The other day Kevin Williamson posted this over at NRO and I took the opportunity to troll him a bit, as the cool kids would say. What I did was bait him into responding to my comment about Uber and its fan boys in the libertarian cult. In fact, I was deliberately provoking him and his fan base into thinking about something more than their normal red team/blue team myopia.
Uber is all the rage with liberals and libertarian types these days. It seems as if they can’t stop yapping about it. Managerial class types and their attendants, particularly the attendants, have an obsession with cabs. The foot soldiers of the people in charge spend a lot of time in cabs and they consider it one of their worst indignities so maybe that’s why they obsess of Uber.
This newfangled car service is not better or cheaper. By “better” I mean that in the purely utilitarian sense. Carrying someone from one spot to another via motorized transport is not all that involved. You either get there or not, within an acceptable time window. Uber adds nothing to this. My bet is Uber is slower, on average. From what I gather, it is not cheaper.
What Uber offers is an aesthetic. Instead of climbing into a grimy cab like the other servants, Uber offers a normal car. That way, the customer can pretend they are the one with the attendants. If you are working in a NYC office, you’re either in charge or working for someone in charge. Obviously, most are just servants and that reality is manifest every single day. In the egalitarian paradise, this is tough to take.
There’s also the prospect of shooing away the riff-raff. In a prior age, the house servants were highly intolerant of the field workers, gardeners, tradesman, etc. They considered themselves better than the servants who toiled outside. There’s a fair bit of that here too. The office drone with his state college diploma looks down on the horny-handed sons of toil working the cabs. They would just as soon not see them at all. Too much of a reminder.
A big part of gentrification, after all, is removing from sight the unpleasant aspects of reality. Crime is certainly a big part of the mix, but there’s a reason why the affluent work so hard to keep the servants quarters as far from them as possible. Replacing those proletarian cabs with the nondescript sedans of Uber drivers just looks so much nicer.
That was the bait. Somewhere in the comment’s Kevin responded and confirmed all of this.
Uber drivers do not necessarily earn less money. Consider the NYC situation, in which 1 in 5 taxis (at least) is driven by an unlicensed illegal immigrant, mostly making chump change while the medallion-holding cartel members do well. Uber isn’t any less expensive when going from downtown to JFK, but even if it were more expensive, I’d use it, because it is convenient, because NYC taxi drivers are mostly horrible, and because I do not like doing business with politician-enabled cartels.
I don’t have an issue with taste or even snobbery being the reason behind liking Uber. I wear nothing but Polo dress shirts because it signals good taste. The fact that they fit well is important, but if some off-brand fit just as well, I’d probably still buy the Polo brand. This is a normal part of human relations and is another example of why libertarianism is nonsense. Economic man does not exist.
Uber’s popularity with libertarians is two-fold. One is they hate taxis cartels. This is a safe target for them because liberals are no fans of taxi cartels either (See above). This allows libertarians to indulge in all of their favorite rants, without incurring the wrath of the Cult. With the legalization of weed, libertarians need a new windmill.
They also hold it up as an example of how free markets work to improve the quality of life. They are generally right about this of course. Markets allows society to set preferences based on price thus satisfying as many people along the demand curve as possible. While this is not the natural order, it is the preferred order if you wish to have prosperity.
But, that’s not what’s going on with Uber. They are operating like privateers. The Crown has licensed people to engage in a particular type of commerce. That always attracts privateers who see to profit from the cartel, by undercutting it at the fringes. This was true when trade was conducted on foot and true in the age of sail.
This is where Uber comes in. They help privateers avoid the rules set forth by the state for cab drivers. Those rules have a cost so the Uber driver can therefore provide a better service at the same price or even lower. They can also pay Uber a cut. That sounds great if you are convinced those regulations on taxis have no utility. Uber is just finding a way around the highwaymen of the taxi service.
Fair enough, but we don’t know if those regulations are worthless. They did not spring from nothing. Laws and regulations are intended to solve a problem. You may not think the problem is worth solving. You may think it is best served privately. You may hate the solution with the intensity of a thousand
sons suns. I get that so there’s no need to hassle me over it. None of it matters. Laws and regulations are not passed by chance.
Now, the reason for those rules may no longer be operative. Those rules may be corrupted or have become corrupted. We can’t know that Until we think about why the rules exist. This is where liberals and libertarians hit the rocks. They get their panties in a wad and reach for the sledgehammer. Kevin thinks Uber will bust up the taxi cartel so that’s enough for him. What comes after does not enter his thoughts.
This is the crux of conservatism. I’m perfectly happy to replace taxi cartels with something or even nothing, as long as I know what the something or nothing means. That starts by understanding why every city of earth has sought to regulate livery service. What are these issues the cartel system is supposed to address? What is the cost of not addressing it? What are the proposed replacement? Will it address the old problems and will it create new problems?
Much of what plagues us today is due to Progressives swinging the wrecking ball on the assumption a perfect replacement will spring magically from the rubble. Libertarians have this same defect. They never stop and wonder why the thousand generation that have come before them chose something other than their preferred option. There’s a reason for it. The conservative seeks to know that answer first. Everyone else just wants to swing the wrecking ball.