Viva Uber!

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About four months from now, Americans will go through the sickly, depressing ritual of celebrating the liberties they no longer enjoy. This includes, among an almost infinite number of things now malum prohibitum (that is, illegal, a violation of some law or statute, but entailing no harm done) being free to hire someone to give them a ride at a price mutually agreeable and otherwise acceptable to both parties.

The government – that is, the busybodies-with-guns who are the government – consider this sort of peaceful, voluntary transaction between consenting adults, neither of them complaining, to be intolerable because it is not done according to the rules laid down by these busybodies-with-guns.

Hence, expensive, inefficient – but very legal – taxi service.

Along came Uber.

Precisely because government-approved taxi service sucks.

Instead of a government-approved car, and all the government-approved rest of it, the idea was that people without any special training, outfits or permission slips but who had a vehicle and were willing to drive people from A to B could do so and earn a buck thereby. Uber would serve as the middleman – providing the conduit (an app) via which the drivers and the riders could connect with one another.

This would be done more efficiently – less expensively – than Officially Approved Taxi service.

The horror.

Uber has been accused of just about everything shy of employing John Wayne Gacy proteges in clown suits, handcuffs and roofies in the glovebox.

They are not regulated! It is unsafe!

Except it isn’t. As usual, the bleats of altruistic hysteria are really the very self-interested keening of dirty birdies whose well-feathered nests are in danger of being ruffled.

There is no evidence  that riding in an Uber car is any more dangerous than riding in an Officially Approved Taxi. It is probably safer to ride in an Uber car, which is at least a modern car and not a late ’90s vintage Ford Crown Vic with 478,000 miles on the clock. But that matters as much as the lack of evidence that a .02 increase in emissions of oxides of nitrogen from TDI-powered VWs is causing harm to people.

What matters  is the challenge to the authority – the majesty – of the busybodies with guns. Who cannot abide being affronted.

Uber must be stomped.

But – to its great credit – Uber (unlike VW) has fought back.

The company developed an ingenious app called “Greyball” to suss out government busybodies and deny them rides. Plausible deniability is achieved by citing Uber’s terms of service, which the busybodies with guns violate since they are not looking merely for a ride; they are looking for “violations” of various malum prohibitum codes, laws, regulations and so on that would then be used to fine or otherwise cause actual harm (malum in se) to the Uber driver, or to Uber itself.

Like the glorious catalytic converter “test pipe” and – more recently – the VW “cheat” programming of TDI-powered cars – everyone knows that Greyball is all about end-running the busybodies-with-guns.

Bully.

Uber, though, has been smart enough to not say so openly. Instead:

“This program denies ride requests to fraudulent users who are violating our terms of service – whether that’s people aiming to physically harm drivers, competitors looking to disrupt our operations or opponents who collude with officials on secret ‘stings’ meant to entrap drivers,” the company said in an official statement following revelations by – of course – The New York Times. Which – remember? – silently colluded with the government during the reign of The Chimp to suppress information about what the government was up to that (again) involved actual harm to actual people – malum in se.

But now, The Times is all fluffed up in faux reportorial indignation over Uber’s efforts to skirt, dodge or otherwise end-run the malum prohibitum actions of Uber.

Oh, the humanity.

It can cost six figures to obtain a “medallion” – the permission of the busybodies-with-guns – to legally give people rides for money in New York City.

Which is why it costs so much to hire a NYC taxicab.

Why isn’t The New York Times outraged about any of that?

It is not coincidental that Manhattan – home of The Times and the six-figure taxi medallion –  was the beating heart of pro-British-ism (Toryism) during the war for independence and, subsequently, the beating heart of British-ism in everything except hereditary monarchy. It is the home turf of the Federalists who sought to erect – and did erect – the institutional framework of an all-but-omnipotent federal government. The soil in which lie the bones of the most treacherous American prior to Abraham Lincoln – Alexander Hamilton.

These people – whatever they may be – are not Americans. Not in the sense that matters – or at least, which used to matter.

