, decide to sell the use rather than the product. A major change, which, if until now it was mainly related to B2B, is gradually finding its place in the B2C market. A trend that is now largely supported by the digital explosion and the proliferation of services and subscriptions. Usage is on the rise, and when you see nearly 80% of companies in the subscription economy continue to grow during the health crisis – according to research by Zuora with Harris Poll – we conclude that this is only the beginning.

Beyond capitalist logic

Behind the flattering figures hides a real doubt about the capitalist model and the predominance of the concept of property. If a few years ago buying a good car was a measure of success in our consumer society, today the behavior has changed somewhat. Between the fall in purchasing power caused by recurring crises and the emergence of a form of responsible consumption, the priority is no longer the possession of a product, especially if it is very expensive. This is illustrated by the example of the automotive market, where manufacturers, wanting to offer ever more technologically advanced and therefore more expensive cars, end up generating this new form of consumption themselves.

Yet the use economy illustrates a disturbing paradox: at the core of our capitalist society, there is an increasing number of people with less and less capital. Therefore, it is difficult to find any interest in getting into debt or even going broke when you can choose a more flexible and less cumbersome payment solution. Companies have understood this, so the sale of use value allows for more specific personalization of the offerings offered and therefore tempers the volatile nature of the consumer.

Robust environmental ambitions?

The introduction of such a consumption model does not just serve economic goals, even if they are a priority. Value use over ownership, more broadly, is part of a remarkably ecological approach. In order for a product to be used by several people for a more or less long period, it must necessarily be of good quality and therefore durable. Therefore, it would be theoretically logical to assume that environmental issues are taken into account by gradually reducing the phenomenon of planned obsolescence, which is still widespread in production processes.

However, while promoting the use of a product is a good thing, the application of this model remains incomplete at many levels, and in particular at the ecological level. When choosing a usage economy, many companies do not necessarily think about further promoting this model to move to a circular economy. A true system of the future, it still struggles to impose itself as the influence of the classic linear economy model remains strong on companies. In many ways, use offers hope for a positive and sustainable evolution of the economic foundations on which our societies develop. If this is not enough to fundamentally change the paradigm in the short or even medium term, the many efforts of companies that are moving in this direction every day should be applauded.

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