Trolling Kevin Williamson

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.

19 thoughts on “Trolling Kevin Williamson

  1. The idea that cities everywhere do the same thing–proof that government must be serving their citizens–has not been supportable since NYC did everything it could to keep Thomas Edison’s electric light safe from the gaslight monopoly. What governments of all shapes and sizes can be relied upon to do everywhere–except Sandy Springs, Georgia–is obey some irresistible urge to reach out and touch everything. If it moves, tax it, if it keeps moving, regulate it, and if it stops moving, subsidize it.

    Uber, Lyft, Curb, Sidecar. They may all become MySpace because we cannot know the future. Who cares? Now that Uber has cracked that calcified wall of inertia things will work themselves out because markets do that, and not because of but in spite of the cab companies and regulators.

  2. ya I would think equality before the law would be a little more serious issue than livery regulations but then what’s libertarianism with out a little toadying.

    • I’m all for experimentation. Tell Uber that they can compete with the regulated cabs as long as they carry the same level of insurance on their drivers as the cab companies. That would be a nice experiment in some city. My bet is Uber would suddenly find it hard to get drivers. If the Uber method is better, then I’m all for it. Just don’t rig the game to get the desired outcome.

  3. The Zman hates UBER.
    I frankly don’t get this.
    UBER is just a car service that you contact thru an app on your phone,
    rather than thru a phone call.
    To me, pretty much a distinction without a difference.
    It’s just easier for the riders and more efficient for the drivers
    This is no different than hating on Amazon because it destroyed the brick and mortar book store model. (Just as blogs destroyed the letters-to-editor model.)

    I travel to NYC two or three times a year.
    I use UBER, or a car service whenever I’m in Manhattan.
    Clean cars. Polite drivers.
    Best of all – No waving from the street corner in the rain.
    Does it cost more?
    Sure. So what?
    Better service costs more. This is not a mystery.
    If cost was all that mattered to me, I could take the subway or even,
    God forbid, the bus.

    I never use medallion taxis in NYC anymore if I can avoid it.
    There were more taxi medallions in NYC in 1930 then there are today
    (16,900 v 13,200)
    This is a perfect example of regulatory capture.
    Until Uber came along these medallions were selling for over a million bucks each.
    They still cost around 7- 8 hundred thousand dollars. For what?
    The right to have indentured servants drive these cars for you.
    There’s even a taxi medallion stock – TAXI.
    I drove cab in NYC back when I was in college in the 70’s.
    The job sucked then and it still sucks today.

    UBER lets ambitious drivers get out from under the thumb of the medallion cartel.
    That sounds good to me.

    Before UBER, the yellow cabs had a monopoly and provided monopoly quality
    service – just like dealing a certain well known cable company.

    How can the Zman not like the break-up of this monopoly?

    • There’s a vast middle ground between love and hatred. I’ve never once said I hate Uber or even have strong opinions about the service. I’m indifferent. Similarly, I’m open minded to changing the regulation of taxis or even junking the whole thing.

      So far, no one has bothered to make that argument.

  4. I agree with you 99% of the time, but…..

    “I’m fine with that just as long as all of the services pay their share of taxes and abide by the same rules. ”

    very Disappointing Zman…….is that the cityboy in you coming out?

    Also, have you stated your perspective on the War on Drugs?
    I have a hard time believing that a few more junkies overdosing and possible rise in petty theft outweighs thugs(gangs, cartels, DEA, Feds, Local LEO) being empowered with military weapons, power and $.

    im not a drug or uber user BTW

    • Roads and bridges are public goods and have to be paid for through taxes. We heavily tax big scary trucks because they beat up the roads. Those taxes show up in the cost of goods. Taxis add to congestion, beat up the roads, etc. Taxing those services makes similar sense. Ideally, you want taxes to track usage. Otherwise, the tax code becomes a subsidy racket. which is what plagues us today.

  5. The missing ingredient in the calculus is choice. There are “yellow cabs” for those who prefer the traditional form of livery and now there is UBER for those who desire something different. Viva la difference. I’ll choose the market place determinants over government dictates any day, understanding that there are always costs associated with benefits. As always, buyer beware.

    • I’m fine with that just as long as all of the services pay their share of taxes and abide by the same rules. For close to two centuries now, western cities have treated for-hire transportation as a public good. In many cities they are treated as a utility. Maybe that’s a bad idea, but the history of utility deregulation is not very good so only a fool swings the wrecking ball without carefully considering the possible outcomes.

  6. “Now, the reason for those rules may no longer be operative. [True] Those rules may be corrupted or have become corrupted. [True] We can’t know that Until we think about why the rules exist. [Inoperative]” We didn’t much think about it until Uber poked that bag and dollars and customer satisfaction began falling out. And it’s not Uber vs, the establishment. Uber’s success has drawn serious competition, the only true form of regulation. Ambition against ambition, in defect of better motives.

    The motives of libtards and lunitarians may be ignorant or petty, but it would be ironic and sad were they to stumble upon the right side of liberty the wrong way before the right wing heirs of Madison find their way back to it.

  7. Zman, I usually agree with you but you’re off base on this one.

    Uber is not just an aesthetic. Among other things, their cars have legroom. Something a 6’5″ person like myself really appreciates when the alternative is some Toyota yellow cab with several inches of rear leg room removed for some utterly useless bullet proof glass.

    Uber has solved an important information problem for both drivers and passengers. Both now know far more about the other. The old way of dealing with the problem was to provide licenses and photo IDs of drivers. Not very satisfactory.

    The ostensible purpose of the taxi license system has been to ensure passenger safety. The real purpose was to limit the number of medallions, thereby making them worth (in recent years) several million dollars a piece.

    • Statistically, you are more likely in the US to get picked up in a compact by an Uber driver. I’ve been thousands of cabs and they are always cavernous land yachts. But, mots of dirty and gross, while private cars are clean and nice. Again, I have no beef with Uber as a service.

  8. god good man, if you hate your thousand sons you should have worn a rubber. shit, now I know why you live in the hood.

  9. True enough; Progressives have all the insight and vision of Mr Magoo when it comes to foreseeing unintended consequences and tallying up opportunity costs (see Obamacare).

    I guess if nothing else this is as good a place as any to invoke the “laboratories of democracy” doctrine. Give it a few years and we’ll know if Uber deserves a $50 billion market cap or not.

    I’ll note that LA Mayor Garcetti has recently come out…………………………………..* as a cheerleader and has publicly stated that he intends to give Uber access to LAX both coming and going. Given the stellar business sense of LA political leaders, I fully expect Uber to be sold for parts within five years.

    (*————where did you THINK I was going with that? That’s unsubstantiated. Mostly. And I miss Gutfeld. LOL)

  10. competition (Uber) against a staid industry (taxi cab cartel) is ultimately beneficial, even if there are some kinks that need to be resolved. About passing on the costs, why do these costs need to be so high? Regulation is the problem, not Uber. Regulation is not a panacea, and Uber has mechanisms for weeding out bad drivers, probably much more efficiently than normal cab services.

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