The Interdependence Ideology Meets the Sharing Economy in Our Community

By Incheol Son

The ideal of “One Family under God,” for we Unificationists, can be quickly realized, at least technically, through adopting principles of the “Sharing Economy.”

The Sharing Economy is a platform-based economy by which people can enjoy economic benefits by sharing idle resources which we possess and operate every day, like a car, a vacant room, etc.

I clearly recall Rev. Moon saying in a speech, “You don’t need to worry about where to stay when you go abroad because Unification Church members are everywhere. You can simply stay at their home or the local church, where you will be served a decent meal and given a bed. You may feel like you’re at home.”

This is what Rev. Moon described as a dreamlike scene that we would enjoy. If Father had been attended by high-level entrepreneurs at that time, the Unification Church might have been the first mover to operate a platform like Airbnb. Actually, his foresight has come true already in this era.

The founders of Airbnb, an enterprise of the so-called Sharing Economy, actually started its business with only three air beds, which had long laid idle in a closet, and providing breakfast in their rented apartment in New York. The company grew rapidly within a very short time. It’s because there is plenty of demand out there. There are so many who prefer a home-like accommodation rather than a commercial hotel.

Many scholars in our UC community contend we don’t have enough concrete examples to show society other than big events full of banner slogans derived from our teachings. I heard a story about African scholars last year who were amazed by the teachings of our church, the ideology of Interdependence, Mutual Prosperity and Universal Values. Then they asked about actual examples to see from our activities, but unfortunately nothing but the slogan was again presented at that time. We had very little to show them as a proof of our ideal. Since then, I’ve continued thinking of the significance of the trial and experiment of our ideals into substance.

I think the Sharing Economy is best one we can try to put into practice right away because it pursues something similar to the values found in the teachings of our church. The philosophy of the Sharing Economy is very simple: to save the world by rediscovering and sharing limited resources. Statistics show that the earth grows enough grain to feed the entire world. There should be no one who starves or lives in poverty. It’s also shocking to hear that 3.5 billion people, half the world’s population, live on less than $2 a day. Most of them suffer from severe lack of proper resources.

The Interdependence Ideology teaches the ideal of economic value by which human beings share the resources available on the earth as family members. Children used to claim their parents’ property as theirs by saying “our car,” “our house,” and so on. None of them directly contributed to acquiring it, but it’s because children may share property their parents have purchased or rented. Parents usually do not charge rent or a usage fee to their children. Children are heirs as human beings before Heavenly Parent.

Likewise, all the earth’s resources are supposed to be shared together. No human being ever contributed to creating nature, the earth and the universe. They are just a given. At least, there should be no single person who starves or suffers from famine. But the reality is not the case.

The Sharing Economy provides us with a very effective tool to try to implement right away. Through the tool, the platform, all UC members can share their idle resources, things we don’t use that much and which sometimes go to waste because of lack of use. But if those idle resources are shared with one another we can save the world.

Most founders of Sharing Economy companies, like online ride-sharing services Uber or Lyft, claim that a car we drive every day actually spends most of its time parked on the street without doing anything but consuming precious space their entire lifetimes. We drive our cars daily only for two to three hours on average. So, most of the day, about 20-21 hours, they are idle. There are many examples of idleness, and thus wasted, resources.

Sharing Economy companies encourage each owner of an idle room or space to share it with one’s neighbors who live in another corner of the globe. Any major sporting event like the Wimbledon tennis tournament or the Olympics can verify that benefit. It has long been argued that the venues for such big sporting events are underutilized after the events they host.

These days hosting cities hesitate to build all the required stadiums, arenas and other venues. Also, adequate accommodations are a major issue. A city can encourage the construction of new hotels, but the problem of under-utilization appears right after the big event. Most newly-constructed facilities quickly become dinosaurs that consume a lot of resources. Airbnb has served successfully the short-term demand of accommodation by operating a network of willing lenders and users based on existing households. It also shows that a room in a particular house has been unused for a long time.

