It’s true that that the car service company Uber has done some questionable things, but it’s also advancing liberals priorities.
The internet based car service company Uber has had a tough couple of weeks as of late, and to many liberals it seem that they’ve simply gone to far. First there was there was the story about their sexist blog post, then there was the story about Vice President Emil Michael threatening to trash journalists, and Sarah Lacy’s epic rant announcing she was deleting the Uber app from her phone.
Vox’s Matt Yglesias summed up a lot of popular liberal opinion that, which has been confirmed by my social media feeds, that Uber has “an asshole problem.”
One of the key tenets of liberalism, at least as I understand it, is holding the powerful accountable for their behavior, while another one is helping out the downtrodden in our society. And so liberals should commends journalism pointing out sexism in the workplace and corporate officers acting like boorish jerks.
But at the same time Uber’s entrance into the whole taxi marketplace should also be recognized for its very real impact. As Josh Barro pointed out in a great piece at The Upshot, Uber (and other companies like Lyft) are helping to crash the otherwise absurd price of taxi medallions in many large cities.
The whole system of taxi medallions, that is a limited number of licenses for taxis that are owned by or rented out to taxi drivers, results in a political economy that should offend liberals everywhere (it certainly offends me). For example in New York City the going price for a taxi medallion used to be about $1 million dollars (no I’m not being sarcastic) but has recently fallen to the bargain basement price of around 870 grand. Barro sums up what this means for non-Uber cab drivers:
“Those are fake prices,” said Mohammad Kamran, a medallion broker in Chicago, who blames UberX. “The price [of taxi medallions] has plunged big time, and there are no buyers or sellers because the lenders are not lending money.”
Mr. Kamran said owners are increasingly unable to charge Chicago’s maximum weekly lease rate for medallion taxis, which is around $780, including taxes and insurance, for a late-model Toyota Prius. Drivers have been bargaining that rate down to $700 or $725, he says; others are defecting to services like Uber.
Please forgive me fellow liberals, but I can’t really be rallied to the barricades because incumbent business owners in an artificially static market they created are being forced to pay higher wages to their employees.
Which isn’t to say liberals should lionize Uber. It is after all a business and like all businesses is out to make money not save the world. But if you want to get mad at bad corporate behavior there are much better targets for your anger.
After all why is Lacy so mad at the app on her phone, but not the way minerals were gotten to make the phone in the first place, or how the electricity was generated to charge it?
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