Quotulatiousness

January 13, 2018

The common factor of the Net Neutrality fight and the EpiPen price gouging scandal

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Government, Health, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Lili Carneglia explains what these two examples of “capitalist excess” are actually the result of regulatory failures:

Without net neutrality, regulations that prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from charging more for priority speeds and higher bandwidth-use sites would disappear. Most Americans are pretty confused by the revised rules but highly skeptical that this action could have any benefits. Many people, especially those living in the rural south where choices are limited, feel like these companies have been taking advantage of their customers for years, and loosening regulatory constraints on these companies seems like a terrible idea.

Net neutrality was a regulatory policy set under the Obama administration in 2015 that mandated ISPs to treat the internet like other utilities, such as highways and railroads, under laws established before most people had TVs. Under these rules, companies must act as neutral gateways to the internet without controlling the content or the speed of the content that passes through that gateway. Supporters of the rule argue that these regulations ensure the free flow of information, while those against the policy see net neutrality as a misapplication that stifles an industry that is more dynamic than other public utilities.

[…]

Yes, a handful of industry giants can and have abused their market power. Most consumers have limited ISPs to choose from in a given area, and options are more limited outside of big cities, where “three-quarters of American homes have no competitive choice for the essential infrastructure for 21st-century economics and democracy,” according to the former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. It is important to consider how these circumstances came about before deciding that federal regulation might help consumers.

Governments, by and large, prefer to have fewer players in a given market as it makes that market easier to regulate, and the easiest market to regulate is a monopoly. When cable networks were beginning to spread across North America, many local governments were persuaded that a single cable provider would be the best option for their jurisdiction and the broadband internet market that came later was heavily shaped by the already carved-up markets for cable TV. For many, there were no competitive options because the local government had precluded the chance of competition for their already entrenched cable monopoly (or, in a few cases, tight oligopoly).

Competition is the best answer to monopolistic abuse of customers … if you get shitty service from the Blue Cable Company, you’ll be more likely to switch to the Red Cable Company. If you only have Red and Blue to choose from, your leverage is small, but if you have a full rainbow of competing options, Red and Blue are forced to make their services at least comparable to what Orange and Pink and Magenta are offering, or they lose too many customers. If there’s no threat of a competitor scooping up unhappy customers, there’s no incentive for the existing company to do more than the absolute minimum to keep customer complaints down to a dull roar. The customer’s only recourse — other than giving up the service or moving to a different jurisdiction — is to complain to the regulator.

The base problem with Mylan’s EpiPen price gouging is the same: an effective monopoly supported by the government:

The arguments against net neutrality repeals center around fears about what producers will do without regulation since they have significant market power and the ability to raise prices to levels that would not be sustainable under more competitive conditions. The concern about increased internet prices is similar to what happened in 2016 when a pharmaceutical company with market power, Mylan, increased the price of life-saving EpiPens by about 400 percent.

The “greedy” pharmaceutical companies were hung out to dry as Congress berated Mylan representatives in hearing after hearing. There were similar cries of outrage and demands that the federal government do something to prevent such selfish price-gouging, similar to what many consumers fear ISPs will do absent regulations.

Even (supposed) free-market advocates started supporting further regulation during the EpiPen debate. Most notably, then fiscal hawk representative and now Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney, defended further market intervention on the condition that, “If you want to come to the state capitols and lobby us to make us buy your stuff, this is what you get. You get a level of scrutiny and a level of treatment that would ordinarily curl my hair.”

However, in all of those hearings, almost no one bothered to unearth the problem that Mulvaney hinted at: Why was Mylan able to increase that price in the first place? Government intervention. Burdensome FDA regulations and other laws pressuring public schools to buy the drug essentially granted Mylan a monopoly. It was as misguided then as it is now to think that these same institutions can be trusted to clean up the mess they created.

Mylan had no effective competition, so there was nothing to stop the price gouging until it got so bad that even the regulator had to pay attention. If there were other pharmaceutical companies allowed to compete, do you think Mylan would have risked jacking up the price only to watch their competitors gaining market share?

Scott Alexander explained the Mylan monopoly quite expansively in 2016.

QotD: Occupational licensing

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

When my mother retired from selling real estate, she toyed with the idea that she — a talented cook who had long made her own croissants — might make a little money on the side by selling homemade baked goods. It’s the sort of business that people have started from time immemorial, letting them share what they love with someone willing to pay for it.