What if we operated a tentative Hyo Jeong platform of the Sharing Economy which connects all kinds of supply and demand among UC members in our communities? Cheongpyeong is, in particular, for all UC members a pilgrimage site, like Mecca in Saudi Arabia, where more than six million Muslims visit each year; or Lumbini in Nepal for Buddhist pilgrims. Cheongpyeong, or the Cheonwon Complex, especially attracts so many visitors for both Foundation Day and Seonghwa Day each year. Existing residential facilities have accommodated most visitors to date, but they will soon exceed capacity.

Currently there’s a plan to build a hotel, but it may not be large enough to accommodate all expected visitors. But, constructing more accommodations may cost a lot because these buildings remain empty the rest of the year, a waste of resources. Another way to overcome this overcapacity issue may be to let outsiders accommodate our visitors to make some income. But, this doesn’t seem like a good solution either. Therefore, I suggest creating a platform similar to Airbnb or Uber.

Of course, any ideal has its flip side. Some regular taxi drivers in New York City and in South Korea have strongly protested because of competitors like Uber and Lyft. Though Uber was first introduced as a Sharing Economy company, it became another normal enterprise that seeks profit. Many economists point out that Uber is no longer part of the Sharing Economy as it has focused more on profit and less on benefit. They don’t share their profits specifically with those affected taxi drivers. Uber is classified as another kind of taxi service and so it has invaded the domain of the existing taxi industry. As result, some weaker taxi businesses cannot but face despair. It’s not really what many people, who were amazed by the emergence of the Sharing Economy while observing many practitioners like Airbnb and Uber, had expected.

Also they are supposed to start the enterprise from existing properties and talents but in some countries like China, businessmen purchased or created brand new facilities to operate under the banner of the Sharing Economy. But they were not really examples of the Sharing Economy, but more like typical rental businesses. So, many criticized that phenomenon as a waste of limited resources. You may have seen on the Internet or television a pile of discarded rental bicycles like a grave marker on many street corners of China.

Another problem, which is more significant, is alienating those who have low reference levels. The platform creates trust with the tools of a cross-evaluation system. Not only the user evaluates the room or the car, but also the lessor of the car or the room can evaluate the temporary user. Even an existing social network like Facebook is used to strengthen the level of mutual trust. But, once a person gains a series of poor ratings from the users of the platform, he or she gets alienated from the public and hardly gets back on the platform.

I see all these problems from profit generation activities. Originally, we don’t share an empty room for profit. We are not hoteliers. We don’t offer a ride for the monetary reward but for real joy. We shouldn’t charge on any offer. But technically in order to facilitate these voluntary activities of resource-sharing, a certain benefit needs to be endowed like providing credit or mileage. So, any user of that voluntary offer can give credit rewards to the provider at the end of the service. Once those credits reach a certain point, the recipients can redeem them for other offers or services within that platform. In order to prevent it from being used as pseudo-money, we could put a warranty period as a cap.

One Minute Spotlight: Cheongshim Village in the Hyojeong Cheonwon.

After a certain period of time, it restarts. Then, the joy from providing such offers will remain with us. It will work during any big event. A time limit could also be put with a week for the special occasion. All kinds of offers and services would be abundant and many people would enjoy such benefits. And then after the event in a week, it returns to normal life. In this case, the time limit could be resumed to a month or so. Or, the platform operator could reward with a gift in exchange for certain mileage at the end of year; or, it could be transformed into some contribution as a donation. And, a committee should be formed to manage all the operations.

Finally, we’ve gathered up to build the kingdom on earth. Somewhere on earth, some kind of a community where our members practice their values in daily life should appear — especially because Cheon Il Guk has been proclaimed. The Cheonwon Complex is the right place to begin to implement such an ideal. The Sharing Economy and its platforms can be useful tools for us to adapt as an experiment.