Once upon a time, to be an American meant – to not be a busybody, at gunpoint or otherwise. It meant not sweating what other free people chose to do among themselves, provided they weren’t harming anyone else in the process.

Uber is morally clean and – more – knows it is. Whatever malum prohibitum it may stand “guilty” of, Uber knows no one has been harmed and – therefore – feels no shame attempting to circumvent the busybodies with guns. No apologies, no embarrassing press conferences.

Instead, a glorious Screw You! aimed squarely at the ugsome faces of the busybodies.

VW could learn something from Uber’s manly stand for liberty.

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30 COMMENTS

  1. Get enough peeping toms happening, it will open a market for counter measures like a home jamming device and (uh oh) cheap home lasers to knock them down… Shooting at them in a city has a chance of hitting a random anybody…

  2. Two points: Uber recently did away with the Grayball app due to government pressure. And, in some localities, such as Austin where I live, they’ve been basically hounded out of town because they wouldn’t do fingerprinting checks and whatnot, a regulatory proposal meant to make it much harder for poor people to work for Uber.

    A single digit percentage of the population voted for these rules, but that was enough, since it occurred during a lightly attended primary, but the beneficiaries of the rules, taxi drivers and their allies, turned out in disproportionate numbers. When 9% of the populace can infringe on the liberty of the remaining 91%, the rule of law is a joke.

  3. The problem I have with uber is not the service it provides. It is not that it circumvents government. It is because it exists because of loose monetary policy.

    Uber runs at a loss and money gets shoveled into it because those presumably close to the money taps can get it and decide to shovel it in uber’s direction. I don’t think any ‘investor’ who is working with money he had to earn by hard work is going to toss it into the black hole that is uber hoping that someday it will pay off. But even if there are and by some circumstance that happens to be the dominate uber investor we are just seeing the desperation to find return in the age of ZIRP, so its still a product of the fed.

    I know that’s how things are done now. This does not excuse it IMO.

    • Almost any startup is gonna lose money for a while, even the most promising. Pandora took around a decade to get to break even.

      People with vision investing in a useful enterprise that initially loses money is a feature, not a bug.

      • Being able to lose money on this order is a product of monetary policy. If interest rates were at 6% Uber would not exist IMO.

        The modern entrepreneur is not someone who risks his capital, he’s someone who finds a way to borrow (cheaply) or convinces people who get money for nothing to invest in his business. Or worse gets a government grant or loan. He pays himself a large salary. When the enterprise collapses he walks away and tries again with a fresh company. It’s the Trump model.

        • You described the Soros model.

          The Trump model is to build really big buildings. With borrowed money, of course. He was successful. He also used the same bankruptcy laws used by all of Jezebel’s billionaire backers.

          Soros built his empire and his trouble-making operation on top of government policies and central bank fiat currency manipulations.

          Ban central banks and fiat currency, then ban any government limited-liability charter (corporations), set people free to make their own deals based on free exchange of real goods and services both capital and consumer, and watch economies and sciences and technology bloom in a luscious spring of effusion.

          • Trump borrows from those who can get central bank money. His projects require making deals with government. At times using government to acquire land from other people. Win or lose he walks away with his personal cut.

        • you describe Solyndra and other OhBummer Bidnisses pushed and financed by the kinyun’s playing loose with YOUR and MY tax dollars stolen at gunpoint. Do you know what are the salaries of the upper echelon of Uber’s corporate management?

          A truly free market would have the entire taxi scam into the crapper, and outfist like Uber would proliferate. A goodly part of theyr current expenses involve pushing back against government regulations and lawsuits trying to keep them out of the industry that has been so corrupt for decades. Six figures for a Mother May I Card to drive an old Ford beater sedan “for hire”? ONLY in a government run fascistic economy. Remember, the definition of FASCISM is government control of private means of production.

          If I want to take my Caravan or Prius and use it to produce income by finding paying customers, and gummit cometh along and declareth “NO, you must PAY US for permission, then YOU MUST take these training courses, establish THESE RULES, and CHARGE THIS MUCH. Oh, and WE decide which vehicles are “suitable”.
          THAT, dear citizen, is FASCISM. defined. And THAT is why our economy is in the water cabinet, already swirling down the vertical black four inch pipe.