A quick investigation, however, revealed that the thing was impossible. You can’t just bake a little stuff at home and sell it, for fear that you might poison people. If you want to poison people with your deliciously flaky homemade croissants, it must be done on a strictly ad-hoc, volunteer basis.

Welcome to the modern economy, where increasingly, everything not compulsory is forbidden. We are hedged around with rules to protect us, to protect other people, to protect some theoretical victim who exists only in the minds of regulators and judges. And there’s reason to worry that this red tape is getting wrapped so tight that it risks rendering us immobile.

I’m not talking about environmental regulations, or even the labor regulations that make it increasingly expensive and burdensome to employ people. Today I’m talking about occupational licensing, and the burden it places on people who want to build a career.

Megan McArdle, “You’re Gonna Need a License for That”, Bloomberg View, 2016-05-17.

January 11, 2018

QotD: Regime uncertainty

Filed under: Books, Economics, Government, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Washington’s destructive policies have been dubbed “regime uncertainty” in a strand of innovative analyses pioneered by Robert Higgs of the Independent Institute. Regime uncertainty relates to the likelihood that an investor’s private property — namely, the flows of income and services it yields — will be attenuated by government action. As regime uncertainty is elevated, private investment is notched down from where it would have been. This can result in a business-cycle bust and even economic stagnation. I recommend Higgs’ most recent book for evidence on the negative effects of regime uncertainty: Robert Higgs. Taking a Stand: Reflections on Life Liberty, and the Economy. Oakland, CA: The Independent Institute, 2015.

Steve Hanke, “What’s Killing U.S. Growth?”, Huffington Post, 2016-04-12.

December 18, 2017

QotD: The perils of well-meaning regulation

Filed under: Economics, Government, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Because the rich and powerful run the government, the poor and other powerless have been regularly hurt by governmental regulation – even by such sweet-sounding regulations as evening closing of shops (making it hard for the working poor to have time to shop) or protections limiting the hours women could work (making it hard for them to hold supervisory jobs requiring one to come early and stay late) or building codes claiming to promote safety but instigated by building trade unions (making it hard to build inexpensive housing) or minimum wages (making it hard for blacks, immigrants, women, and nonmembers of craft unions to get paying jobs).

Dierdre McCloskey, Bourgeois Equality, 2016.

December 13, 2017

QotD: Licensing and entrepreneurship

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Much as I love Silicon Valley, its cultural dominance has disastrously corrupted our sense of what entrepreneurship is. Talking about starting your own business, and too many people think the measure of success is whether you can sell the thing for at least a couple of hundred million dollars. Most entrepreneurship is considerably more humble than that; it is individuals with some talent, or a willingness to work hard, who want to sell their services to the public. They may never employ another person; they may not even work full time themselves. And these people never buy gracious mansions, or endow scholarships, or get buildings named after them. They just make their own lives a little bit better, hopefully, in the process of doing the same for their customers. We are artificially stopping that process, in order to protect insiders who already have the job.

That’s great for the insiders, who get above-average job stability and wages. But it’s terrible for the folks who are outside. And the more industries we put under the control of such regimes, the more the outsiders will show up in our economic data as people permanently stuck at the bottom.

We can do better than that. The problem is that such regimes are politically very stable, because the benefits are highly concentrated, while the costs are diffuse. Every licensed interior designer is passionately interested in shutting out unlicensed competitors, but their potential customers probably have better things to do than phone up their senators to demand to know why they can’t hire this chap they just met who has absolutely splendid taste in early Chippendale.

Megan McArdle, “You’re Gonna Need a License for That”, Bloomberg View, 2016-05-17.

December 11, 2017

QotD: Occupational licensing

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Law, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… occupational licensing laws and Competitor’s Veto laws exclude would-be entrepreneurs from the marketplace — with disproportionately negative consequences for members of minority groups — […] Congress could act today to protect the fundamental human right of economic liberty against unjust state interference.

Licensing laws tend to have particularly harsh consequences on members of minority groups for a couple reasons. First, if a law requires a person to have, say, a college degree to practice the trade of interior design (which is the law in Florida), people who have less money and time to spend in college will find that avenue of opportunity closed to them. Since black and Hispanic Floridians are about 30 percent less likely to have a college degree, they will suffer more from this absurd licensing requirement than others will. Competitor’s Veto laws that forbid a person from practicing a trade unless they get permission from the businesses already operating in that industry are also very likely to create a sort of Old Boys Network, and to exclude entrepreneurs who lack political connections. Second, in a more general sense, any law that restricts economic opportunity for some to benefit others — as licensing laws tend to do — are likely to benefit those who have more political influence and can therefore get the government to regulate in ways favorable to them. Since members of minority groups have less political influence, they tend to be the ones excluded.

