Airbnb Is the Crassus of Real Estate
Incinerating family homes for private profit will end disastrously
Marcus Licinius Crassus was an incredibly evil dude.
Born in 115 BC as the second son of a plebeian family, he skyrocketed to power, became a member of the ruling triumvirate, and was the wealthiest man in Rome.
Crassus personally amassed 229 tonnes of gold, worth roughly $14 billion today, but he also owned most of the actual city of Rome. Imagine if someone cornered the gold supply of a superpower… and also owned 80% of New York City.
What a baller.
How did he make so much money?
Well, he started off the old-fashioned way — through slave trafficking, war profiteering, monopolizing silver mines, gambling on real estate, and stealing people’s property after banishing them.
Eventually, he came up with a brilliant business plan:
He stole slaves who were architects and builders
He started Rome’s first fire brigade
He got thugs to light people’s houses on fire
He paid victims and their at-risk next-door neighbors pennies on the dollar while their houses burned
He got his fire department to put out the blazes
He got his slaves to re-build the houses
He rented the houses back to the burned-out former homeowners
According to Plutarch:
When he had over 500 slaves, he bought houses that had burnt and the adjacent ones “because their owners would let go at a trifling price.” He bought “the largest part of Rome” in this way, buying them on the cheap and rebuilding them with slave labor.
Naturally, Crassus was universally hated by the people.
This led to a massive slave revolt led by an impoverished freedom-fighter named Spartacus, who Crassus brutally tortured and crucified alongside 6,000 other poor fathers, brothers, and sons.
Apparently, we have learned nothing from history, because Airbnb is replicating Crassus’s business model to a disturbing degree.
The story of Airbnb starts just like Crassus’s:
A triumvirate of middle-class college kids couldn’t afford to make rent on their overpriced San Francisco apartment, so they bought some air mattresses and included breakfast in their “Airbnb” offer to travelers.
The company eventually metastasized into a $100 billion corporation, with enough money and political might to fund hundreds of fake grassroots organizations, successfully sue cities the size of New York, force the commons to subsidize their operations to the tune of tens of billions, and lobby-bribe politicians around the world on an industrial scale.
Like Crassus, Airbnb has incinerated millions of family homes, turning essential local shelters into clerkless investment hotels for private profits.
Do they not know how the story of Crassus ends?
Like our own insane culture, Rome encouraged unlimited wealth accumulation, leading to massive amounts of slavery, poverty, suffering, and struggle for the vast majority.
Not satisfied with all the gold, most of the houses in the capital, and a seat atop the world’s superpower, Crassus struck east in an attempt to become governor of Syria, lured by the possibility of untold riches should he successfully conquer the nation.
Unluckily for him and his poor men, Parthian horse archers demolished his army at the battle of Carrhae. When the Parthians eventually ran out of arrows, they surrounded his decimated army with war-camels.
Crassus was executed shortly thereafter, and the Parthians filled his mouth with molten gold to quench his thirst for wealth.
Cities are finally starting to wake up to the alarm that some of us have been sounding for years:
That Airbnb will not stop until it is stopped.
Like Crassus, Airbnb’s thirst for profit requires never-ending expansion, reaching its tentacles into every city, town, and village, until no corner of the earth is safe from financialization at the hands of absentee land-lorders, and increasingly, international hedge funds who outbid locals to turn their homes into rental properties.
Maddeningly, the housing crisis Airbnb has created is now so bad that locals are now forced to rent Airbnbs just to stay sheltered.
The lack of rentable spaces is so bad that people are now turning to their government for help, and with no other physical place to house them, governments are also now paying to shelter displaced citizens in Airbnbs.
Social services also can’t find space and are now housing at-risk children as young as eleven in Airbnbs.
If Airbnb doesn’t eventually trigger a revolution, I don’t know what will.
Like Crassus, Airbnb robs the working class of homeownership in order to turn their cities into perpetual rent traps.
Like Crassus, the public has no mathematical choice but to eventually rise up.
Like Crassus, Airbnb will destroy an untold number of Spartacuses along the way, shattering families as they take tens of millions of houses off the market.
Will we ever learn the lessons of history, or are we forever doomed to repeat them?
Jared A. Brock is an award-winning biographer, PBS documentarian, and the cell-free founder of the popular futurist blog Surviving Tomorrow, where he provides thoughtful people with contrarian perspectives on the corporatist anti-culture. His writing has appeared in Esquire, The Guardian, Smithsonian, and TIME Magazine, and he has traveled to more than forty countries including North Korea. Join 25,000+ people who follow him on Medium, Twitter, and Substack.
Surviving Tomorrow is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.