The Divine Principle says the satanic system precedes the heavenly system, which should be realized as a socialistic society centered on God. There’s no reason not to adopt Sharing Economy principles and methods which are abundantly available as a predecessor social system, which we can experiment with in our community and fine tune as an economic practice of Cheon Il Guk, the ideal of our movement.

We’ve got to try out various social systems to focus on better community-building movements like social enterprises, cooperatives, and the Sharing Economy. Because we’ve been given the theological and philosophical foundation based on True Parent’s teachings on universal family values, I’m sure we can overcome the downsides that such secular systems exhibit and successfully turn them into real examples so that the secular world clearly sees us as real practitioners of the ideal of “One Family Under God.”

James 2:26 says, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” We would be deemed dead people of faith if we don’t show tangible and practical examples of an ideal of one family. Many critique us for using grandiose slogans but not showing as much in our actual lives.

These days my concern dwells on what we can pass on to our descendants besides books of truth such as like Divine Principle, Unification Thought, and True Parent’s words, etc. I’ve become very preoccupied thinking about our members 100 years from now who will never have met True Parents, their original disciples, or members who physically served with our great teachers and were personally trained by them. Our descendants will best see us through what we’ve achieved, not so much by what we proclaimed as the truth.

We will have a big pilgrimage to Cheongpyeong in February next year to celebrate the 100th anniversary of True Father’s birth. Over 10,000 people will stay during that period in a small village. If we successfully operate a platform during that period, we can possibly lodge all of them without further investment in residential buildings to accommodate them all. We’ve got to start social experiments right away, one by one, to fill all the segments of our ideal world. Our clock is ticking.♦

Dr. Incheol Son is the International Director of PWPA International and also works at SunHak Universal Peace Graduate University as a translator. He earned his Ph.D. in public administration from Kookmin University, an MBA from the University of Bridgeport, and his bachelor’s in theology from SunMoon University.

Photo at top: Overview of the Cheonwon Complex in Gyeonggi-do, South Korea.

9 thoughts on “The Interdependence Ideology Meets the Sharing Economy in Our Community

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  1. Dr. Son,

    I really appreciate the thought and effort put into this article, and heartily concur with the observation that as a worldwide movement we haven’t yet gone very far beyond grand slogans, conferences, etc.

    Thanks to the Internet (primarily an American invention, by the way), information exchange has radically changed over the past 15 years. Where we live in northeast Texas, there is an online neighbors sharing site through which people offer free goods they no longer need. They also post information about lost and found pets, road construction problems, and request help for others who are going through difficulties (air conditioning, food, etc.). I don’t see people asking for things for themselves. Maybe there is a restriction on personal requests to avoid abuse.

    Perhaps Unificationists could join existing platforms wherever they live, whether local Facebook pages or specialized sites like the one I mentioned. We need to engage with the world and not try to “reinvent the wheel,” as you implied.

    I feel a need to note that the current democratic, “profit-seeking” system in the USA has freed up individuals and corporations to give charitably more than any other country. The USA, because of its foundation of Judeo-Christian individual responsibility, is the single greatest source of charity in the world. So the individual is the beginning point for the world’s restoration — which is exactly what Divine Principle teaches. However, our system has built-in flaws, as well, especially in the realm of interconnectedness.

    Obviously, the ideal of “socialism centered on God” is still very far away. In any system, now or in the future, there must also exist protection for the needs and rights — and the creative genius — of each individual. Perhaps the word “socialism” is so tainted with the current world’s baggage that it must be discarded. In English, “Familyism” is closer to what True Parents teach, a system of spiritual, emotional and physical interconnectedness. And of course, the “Tribal Messiah” Blessing and outreach activities are a precursor to such interconnectedness.

    Thank you for this excellent article discussing practical, real-world issues. I am hopeful this forum will lead to fruitful discussion.