Timothy Sandefur, “Testifying to the U.S. Senate Oversight Subcommittee Tuesday about economic liberty and minorities”, Freespace, 2015-09-30.

December 2, 2017

Goat Yoga Gets Baaaaaa-nned

Filed under: Bureaucracy, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 06:00

ReasonTV
Published on 1 Dec 2017

Good, old-fashioned goats and the ancient Hindu practice of yoga are two things that don’t seem to go together.

And yet, last year, a small farm in Corvallis, Oregon started offering classes that combined the two. Goat yoga is exactly what it sounds like: the practice of yoga in the presence of goats.

—————-

Soon these classes had a 900-person waiting list for an hour of ritual calisthenics with a bunch of horned ruminants.

Within a year, the unlikely trend had spread across the nation.

“We would go through the different asanas and the different flows,” explains Amanda Bowen, a goat-yoga instructor in Maryland, “and the goats will come around and interact with people as we’re doing the class.”

And then the unstoppable force of goat yoga locked horns with the immovable object of the Washington, D.C. Department of Health.

When Congressional Cemetery Director Paul Williams applied for a livestock permit in the District of Columbia, he was greeted by four lawyers “ready to throw every curve ball they possibly could at me to prevent goat yoga.”

But goat springs eternal. Since Manchester, N.H. reversed its ban late last summer, the only place in the country where risk-averse municipal bureaucracies are undermining this fitness-to-farm trend threat is the nation’s capital.

Produced, shot, narrated, and edited by Todd Krainin.

November 22, 2017

A damned odd canary in this particular coal mine

Filed under: Government, Media, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Megan McArdle on the imminent demise of the FCC’s “Net Neutrality”:

The internet will be filled today with denunciations of this move, threats of a dark future in which our access to content will be controlled by a few powerful companies. And sure, that may happen. But in fact, it may already have happened, led not by ISPs, but by the very companies that were fighting so hard for net neutrality.

Consider what happened to the Daily Stormer, the neo-Nazi publication, after Charlottesville. One by one, hosting companies refused to permit its content on their servers. The group was forced to effectively flee the country, and then other countries, too, shut it down.

Now of course, these are not nice people. Their website espoused vile hate. But the fact remains that what they were publishing was not illegal, merely immoral, and their immoral speech was effectively shut down by a small number of private companies who decided to exercise their considerable control over what we’re allowed to read. And what is to stop them from expanding this decision to other categories, forcing the rest of us to conform to Silicon Valley’s idea of what it is moral and right for us to see?

Fifteen years ago, when I started blogging, it was common to hear that “the internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” You don’t hear that so often anymore, because it’s not true. China has proven very effective at censoring the internet, and as market power has consolidated in the tech industry, so have private firms.

Meanwhile, our experience of the internet is increasingly controlled by a handful of firms, most especially Google and Facebook. The argument for regulating these companies as public utilities is arguably at least as strong as the argument for thus regulating ISPs, and very possibly much stronger; while cable monopolies may have local dominance, none of them has the ability that Google and Facebook have to unilaterally shape what Americans see, hear, and read.

In other words, we already live in the walled garden that activists worry about, and the walls are getting higher every day. Is this a problem? I think it is. But that doesn’t mean that the internet would get better if Google and Facebook and Apple and Amazon were required to make every decision with a regulator hanging over their shoulder to decide whether it was sufficiently “neutral.”

November 8, 2017

Self-Driving Cars Will Make Most Auto Safety Regulations Unnecessary

Filed under: Business, Economics, Government, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

ReasonTV
Published on 6 Nov 2017

Cars are becoming computers on wheels, meaning software, not hardware, will soon be paramount for safety. This will eliminate the need for most federal vehicular safety regulations.

Federal auto safety regulations fill nearly 900 pages with standards that determine everything from rear-view mirror and steering wheel placement to the shape of vehicles and the exact placement of seats. Many of the rules don’t make sense in the coming era of self-driving cars. Autonomous vehicles don’t need rear-view mirrors, or (eventually) steering wheels. Their ideal physical form is still a work in progress.

But an even bigger rethink is in order. As motor vehicles become essentially computers on wheels, software, not hardware, will soon be paramount for safety. This will make most government regulation unnecessary, and, to the extent that it slows innovation, could even cost lives on the highway.

