This #airbnb is all sorts of charming. Wall to wall windows, black shutters, chickens in the back garden, and not to mention the kitchen of my dreams. (at SW Portland)

Less than three months after the U.S. announced it will ease travel to Cuba, home rental site Airbnb is listing properties in the island nation. The average price for a room or home in Havana is currently $43. The company says it’s starting out with more than 1,000 listings.

A look at the offerings Thursday morning found everything from “beautiful colonial rooms for rent in the heart of Havana” for $27 a night to a “a holiday sanctuary” chalet on the outskirts of Havana that can accommodate 10 guests for $1000. It includes a pool.

Airbnb Starts Listing Homes In Cuba; Average Rate Is $43 A Night

Photo Credit: Airbnb

The Share-the-Scraps Economy

How would you like to live in an economy where robots do everything that can be predictably programmed in advance, and almost all profits go to the robots’ owners?

Meanwhile, human beings do the work that’s unpredictable – odd jobs, on-call projects, fetching and fixing, driving and delivering, tiny tasks needed at any and all hours – and patch together barely enough to live on.

Brace yourself. This is the economy we’re now barreling toward.

They’re Uber drivers, Instacart shoppers, and Airbnb hosts. They include Taskrabbit jobbers, Upcounsel’s on-demand attorneys, and Healthtap’s on-line doctors.

They’re Mechanical Turks.

The euphemism is the “share” economy. A more accurate term would be the “share-the-scraps” economy.

New software technologies are allowing almost any job to be divided up into discrete tasks that can be parceled out to workers when they’re needed, with pay determined by demand for that particular job at that particular moment.

Customers and workers are matched online. Workers are rated on quality and reliability.

The big money goes to the corporations that own the software. The scraps go to the on-demand workers.

Consider Amazon’s “Mechanical Turk.” Amazon calls it “a marketplace for work that requires human intelligence.”

In reality, it’s an Internet job board offering minimal pay for mindlessly-boring bite-sized chores. Computers can’t do them because they require some minimal judgment, so human beings do them for peanuts – say, writing a product description, for $3; or choosing the best of several photographs, for 30 cents; or deciphering handwriting, for 50 cents.

Amazon takes a healthy cut of every transaction.

This is the logical culmination of a process that began thirty years ago when corporations began turning over full-time jobs to temporary workers, independent contractors, free-lancers, and consultants.

It was a way to shift risks and uncertainties onto the workers – work that might entail more hours than planned for, or was more stressful than expected.

And a way to circumvent labor laws that set minimal standards for wages, hours, and working conditions. And that enabled employees to join together to bargain for better pay and benefits.

The new on-demand work shifts risks entirely onto workers, and eliminates minimal standards completely.

In effect, on-demand work is a reversion to the piece work of the nineteenth century – when workers had no power and no legal rights, took all the risks, and worked all hours for almost nothing.

Uber drivers use their own cars, take out their own insurance, work as many hours as they want or can – and pay Uber a fat percent. Worker safety? Social Security? Uber says it’s not the employer so it’s not responsible.

Amazon’s Mechanical Turks work for pennies, literally. Minimum wage? Time-and-a half for overtime? Amazon says it just connects buyers and sellers so it’s not responsible.

Defenders of on-demand work emphasize its flexibility. Workers can put in whatever time they want, work around their schedules, fill in the downtime in their calendars.

“People are monetizing their own downtime,” Arun Sundararajan, a professor at New York University’s business school, told the New York Times.

But this argument confuses “downtime” with the time people normally reserve for the rest of their lives.

There are still only twenty-four hours in a day. When “downtime” is turned into work time, and that work time is unpredictable and low-paid, what happens to personal relationships? Family? One’s own health?

Other proponents of on-demand work point to studies, such as one recently commissioned by Uber, showing Uber’s on-demand workers to be “happy.”

But how many of them would be happier with a good-paying job offering regular hours?