    1. Laura,

      Yes, the “online neighbors sharing site through which people offer free goods they no longer need” is a kind of the very ideal community activities that I have dreamed of by far. There should be such a place in any corner of our UC, or FF, community as well.
      Yes, it’s also a good way to “join existing platforms” to try to experience something substantial. I’m sure such experience will be very beneficial for building up our community of sharing.

  2. Dr. Son,

    Thank you for your ideas about a “sharing economy.” There is not only potential economic value of sharing our things as Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft have shown, but there is often a relationship value in sharing. I have experienced the hospitality of members many times when I have been traveling and it increases my happiness to have these relationships.

    It is important to understand, however, that a sharing economy cannot be the foundation of a thriving economy. The foundation of an economy is production — the production of cars for Uber and Lyft; production of housing for Airbnb. It is not possible to share something unless it has been produced.

    One could say that the opposite of sharing is stealing. Instead of giving and receiving action, that is taking and using action. But whatever is either shared or stolen originally has to be produced. Are traditional hunter-gathers and fishermen takers or sharers? They take or receive from what God produced. Sometimes people take what God supplied selfishly, other times they share it. But they are still using what God produced.

    If God is a parent, God produced the fish and the animals for His/Her children, but as children are perfected they need to become producers for the sake of their own children, and to truly be in the image of God as a creator. Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft, are examples of sharing what humans have produced. Sharing is a moral dimension associated with ownership. However, the production of goods that others can use is also an aspect of human perfection. In his developmental psychology, Erik Erikson’s fourth stage of psychosocial development is industry.

    In conclusion, sharing is “good” and selfishness is “bad.” Sharing can enable more people to live with fewer things and even be happier than selfish people who have more. But sharing is not the basis of an economy; the basis of an economy is production.

    1. Dr. Anderson,

      Yes, you are right. Simply sharing something which exists cannot be a thriving one in economy. But, also you are right as saying, “Sharing can enable more people to live with fewer things and even be happier than selfish people who have more.” And so, I’m so interested in ‘idle’, and so wasted part of that production. Statistics show that we dump a fifth of our food every day. This is the same as saying, ‘We dump our earth every day by a fifth.’ Those founders of Sharing Economy enterprises saw that problem. A car is the typical one. A car sits idle for 19-20 hours a day, occupying precious space on the street.

  3. Dr. Son,

    Thank you for you well-thought article. What the poor lack and the wealthy have are assets that produce income beyond the hours of work put into them and social networks that provide them with knowledge, primarily financial literacy. No one has more than 24 hours in a day, so what is done with that time is critical. Let me give a few examples.

    Many people in the developed world own stocks and bonds or variations of these. Ownership of these have allowed the average person and family to participate in the large economy. The real winners however are the people who own and issue these offerings. They own the assets and have the social networks and financial literacy to benefit from this.

    Business ownership is another asset class that can produce wealth, if the owners can develop it to the point where others can run it or it can issue stock.

    Another is literary property. Ownership of any literary property; a trade mark, copyright, etc., can also produce wealth.

    The final asset class is real estate. This asset class is owned by most of the wealthy regardless of the source of their income and wealth. The four principles that allow for wealth creation in all these asset classes are income or cash flow, depreciation and knowledge of tax laws, appreciation of the value of these assets over time, and leverage or the ability to use the value of their asset to acquire more assets.

    If we want to create a more equitable economy, a shared one, we need to create ways and methods for more people to own assets. Micro loans are a good example of assisting the poor worldwide to begin to create small businesses. Examples of the sharing economy like Airbnb, Lyft and Uber help people have access to assets without having to purchase them. In large cities, this is highly beneficial. But again, the owners of these assets are the primary beneficiaries.

    Restoring healthy social networks through our families and communities is more important than transfers of money or wealth in my opinion, though in poor urban areas and poor areas of the world, transfers may be necessary.