“Basically, the entire vehicle code can be boiled down to be safe and don’t unfairly get in the way of other people,” says Brad Templeton, an entrepreneur and software architect, who has worked as a consultant with Google on its self-driving car project. (He also blogs regularly on the topic.)

One difference between self-driving cars and traditional automobiles is that companies will have every incentive to fix safety problems immediately. With today’s cars, that hasn’t always been the case. Templeton cites General Motors’ 2014 recall of 800,000 cars with faulty ignition switches. The company knew about the safety flaw over a decade prior, but didn’t act on the information because recalls are so costly. The companies actions had dire consequences: One-hundred-and-twenty-four deaths were linked to the ignition defect.

But the safety problems of the future will primarily be bugs in software not hardware, so they’ll be fixed by sending ones and zeros over the internet without the need for customers to return hundreds of thousands of vehicles to the manufacturer. “Replacing software is free,” Templeton says, “so there’s no reason to hold back on fixing something.”

Another difference is that when hardware was all that mattered for safety, regulators could inspect a car and determine if it met safety standards. With software, scrutiny of this sort may be impossible because the leading self-driving car companies (including Waymo and Tesla) are developing their systems through a process called machine learning that “doesn’t mesh in with traditional methods of regulation,” Templeton says.

Machine learning is developed organically, so humans have limited understanding of how the system actually works. And that makes governments nervous. Regulations passed by the European Union last year ban so-called unknowable artificial intelligence. Templeton fears that our desire to understand and control the underlying system could lead regulators to prohibit the use of machine learning technologies.

“If it turns out that [machine learning systems] do a better job [on safety] but we don’t know why,” says Templeton, “we’ll be in a situation of deliberately deploying the thing that’s worse because we feel a little more comfortable that we understand it.”

For full text and links, go to: https://reason.com/archives/2017/11/06/self-driving-autonomous-regulation

Shot, written, edited, and produced by Jim Epstein. Filmed at the 2017 Automated Vehicles Symposium.

November 2, 2017

QotD: Free trade versus modern “Free Trade” agreements

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Once upon a time, free-trade agreements were about just that: free trade. You abolish your tariffs and import restrictions, I’ll abolish mine. Trade increases, countries specialize in what they’re best equipped to do, efficiency increases, price levels drop, everybody wins.

Then environmentalists began honking about exporting pollution and demanded what amounted to imposing First World regulation on Third World countries who – in general – wanted the jobs and the economic stimulus from trade more than they wanted to make environmentalists happy. But the priorities of poor brown people didn’t matter to rich white environmentalists who already had theirs, and the environmentalists had political clout in the First World, so they won. Free-trade agreements started to include “environmental safeguards”.

Next, the labor unions, frightened because foreign workers might compete down domestic wages, began honking about abusive Third World labor conditions about which they didn’t really give a damn. They won, and “free trade” agreements began to include yet more impositions of First World pet causes on Third World countries. The precedent firmed up: free trade agreements were no longer to be about “free” trade, but rather about managing trade in the interests of wealthy First Worlders.

Eric S. Raymond, “TPP and the Law of Unintended Consequences”, Armed and Dangerous, 2016-04-12.

October 20, 2017

Why the Lights Are Still Off in Puerto Rico

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

ReasonTV
Published on 19 Oct 2017

The government set the stage for a post-hurricane catastrophe.
—–
Puerto Rico was set up for disaster well before Hurricane Maria hit. Revoked tax breaks, needlessly expensive imports, and crippling debt all led to a shoddy infrastructure that’s still without power on most of the island.

On the latest “Mostly Weekly,” Andrew Heaton explores: how did Puerto Rico get screwed over well before the lights went out, and how do we get them back on?

Mostly Weekly is hosted by Andrew Heaton with headwriter Sarah Rose Siskind.
Script by Sarah Rose Siskind with writing assistance from Andrew Heaton, Brian Sack, and Justin Monticello
Edited by Sarah Rose Siskind and Austin Bragg
Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg.
Theme Song: Frozen by Surfer Blood.

October 18, 2017

Cognitive bias – it can be a problem for the “nudgers”, too

Filed under: Economics, Europe, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Ilya Somin says that replacing private decisions with “rational” government nudges does not guarantee that there are no cognitive biases still being expressed:

Economist Richard Thaler recently won the 2017 Nobel Prize in economics for his important work documenting widespread cognitive errors in human decision-making. All too often, people fail to act as rationally as conventional economic models assume, and at least some of those errors are systematic in nature. Such errors can lead to mistakes that greatly diminish our health, happiness, and welfare.

