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How the Sharing Economy Empowers the Working Class

By: David Unsworth - @LatinAmerUpdate - Apr 19, 2017, 6:56 pm
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has come under fire from the left as of late (
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has come under fire from the left as of late, for allegedly exploiting its workers (Forbes).

There is a fundamental disconnect emerging between the liberal establishment, with the so-called “sharing economy” constantly in their cross-hairs, and the millennials who so often provide them with their victories at the ballot box. The Obama administration, in particular, owes its 8 year reign to the 18-30 year old crowd, who turned out in droves twice for Obama. Yet, within the liberal establishment, a new ideological movement is brewing: one that sees the sharing economy (and many of the businesses that millennials love to patronize) as devious threats to the American economy.

The problem is that the liberal establishment, neither in North America nor Europe, fundamentally does not believe in the free market. It does not believe that individuals, acting in a labor market where wages are dictated by supply and demand, have the choice to enter into contracts as employers and employees, free of government interference. Or, for that matter, to rent out their homes or cars at prices dictated by the free market.

Case in point: recent revelations that a trio of ultra-liberal senators, in conjunction with the heavily-funded hotel industry lobby, has been investigating AirBNB with an aim to increase regulatory scrutiny of the popular home-sharing website. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Brian Schatz (D-HI), have been leading the charge, alleging that AirBNB properties do not comply with anti-discrimination legislation, fail to heed safety regulations, and present unfair competition to the hotel industry.

When Obama discussed increased “choice and competition” as his guiding light for ObamaCare, free market enthusiasts could barely contain their laughter. When Warren and Feinstein team up to fight “unfair competition” it is outright hysterical. At the heart of it, the American Left has never been interested in choice and competition. They, in fact, despise choice and competition. And just wait until the powerful hotel industry lobby starts pouring funding into the campaign coffers of liberal Democrats under the preposterous guise of ensuring “safety”, boosting “local tax revenues”, and fighting “discrimination.”

Or, take the recent onslaught of liberal agitation against ride-sharing application Uber, from both sides of the pond. Writing in the Guardian, self-described feminist activist Laurie Penny charges Uber with “spreading social poison,” noting that the company “grew in the social sludge of American cities with patchy and precarious public transport provision and high unemployment.”

In the social justice warrior-inspired Marxist milieu of Penny, “taking an Uber home is the ethical equivalent of the greasy late-night kebab: you know it’s bad for you, but there’s a filthy, guilty pleasure in being able to meet your immediate animal needs.”

Yes…in the completely ludicrous world of today’s liberal activism, taking safe, convenient, and reasonably priced transportation home makes you “filthy” and “guilty”. How dare you don’t call a black or yellow cab service so that you can pay two or three or five times more…not to mention deal with a service that is notorious for rude drivers who run a side business swindling passengers. You prefer an Uber? You’re a MONSTER!

Yes, to Ms. Penny the notion that Uber’s drivers work as independent contractors, and are thus responsible for their own healthcare, retirement planning, and benefits (like millions of other Americans who work independently) is a grievous affront to human decency.

Did it ever occur to Ms. Penny that Uber is, in fact, a liberator of the poor and working and lower middle classes that before could never have conceived of being able to afford to take a car service home? In a major American city today, a mere 15-20 minute ride in an official taxi will set you back $25 to $35. How is that possibly a fair, when factoring in driver pay, insurance, gas, wear and tear, etc? Few poor or working class Americans could ever justify a $30 cab ride to get home after their shift, as more than an occasional luxury.

Now in a major American city, such a ride costs half or a third, of the prices charged by official “monopoly” car services. A working class person who earns $25,000 or $30,000 or $40,000 a year, now has private car travel as an economically viable transportation option. The same way that AirBNB now allows those of even modest means to travel the world and stay in a private room, or a furnished apartment, or an entire home, at a fraction of the cost of hotel accommodations.

The reason that Uber (and other services like Lyft and Cabify) are wildly popular are because they open new doors to precisely the type of people that Penny claims are so oppressed and downtrodden by the sharing economy. Yes, it is indisputable that Uber drivers earn less than unionized cab drivers. If they don’t like the earnings, then they can look for other work. No one is forced at gunpoint to work for Uber, or any other American company.

In the meantime, the American Left, headed by their patron saint Elizabeth Warren, can take on the “sharing economy” at their own peril. It’s readily apparent that the sharing economy is supported broadly by the American public in general, and enthusiastically by millennials in particular. It’s curious that Warren’s office has repeatedly “declined to comment” on her inquisition into AirBNB. It doesn’t seem that she’s exactly trumpeting it from the rooftops. Perhaps she realizes that, ultimately, taking on the sharing economy is political suicide.

Even libertarians would acknowledge that such outfits as Uber and AirBNB should be subject to a reasonable level of government regulation. For example, it hardly seems totalitarian to require Uber drivers to have car insurance and offer seatbelts for all passengers, or require AirBNB hosts to offer fire extinguishers.

But for the socialist crusaders to veil their campaign against “the sharing economy” in protecting working class people is beyond the pale of hypocrisy.

David Unsworth David Unsworth

David Unsworth is a Boston native. He received degrees in History and Political Science from Washington University in St. Louis, and subsequently spent five years working in real estate development in New York City. Currently he resides in Bogota, Colombia, where he is involved in the tourism industry. In his free time he enjoys singing in rock bands, travelling throughout Latin America, and studying Portuguese.

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