There are few things I enjoy more than the idiotic leftwing backlash against Uber. Besides revealing an utter lack of comprehension of market forces, those on a moral crusade against Uber are actually engaged in a transparent effort to carry water for cartels, aka the taxi unions. Because nothing says “progress” like championing the perpetuation of inefficient, corrupt, politically protected 19th century labor practices over spontaneous order and innovation.
Customers love Uber. Political hacks on the left hate it because it threatens unions and therefore threatens their donor base.
In Sydney last night, Uber’s decision to respond to spiking demand by quadrupling rates as a way to attract more drivers caused more hubbub on twitter than the actual hostage crisis. How dare that evil, greedy, private company raise its rates in the middle of a crisis? Well, if the intent was to incentive more Uber drivers onto the road to provide their in-demand service, what the hell is the problem? The problem apparently, is that profits are inherently evil, but especially so when sought amid a crisis. Mollie Hemingway corrals some representative tweets here and lobs justified scorn at the mob.
My favorite Uber anecdote is from this past summer, when European capitals saw coordinated protests against the disruptive taxi app by having all their taxi drivers block traffic at key arteries and walk out in solidarity, causing massive traffic jams. The result? Uber subscriptions skyrocketed 850% across the continent in a single day as many who had never heard of Uber were suddenly inclined to check them out. Talk about your all time backfires. Who among us would not leap at cheaper and more efficient modes of travel, especially when those already tasked with public transport merit such disdain for their petty and annoying protests, not to mention for their general performance? As if the intent is to conform to stereotype, Paris taxi unions are back at it again today, blocking traffic and demanding an end to Uber while determined to learn nothing from their last failed protest. Hope it goes just as well as last time.
One would think the writing would be on the wall and the taxi union would understand that their days of holding a protected monopoly are over. Alas, the unions are doubling down and their allies in media are drooling for any story that can undermine Uber’s credibility. The constant harping on unfair pricing betrays a thorough ignorance of how markets work, though even more disturbing is the lack of imagination on display by these critics. In order to not only appreciate but celebrate the free market, one has to tap the frontier explorer mentality within, which will allow for the acceptance of “creative destruction.” Every innovation we love is born from this basic concept: existing products and services are displaced by new ones that invent better and cheaper ways to satisfy customers. This process requires businesses, jobs and brands to sometimes disappear. Executives and employees alike at firms such as Research in Motion (makers of Blackberry), Blockbuster, LaserDisc and the legacy music labels would undoubtedly have preferred to see their companies remain viable, but economics is like gravity – it is futile to fight. Now think of the firms that took their place: Apple, Netflix, BluRay and Spotify. In ten years, we may or may not still have these popular companies with us. The thing to do is accept reality and applaud the lower prices, better products and services and technological wonder at hand, while the thing one should not indulge is barking at the moon or vainly wielding one’s fist at the heavens because one is uncomfortable with the metaphysical reality that things always change. (Ironic that the vapid slogan “Change” deployed by Obama in ’08 should be so utterly lost on he and his followers when it comes to the constantly changing dynamics in the marketplace, otherwise known as “capitalism”). If you are in favor of change and progress, it makes no sense to stand opposed to innovative and disruptive new technologies just because they threaten old models which you favor and wish to see preserved.
By all accounts, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is kind of a jerk and has perhaps gone out of his way to stoke the ire of his antagonists. Frankly I could care less what the man’s personality is like or whether he encourages his employees to aggressively (but legally) recruit drivers away from competitors. Competition is not always polite and ethics are important to maintain even in a ruthlessly competitive and nascent market such as the booming sharing economy. But forgive me if I perceive every “Uber is shady” story as part of a broader unease with these carefree, ambitious and cocky tech titans who are supposedly planning to take over the world and turn it into Galt’s Gulch.
While it is surely not the driving motivation behind their attempt to discredit and ultimately destroy Uber, one factor must be that these champions of the uber-state and haters of anything that can reasonably be attributed to the philosophy of Ayn Rand are petrified of the growing “libertarian moment” and feel it is their moral obligation to stop it in its tracks. The level of Ayn Rand paranoia on the left is staggering. There are at least a dozen more influential philosophers and economists on the right than Rand, though she is unquestionably among the canonized thinkers for libertarians. As Robert Tracinski lays out in a wonderful piece, the one enduring lesson the left could learn from Ayn Rand is that “there are no evil thoughts except one: the refusal to think.” Rather than do the hard work of reading Hayek or Schumpeter, or even bother much to think, critics of free market economics lazily single out Rand as our one true prophet because she is easier to demagogue and her arguments easier to caricature. But I think the fundamental explanation for the left’s passionate assault on anything to do with free market economics or deregulation has to do with the libertarian moment coming directly on the heels of what was supposed to be the great progressive resurgence of 2008.
“We are the ones we have been waiting for” was only six years ago but it feels a generation ago now. For all the starry-eyed millennials and social justice warriors and would-be authoritarians in cloistered academia, the rapid erosion of Hope and Change is surreal and responsible for massive whiplash. Beaten and bloodied and staring the demise of their movement in the face, progressives are behaving as any cornered animal would, by lashing out. “The Liberal Hour,” as the WSJ editorial page characterized the national mood in April of 2009, is no more. All that remains is an embittered hostility to actual, observable change.