Thaler and many other behavioral economics scholars argue that government should intervene to protect people against their cognitive biases, by various forms of paternalistic policies. In the best-case scenario, government regulators can “nudge” us into correcting our cognitive errors, thereby enhancing our welfare without significantly curtailing freedom.

Irrational Nudgers

But can we trust government to be less prone to cognitive error than the private-sector consumers whose mistakes we want to correct? If not, paternalistic policies might just replace one form of cognitive bias with another, perhaps even worse one. Unfortunately, a recent study suggests that politicians are prone to severe cognitive biases too – especially when they consider ideologically charged issues. Danish scholars Caspar Dahlmann and Niels Bjorn Petersen summarize their findings from a study of Danish politicians:

    We conducted a survey of 954 Danish local politicians. In Denmark, local politicians make decisions over crucial services such as schools, day care, elder care and various social and health services. Depending on their ideological beliefs, some politicians think that public provision of these services is better than private provision. Others think just the opposite. We wanted to see how these beliefs affected the ways in which politicians interpreted evidence….

    In our first test, we asked the politicians to evaluate parents’ satisfaction ratings for a public and a private school. We had deliberately set up the comparison so one school performed better than the other. We then divided the politicians into two groups. One group got the data — but without any information as to whether the school was public or private. The schools were just labeled “School A” and “School B.” The other group got the exact same data, but instead of “School A” and “School B,” the schools’ titles were “Public School” and “Private School.”

    If politicians are influenced by their ideologies, we would expect that they would be able to interpret the information about “School B” and “School A” correctly. However, the other group would be influenced by their ideological beliefs about private versus public provision of welfare services in ways that might lead them to make mistakes….

    This is exactly what we found. Most politicians interpreting data from “School A” and “School B” were perfectly capable of interpreting the information correctly. However, when they were asked to interpret data about a “Public School” and a “Private School” they often misinterpreted it, to make the evidence fit their desired conclusion.

Even when presented additional evidence to help them correct their mistakes, Dahlmann and Petersen found that the politicians tended to double down on their errors rather than admit they might have been wrong. And it’s worth noting that Denmark is often held up as a model of good government that other countries should imitate. If Danish politicians are prone to severe ideological bias in their interpretation of evidence, the same – or worse – is likely to be true of their counterparts in the United States and elsewhere.

October 13, 2017

QotD: The danger of sewer gas

Filed under: Health, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Confined space entry training dwells on sewer gas a lot. Sewer gas is the chemical equivalent of both barrels to the forehead, so it’s worth the attention. There is a long laundry list of things you need to be aware of, and equipment you need to have on hand to deal with potential sewer gas exposure. The first man is required to enter the confined space wearing a harness which is attached to a winch on a tripod placed over the hole. If he’s incapacitated, the second man yanks him out without doubling down on the problem by jumping in after him. This never happens. The first man goes in without any equipment, and the second man dives in after him and dies on top of him.

Here in Maine, it happened a year or two ago. OSHA prosecuted the owner of a business that lost two men in a sewer because of sewer gas. OSHA didn’t care that the company had trained the men for confined space entry. OSHA didn’t care that the company had supplied the men with all the equipment necessary to do the job safely. The workers left all the equipment in the truck and went in the hole and died, even though they must have known the risk. OSHA prosecutes the business because it’s easier than speaking ill of the dead.

I have a long experience with exactly the type of person who ends up dead in a sewer. Without knowing any particulars of the case, I can tell you that no workman will use any safety device of any kind that interferes with smoking cigarettes — and they all smoke. You can train them and yell at them and equip them to a fare-thee-well, but the moment they’re out of your sight, they’ll do exactly as they please. Texting while driving is the poindexter version of this phenomenon.

Sippican Cottage, “Interestingly, ‘Malfunction of Unknown Provenance’ Is the Name of My Men Without Hats Tribute Band. But I Digress”, Sippican Cottage, 2016-02-25.

October 6, 2017

Regulation and the unregulated sharing economy

Filed under: Australia, Bureaucracy, Business, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

This particular article talks about the situation in Australia, although it’s quite similar here in Canada:

Living in Australia sometimes feels like living in a bureaucrats’ version of a spaghetti western. The heroes are the brave and all-knowing public servants, while the villains are the naughty people who are too foolish to realise that government knows best.

