The Race is On: Uber versus the Real Sharing Economy

RGBStock traffic tunnel

A new kind of ride has arrived just in time.

Early in February, hundreds of Uber drivers converged on the company’s office in Long Island City, Queens to object to sweeping fare reductions.  Drivers must charge 15 percent less — while still paying Uber the same percentage, plus the ongoing vehicular expenses.  All with no tips allowed.

Uber justifies the fare cuts as a response to a slow season, and asserts that drivers make up the difference from shortened waiting times between gigs.  It remains unclear why there should be a better view of such conditions from the boardroom than from the street.

For that matter, why can’t such a service be street level through and through?  Mere weeks after the Uber strike, Christopher David is launching the Arcade City platform, which he describes to CoinTelegraph as “a decentralized Uber” whose earnings “won’t go to line the pockets of investors or sustain a corporate hierarchy” but “will be reinvested in our drivers, and in improving the customer experience. … Arcade City will decentralize [fare pricing] decisions to the level of the driver and their customers.”

Worker ownership models don’t depend on unproven technology.  Creator-owned comics publishers have been viable since the brick-and-mortar early 1990s.  An era of apps and Internet ubiquity enables similar enterprises in a variety of fields that will only increase.

So why is the ridesharing field dominated by a handful of big for-profit companies like Uber and Lyft?

Maybe it’s because, for all their clashes with the existing municipal regulatory infrastructure, they’re not all that different from it.  As David notes, “Uber’s approach is to push governments to regulate ridesharing in a manner favorable to their particular business model, stacking the deck against smaller competitors.”

Thus, while the number of traditional cab drivers is strictly limited, the Uber model merely shifts such restrictions to more subtle forms.  If repealing such regulations altogether seems too drastic — the medallion system was seen as a way to prevent a race to the bottom in fares — the ones that most directly suppress worker organizing and wages would be a good start.  And with drivers taking advantage of local knowledge of demand of what riders are willing to pay, it might be the intermediaries who see their earnings race to the bottom.

Only time will tell if Arcade City will succeed.  But the smart money’s on something more like it than Uber — if given the chance.

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a contributing editor at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org).

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Election 2016: The Banality of Evil on Steroids

English: Chief prosecutor Gideon Hausner (stan...
English: Chief prosecutor Gideon Hausner (standing, right) questions witness Henryk Ross (seated, at microphone) during the Eichmann Trial in Jerusalem. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As World War Two ground to an end in Europe, the Third Reich’s killer bureaucrats finally started displaying some good old common sense. They began emptying out the death camps and destroying as many records as possible pertaining to their “Final Solution,” like cats diligently covering up their dirty deeds in the litter box.

It didn’t save them in the end. As Hannah Arendt pointed out in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, their work was just too openly conducted and too accepted by themselves and everyone around them as, well, normal, to be successfully hidden after the fact. But at least they tried.

This year’s crop of Republican presidential candidates could learn a lesson or two from the final gestures of Eichmann and company.  If they had their wits about them, they’d hide their sick light under a bushel and at least pretend to give a hoot about quaint concepts like human rights, international law and the US Constitution.

Instead, the GOP’s presidential nomination race has become a rhetorical arms race to see who can position himself as most boisterously supportive of reprising all the crimes we’ve doggedly and piously pursued and hanged the Nazis for over the last 70 years.

Ted Cruz wants to know if sand can be made to glow in the dark.

Donald Trump chortles at a supporter’s condemnation of Cruz as a “pu**y” for his insufficiency of fervor in support of torture.

The whole  Republican pack (now that Rand Paul is out) foams from the jowls at the prospect of using, rather than curbing, the executive powers Barack Obama has expanded and abused over the course of his two terms, including but not limited to waging war without Congress’s permission and assassinating US citizens without charge or trial (John Kasich wants to “punch Russia in the nose,” but at least Vladimir Putin bothers to deny murdering Alexander Litvinenko; the US brags about murdering Anwar al-Awlaki).

True, they’re all veritable George McGoverns next to Hillary Clinton, the most bloodthirsty woman in politics since Elizabeth Bathory, but that seems to be more a matter of means and opportunity than of motive.

And true, Bernie Sanders comes off as ever so slightly less insane on all of these issues, but his actual record reminds me of  Barack Obama’s whole hope-y change-y schtick and how that panned out.

Unfortunately, 90%+ of American voters will likely pull the lever for one of these murderous sociopaths come November instead of supporting an anti-torture, anti-war, limited government, pro-freedom candidate (they’re called “Libertarians”).

And just like the “good Germans” who supported their leaders’  crimes until doing so became embarrassing, those voters will bear responsibility for what follows.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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When in Rome: “Criminal Consequences” for Assange’s Tormentors?

English: Julian Assange, photo ("sunny co...
Julian Assange (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“How sweet it is” and “screw the UN” seem to be the major media tag lines to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s ruling in favor of political prisoner Julian Assange: The former from Assange himself, welcoming vindication of his claim that more than five years under house arrest and/or confined to Ecuador’s UK embassy do indeed constitute illegal detention, the latter from British foreign secretary Philip Hammond and the London Metropolitan Police, neither of which apparently intend to abide by the verdict.

Less ballyhoo and nearly no analysis accompany another of Assange’s statements. His legal team, he announced, is considering possible “criminal consequences” which might attach to the detention. Think he’s blowing smoke? Think again.

The Working Group’s rulings are not, per se, binding on any government. But the Rome Statute is — at least on its signatories, which include Sweden and the UK.

When we consider the context and background — namely that Sweden and the UK have served and continue to serve as proxies for the United States in its pursuit of Assange for his role in exposing US war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere — an array of possible charges before the International Criminal Court quickly begin to look quite plausible.

Among those charges are the war crime of denying a fair trial, the attempted war crime of unlawful deportation and transfer, the war crime of unlawful confinement, and the offence against administration of justice of “obstructing or interfering with the attendance or testimony of a witness, retaliating against a witness for giving testimony, tampering with or interfering with the collection of evidence …”

Are these the possible “criminal consequences” Assange foresees? There’s good reason to believe so.

In his speech, Assange notes that the ruling is based on “binding covenants which the UK, Sweden, and the United States (for the most part) have agreed to.” That’s clearly a reference to the US remaining non-signatory to the Rome Statute and holding itself out as beyond the jurisdiction of the ICC (it isn’t, at least not entirely).

 

Prior to this ruling, Assange’s persecutors might have been able to plausibly claim legal uncertainty as an extenuating circumstance. That defense is no longer available. Assange’s continued confinement after the ruling constitutes the knowing and intentional commission of several prosecutable war crimes.

Assange is no longer the hunted, but once again the hunter. And his aim is true.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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