    One of the key discussions is how to provide opportunities for people to create small businesses, purchase real estate and other assets. These are the engines of any economy and what creates wealth on the macro and micro levels, as Gordon Anderson noted. Providing for larger services such as utilities, transportation, education, and now even healthcare going forward are going to be key areas to discover where these should be controlled; at the national, state or local level, or by the individual I think we need to move beyond labels such as socialism, democratic socialism, and capitalism and learn how to address issues and problems and decide at what level of political decision-making these issues should be controlled or managed.

    Whenever I need some inspiration, I attend a small business networking event. Here, people are utilizing their skills, talent and own resources to develop new products and services. The development of the Crane’s Club seems to be providing this kind of experience and network within the Unification Movement.

    1. Robert,

      Wow, you’ve shown a breadth of knowledge in finance. I agree that “people are utilizing their skills, talent and own resources to develop new products and services.” The first tool that a human ever held was ‘two free hands with brain’. True Parents added one more property: heart, an impulse to try to help others.

  4. True Father throughout his life, both in teachings and actions, emphasized ownership. An ownership society is the ideal, where people take care of the things that they own and make them valuable. In his own actions, Father worked hard to establish ownership of many assets and thereby make the movement strong and deploy those assets for God’s purposes. He encouraged members to build profitable companies. In his teachings, he fought desperately against Communism and founded the Washington Times to educate the world against forced socialism.

    I strongly agree with Robert Sayre. He says, “If we want to create a more equitable economy, a shared one, we need to create ways and methods for more people to own assets.”

    Ownership is an incredibly beautiful thing that is at the core of God’s blessing to us. To me it is beautiful to see a hard working construction worker or tradesperson gradually acquire ownership of assets (tools, machines, a truck, a warehouse) from their very difficult work and rise upward. Watch how carefully the construction worker takes care of the tools that they own, collecting them neatly at the end of each working day, saving their hard earned money to reinvest in better equipment for building. Soon they can do bigger jobs, hire more people, reinvest in more assets and build greater things. A simple man gradually rises from total poverty to have wealth and provide for their family and sometimes provide many jobs. This story is repeated across America and the world millions of times.

    A big key to American success after World War II is that the government had policies to encourage everyone to become a homeowner. Owning one’s own home may seem like a small step but a nation of homeowners was a nation of where most people learned how to be good stewards of assets and have wealth. The ownership mentality, which Father often emphasized, became the reality in America and America became very successful.

    If someone cannot take care of an asset, then they are not a true owner. True Father taught this many times. I rent a chainsaw from Home Depot when I need it because I do not know how to take care of a chainsaw or maintain it. It is proper that Home Depot should own the chainsaw while I pay a fee to rent it because I don’t know how to fix it, change the chain or keep it going. Also, I would not make good use of it because I only need one a couple of times a year. I own many other tools that are easier to maintain. True owners of assets are the ones who can take care of them and do everything to keep them going and make the best use of them.

    Mr. Son, are you familiar with The Tragedy of the Commons? At one time in England and Ireland and New England there was a concept of sharing land for everyone. This seemed like a Godly ideal but it was a disaster. Many people used the “commons” but there was no owner to take care of the commons. The result was that the land quickly became barren and useless from overgrazing. Ownership is essential to ensure that assets are cared for and maintained.

    In a healthy capitalist economy ownership naturally flows to the people who have learned to take care of assets best and make best use of them. Under Communism, assets are given to bad owners who do not take care of them or use them well and widespread poverty always results.

    1. Daniel,

      Yes, I’m familiar with the Tragedy of the Commons. It’s one of the main theories in Public Administration, which was my graduate major. As you mentioned, it was tried as part of the “Sharing Economy” but turned out a “disaster.” So, I agree with you in saying, “Ownership is essential to ensure that assets are cared for and maintained.” Based on that concept, Prof. Elinor Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009. She pointed out a key factor to prevent such a “disaster” in a “community” which shares “social capital.” I think that we could become such “True Owners” as DP and UT say if we build up such an ideal community on earth.

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