Politicians and bureaucrats alike want to regulate first, ask questions later. It seems barely a week passes without someone trumpeting the expansion of the nanny state. And with each new crackdown, ban or tax, our freedom gets that little bit smaller.

Whereas once the government would at least go through the motions of citing things like market failure, all it takes now is for a politician to want to look tough or be seen ‘doing something’. So it is with the proposed regulation of short-term accommodation platforms like Airbnb and Stayz.

Sharing our home with someone is as old as time. Who has not stayed with a family member or friend, or the friend of a friend? The difference these days is that it is much easier. Technology allows us to stay in someone’s home nearly anywhere in the world.

The immense popularity of these platforms is simply staggering. Globally, Airbnb has just passed four million listings, more than the rooms of the top five hotel brands worldwide. Australia is particularly fertile ground for the company, with almost one in five adults having an account. The company claims Airbnb is the “most penetrated market in the world”.

For government, the platforms are confronting. With no red tape or government involvement, travellers are protected, bad apples ejected and quality maintained via hosts and guests providing reviews of each other using sophisticated technology and a trusted online marketplace. Airbnb says that, on average, a host could have a new reservation every day for over 27 years before experiencing a single bad incident. A track record like that would be the envy of any pub, hotel, motel or caravan park in the country.

The so-called sharing economy challenges the idea that people need red tape, regulations or government to keep them safe from harm. But that does not stop some from trying. Currently, the NSW Government is toying with a grab bag of Big Brother and nanny-state policies ranging from new taxes and caps, to licences, planning approval and complete bans.

No modern government has ever seen a healthy, flourishing market without feeling the need to insert itself into the process, usually justified by the need to “protect” consumers.

September 26, 2017

When virtue signalling is more important than tens of thousands of jobs

Filed under: Britain, Business, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In Spiked, Brendan O’Neill slams the (mostly left-leaning) critics of Uber for their blatant two-faced attitudes:

The satire writes itself these days. For the past 16 months, ever since voters said No to the EU, the supposed liberal set has been signalling its virtue over migrant workers. These Remainer types have filled newspaper columns and dinner-party chatter with sad talk about foreigners losing the right to travel to and work in Britain. Yet now these same people have chortled as London mayor Sadiq Khan and his pen-pushers at Transport for London (TfL) have refused to renew Uber’s licence in the capital. Which means 30,000 people will lose work. Many of them migrants. They cry over migrant workers one day, and laugh as they lose their livelihoods the next.
Anyone would think their overriding concern is less with migrants’ right to work than with their own insatiable need to engage in political posturing. And right now, when it’s trendy to be anti-capitalist, to sneer at Silicon Valley fat-cats who make apps that employ people in far from ideal conditions, the posture that guarantees one’s spot in liberal circles is to be Uberphobic. Sticking it to Uber, making a spectacle of one’s haughty disdain for the vagaries of life in 21st-century capitalist society, takes precedence over concern for workers themselves. Welcome to 2017, where it’s cool to be anti-capitalist but not pro-worker.

[…]

One of the ugliest sentiments behind Uberphobia is the idea that this service is a threat to the public, especially women. Darkly, the new left is at one with the anti-migrant hard right on this question: both have cheered Uber’s licence loss on the basis that women of London must be protected from unregulated drivers. Let’s get this into perspective. Last year it was revealed that between February 2015 and February 2016 there were 32 allegations of sexual assault against Uber drivers in London. There were a total of 154 allegations against all taxi and car firms, meaning Uber made up a minority of complaints. What’s more, there are millions of Uber journeys in London every year, so the chances of assault are minuscule. It’s the same in the US. There was scandal when it was revealed that Uber had received complaints from women who said they had been raped by drivers. It received five complaints between 2012 and 2015, which means 0.0000009% of car journeys involved an alleged act of rape. Uber is very safe indeed.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that, from both leftish feminists and the hard right, the panic about Uber is driven partly by fear of unregulated foreign men driving around our cities. The state must regulate, they say — and they mean it must regulate both business and foreigners, both fat cats and untrustworthy outsiders, both moneymen and migrants. Cheering as migrant workers lose their work and being complicit in the depiction of migrant drivers as a rapacious threat: sections of the liberal-left have really exposed their prejudices through their posturing against Uber. The tragedy of Uberphobia is that it confirms that even anti-capitalism is now virtue-signalling. It is no longer a serious call to improve working people’s lives; it is just the fleeting thrill of shouting ‘Down with Uber!’ without ever letting the issue of its drivers’ livelihoods cross your pristine, virtuous mind.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress