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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    The American cult of ownership

    Everyone wants to get the most for their money.

    When we shop, that typically means getting a great deal on something we want to own.

    Sellers know marking down items, even by a small percentage, can give us the illusion of a bargain and lure us to purchase some fancy knick-knack we had no intention of buying.

    Buying things makes us happy and owning new things gives us just as much satisfaction. Yet, a budding market of asset-sharing schemes should force us to reassess the value we traditionally attach to ownership.

    Take Bag, Borrow or Steal, an online company that specializes in renting out luxury handbags. Essentially a Netflix for Louis Vuitton or Marc Jacobs, Bag, Borrow or Steal assesses customers a membership fee, ranging from $20 to over $100, which allows customers access to a collection of authentic designer handbags. Members can borrow the bag for as long as they want, and then send the purse back in exchange for a new one.

    Michael Smith, CEO of Bag, Borrow or Steal, suggests such sharing schemes will not be limited to luxury handbags: “”We’re creating an entirely new market. We’re granting access to designers that many people would not have had access to before.”” Bag, Borrow or Steal taps into members’ desire to show off stylish purses without forfeiting an exorbitant wad of cash. Other similar take-offs of the rental company idea are cashing in on our want of luxury goods at a bargain price.

    The idea of fractional ownership is nothing new. The elite have shared holiday homes, yachts and fancy cars for decades. The rapidly diminishing value of luxury goods combined with the relative infrequency of their use spawned the growth of asset-sharing plans among the rich.

    Such schemes have worked so well since the actual ownership of the particular good is not as valuable as the experience derived from the good’s use. Or as Piers Brown, founder of the asset-sharing Web site for the rich, FractionalLife.com, puts it: “”It’s not necessarily all about what you own, but perhaps more about the luxury experiences you’re having.””

    The fractionalization common in luxury markets is starting to trickle down to fall within the grasp of the average American. The motivation for fractional ownership may not be all that admirable – it essentially allows us to taste and feel opulent within our defined budget constraints. But hopefully, the idea of valuing the experience derived from such goods rather than their actual ownership catches on.

    Fractional owners should be proud that they are not actual owners. They don’t have to deal with maintenance and fluctuating value and in an era of eco-friendly initiatives, sharing goods, whatever they may be, reduces consumption, which does effectively have positive effects on the environment, not to mention our wallets.

    In a culture where our welfare is directly proportional to how much we own, the success of such sharing ventures is surprising.

    George W. Bush claimed in 2004 “”the more ownership there is in America, the more vitality there is in America and the more people have a vital stake in the future of this country.””

    With the success of Bag, Borrow and Steal, ARTvest (where members share pieces of expensive modern art) and Flexpetz (pet sharing), the idea of sharing goods or experiences is, with any luck, just as good if not better than actual ownership. Perhaps it can spread to other areas of the market and move beyond luxury goods so that in the future we have no qualms sharing commodities.

    Christina Jelly is a senior majoring in biochemistry and philosophy. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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