An opportunity to make some extra bucks can seem mighty attractive in an economy whose median wage has been stagnant for thirty years and almost all of whose economic gains have been going to the top.

That doesn’t make the opportunity a great deal. It only shows how bad a deal most working people have otherwise been getting.

Defenders also point out that as on-demand work continues to grow, on-demand workers are joining together in guild-like groups to buy insurance and other benefits.

But, notably, they aren’t using their bargaining power to get a larger share of the income they pull in, or steadier hours. That would be a union – something that Uber, Amazon, and other on-demand companies don’t want.

Some economists laud on-demand work as a means of utilizing people more efficiently.

But the biggest economic challenge we face isn’t using people more efficiently. It’s allocating work and the gains from work more decently.

On this measure, the share-the-scraps economy is hurtling us backwards.

You Can Stay in a Tent in LA’s Skid Row for $10 a Night

When I saw that artist Barry Boen was using Airbnb to rent out a tent in LA’s homeless-dominated Skid Row district for $10 a night, I knew it was a stunt. I just wanted to know what kind.

The listing promised guests their own “private tent near the corner of Sixth and San Pedro,” which would “give you the experience of what life is like living on Skid Row.” Check-in time was 5 PM; checkout was promptly at 8 AM, when you’d have to dismantle your tent, per city regulations. The listing also mentioned a “concierge” named Dice, who would be there “to help you settle into to this new way of living and be able to answer any questions you may have.”

It seemed like a dick thing to do. Skid Row has the largest concentration of mentally ill and homeless people in America, and it can resemble third world–esque refugee camp 1.5 miles from where the Lakers play. Boen’s listing took poverty tourism to its logical extreme: Spend a night in Skid Row and sleep on the ground with real-life junkies! Eat the authentic garbage food! But when I met with Boen to see the tent for myself, he didn’t think of it in that way at all.

Continue

I find the spread of Airbnb to be as fascinating as it is controversial – I suppose I’m just not as excited about having complete strangers live in my house with me as some people. Anyway, in this post, I’ve taken data scraped from the Airbnb website (by Murray Cox in January 2015 – see data source) to show the distribution and prices of listings in New York City. Note that listing locations are inexactly geocoded; they can be off by a couple hundred feet to keep them anonymous. As such, the price maps should be interpreted more generally than by specific census tract. For example, some rentals appear in Central Park, though it’s very unlikely that they are actually located within the park. (Come share my zoo bench!) So take the geographic accuracy with a grain of salt.

I find it interesting that the kernel density distribution, which is itself a spatial generalization and thus less prone to the effect of inexact locations, does not mimic the population density of New York (http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/pdf/census/census2010/m_pl_p2_nta.pdf). The highest densities of Airbnb listings are in the Lower East Side/East Village, Upper West Side/Chelsea/West Village, and Greenpoint/Williamsburg.

Data source: http://insideairbnb.com/new-york-city/

6

Check out this absolutely gorgeous Earthship that we stayed in last night in the Great World Earthship Community in Taos, NM.

With four of the sides buried in the earth, we stayed warm while the temperature outside dropped to a chilly 1 degree! Taos can get COLD. Solar paneling for energy, recycling of grey water into an indoor greenhouse and the fact that there is not a single heater or AC unit, truly makes it off the grid.

Check out the Airbnb listing here:
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1762491

Read all about the Earthship community:
https://www.earthship.com/community

7

If the gondola’s a rockin’ don’t come a knockin’. I bet you’ve never stayed in an Airbnb listing with this house rule.

If you think you can abide by this rule (and overcome a fear of heights), then enter to win a night’s stay at this unique Airbnb listing in the French Alps – Night at 9,000ft in the air.

The lodgings—a fully-equipped cable car—come with a snowmobile ride up the slopes, a dinner suspended above the clouds, and the chance to be the first to carve into Courchevel’s slopes the next morning.

You can enter to win a night in this “room” with a view here.