  4. I will give them 100% credit for breaking the Taxi Cartel. But you’d have to look pretty hard to find a firm whose corporate practices are more malodorous.

  5. Corporate greed is the single greatest threat to the world inhabit…

    Uber is simply another greedy corporate entity that cares about “profit”… there is no other consideration

    • Hi Mike,

      I actually agree with you. I am one of those off-the-reservation Libertarians who does not like corporations – chiefly because they dissipate individual human responsibility and are, fundamentally, sociopathic. But my article wasn’t a defense of Uber as a corporation. It was a critique of government – that is, of the people who control the government – involving themselves in any way whatsoever in a private, mutually agreeable transaction such as hiring a car to take you somewhere, or offering your car/time to drive someone somewhere.

      It’s ridiculous – a measure of just how deeply people have been conditioned to accept being treated as idiot children by an all-wise parental figure government – that so many believe “the government” (that is, other people, with guns) have the moral right to interfere in such transactions.

      I figure I’m savvy enough to decide for myself whether it’s “safe” to ride with so-and-so… and what I pay him is between me and him and no one else.

      • I despise the collectivist mindset that most corporations possess along with their disregard for culture and tradition. Most are members of the deep state, so it’s not like they’re legitimate corporations. Like the government, they’ve also contributed quite a bit to the cultural degradation of society. They’ve brought us the unwholesomeness of frankenfood, chintzy retail centers, tract housing, yellow journalism, and trash entertainment.

        • I’m with you, Handler… doing my best to steer as clear of it as possible, but it’s almost impossible these days. I’d hitch a ride to Gliese 581 g or some other second Earth if I could…

      • Eric you just presented the perfect description of FASCISM… government control of private means of production. AND its harms.

        Government do NOT exist to “protect us” or to “keep us safe”. No, government are here to PROTECT OUR RIGHTS>.. including that of free association, even in instances of you have a car and I need a ride, let’s talk.

    • capitalism is the use of capital (time, resources, equipment, skill, space, money) to generate an increase. Of COURSE a corporation is for profit.. else it would be a NON profit. What is wrong with that? The managers of that corporation must balance all the factors, know their marketplace, product, competitors, other forces within and without their operation, and make decisions to realise a profit. Greedy? I hope so!!!! Of course, sans gummit interference, we all have the liberty to use/not use the product/services of any corporation. All to often gummit step in and prohibit.mandate this or that, having naught to do with the product/service, or its acceptibility in the market place. Consider the insane const increases these past two decades in the medical care field…. nearly ALL of which are inflicted upon us due directly to… government meddling. And you want to bash the corporations, trying to dance the government regulation jig? You need a reality check,

  6. I have decided to drive for uber because I love the service so much and my area was in desperate need of Uber since I was 16. What I have found is that Uber lowered its rate to the point where marginal people in marginal neighborhoods are doing most of the calling, dirty up your car, ask you to stop them at McDonalds along the way and provide no tip at the end of the day. I would be interested to get other people’s feedback.

    • Hi Daniel,

      In principle, this transaction should be between the driver and the rider – and no one else.

      I have a car. I decide I am going to offer to drive people from A to B. I figure out how much I need to charge to cover my costs plus earn a profit. I offer a ride based on this fee. You – the rider – are free to accept or decline. The tip is optional.

      That’s how it ought to be.

      What I’m opposed to – in principle – is the government dictating terms and conditions to people because it has no moral right to do so.

      • I thought that’s what Uber did — was just provide a means for a driver and rider to agree on the price for a particular trip. Then my son tried Uber for one day with the gas guzzler Toyota Tundra he shares with his brother (I warned him) and told me Uber sets the rates for the rides, calculates them, and that’s that.

        Couple of times Uber had to give up “peak pricing”, due to dumb ideas and local politicians on bully pulpits beating up on them on an occasion like Superbowl. Bet there are fewer drivers than normal then, because who wants to mess with that traffic.

