Category Archives: Government Regulation

Let the people decide

taxi

In case you missed it this week, the New York Times reports that “an Uber driver admitted his involvement in a Saturday night shooting rampage” in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  NBC News likewise reports on the “eight people shot by a rampaging Uber driver”.

The press did get around to sharing other details about the deranged shooter Jason Dalton, including that he is a married father of two, was living in an ordinary neighborhood, and had no prior criminal record.

But I could not escape the media fascination with Dalton’s job, including follow-up pieces about rides given before and after the shootings and reactions from Uber officials.

Randomly perusing the links of the Gun Violence Archive, I could find no such examples of stories that led with the shooter’s chosen profession.  Instead the narratives mostly covered the incident itself, the police response, and the condition of victims.

The unstated implication is that Uber has a sinister side-effect.  Never mind that Uber has consistent real-time visibility into its drivers’ whereabouts.  Never mind that it can instantly deactivate the Uber app of any driver it suspects of wrong-doing.  Never mind that supposedly safe regular taxi drivers routinely fail Uber background checks.

I suspect Uber is suspect for something other than driver violence.  The ubiquitous ride-sharing service has become synonymous with the unregulated sharing economy.  And nothing threatens the liberal establishment more than a tool which bypasses the heavy hand of government.

For years passengers suffered from the regulated taxi monopoly.  During my pre-Uber decade in San Francisco, calling a cab was a roll of the dice.  When one did show up, the condition of the vehicle — not to mention the attitude of the driver — was shoddy at best.

Today, thanks to Uber and other ride-sharing services, I know where my ride is, when it will arrive, and who will be driving.  I can rate the driver’s performance.  After dozens of rides, I’ve rarely been disappointed.  What’s not to like?

Of course, it’s not a happy day for the taxi industry and the politicians it bankrolls at City Hall.   Desperate to preserve their turf, the incumbents are lashing out with unsubstantiated accusations that its more nimble rivals are unsafe.

There is no compelling evidence that riding in an Uber is any less safe than riding in a taxi.  And the people are voting with their apps.  Taxi rides and revenues are plummeting as consumers turn to more affordable and agreeable ride-sharing alternatives.

It’s all about consumer choice.  When you let the people decide, good things happen.  When you protect a special interest, there’s no free lunch.  Someone else is paying the price.

Productivity — which is another way of saying better products at a lower cost — cannot be compelled by government fiat.  The only reason poor value survives in an otherwise free market is restraint on more capable alternatives.

Consider the twin examples of our woeful Veterans Administration healthcare system and our generally dismal public education cabal.  Does anyone seriously doubt that these two dinosaurs would crumble if exposed to legitimate competition for patients and students, respectively?  Instead, protected by entrenched government employee unions, they continue to devour taxpayer resources without any accountability for their shortcomings.

Liberal politicians think that more aggressive taxes and regulations can unlock excessive gains of business to create a more equitable allocation of wealth.  But as every socialist experiment from Soviet Russia to modern-day Venezuela has shown, penalizing free enterprise destroys wealth, making everyone more equally poor.

Trial lawyers and labor union advocates want to rein in the sharing economy.  The only thing they’ll be preserving is one-size-fits-all lousy service.

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Filed under Economic Policy, Government Regulation