    • Hey Daniel, perhaps you could start up your own taxi service outside of Uber. You might not beat Ubers price, but you certainly could beat the price taxi’s charge. You as an individual do not need an AP to accomplish this either. You only need to find a certain number of repeat customers spread out over a given time period in a given area. Quality customers are usually willing to pay a little more for service by somebody they know and trust. You could start by getting to know the shift change times of local businesses who have decently paid quality employees, and then create a map of your desired service area. You could then post notices on bulletin boards and in perhaps Craigslist offering rides in those areas at specific time frames without mentioning a price in order to dodge the getting called a taxi service bullet. When you get called, you could offer an introductory ride at costs + tip. The customers who tip generously would be offered regular trips. You would only need to get a few repeat customers for word to spread. Remember, you are only seeking self-employment. By the time the gov goons ask you if you are running a taxi service, you could probably tell the goons that you have known these people for awhile and are only providing rides for your friends. I am NOT a lawyer though, so do your own legal research. I might even try doing this myself if my present job doesn’t improve, but I would first have to buy a decent car as I doubt that I would get many customers with my 1 ton pick-up truck.

  7. I own a taxi company Eric. My company is in Phoenix, AZ, which has the proud distinction of being the largest city in the world with NO Taxi & Limo Commission and a near total free market in taxis. Before Uber, there were basically 3 laws here in Phoenix: Your cabs had to have markings identifying it as a cab, and the company phone number on it; your meter had to agree with your posted rates; you had to have a $250,000 insurance (which is about 5 times the rate of a passenger vehicle). There were no medallions. Anyone could set up a cab company, and put as many cabs on the road as they wanted, and charge whatever fare they wanted.
    About ten years ago, before Uber existed, the City Government of Phoenix tried to impose a medallion system on us cab companies. Realizing they did not know diddly squat about the cab industry, the city government held a series of public meetings with the cab industry soliciting how we would like to see regulation in the city of Phoenix. Now, unscrupulous cab company owners would grab this kind of a chance at regulatory capture to shut out our competition, and make it a monopoly for ourselves. To the credit of the cab companies, not one company (and only a very few drivers) were in favor of government regulation. We basically told the city council to go fuck themselves.
    The city was about to ram a medallion system down the throat of our industry anyway when the owner of Discount Cab hired a lobbyist. The lobbyist was sent to the AZ State legislature, and got a bill introduced and passed saying that it was a state prerogative to regulate taxis, and that the cities were not allowed to regulate us. In a way, it was a win for us because it killed the medallion proposal in its infancy. In another way it was a loss because all of a sudden the State was involved. The State used its power to pass several more laws. We were required to maintain vehicle maintenance records (cab companies do this anyways), We were required to do criminal background checks on drivers. We were also required to do random drug tests on the drivers (at least once a year). Fairly light regulation, no limits on numbers of cabs or fare rates.
    Then along came Uber. Uber calls itself a Transportation Network Company (TNC), and claims it is an entirely new animal, even though it does the EXACT SAME THING as a cab company–it brokers rides between passengers & independent contractor drivers, and takes a cut of the fare. They do not mark their vehicles. They do not even HAVE a phone number you can call the company. They have no meters (and adjust their rates on a whim they call “surge pricing”). They don’t require taxi insurance. They don’t do criminal background checks. They don’t drug test drivers. They don’t follow up on maintenance of the vehicles at all. In short, if there is any law about cabs, they ignore it. They have gotten away with this because, in part, they heavily contributed to the campaign of current governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, whose first act in office was to eliminate the Department of Weights & Measures which was regulating the cab industry. So, what we have now is a situation where the existing cab companies are required to follow expensive rules & regulations while Uber can do whatever the hell they like.
    The solution is to either revamp the law so we cab companies can play on a level playing field, or force Uber to follow the same rules that we do. I prefer the former. I will accept the latter.
    I do not mind competing with Uber on a level playing field. Uber is a shit company and is easily beaten–when the playing field is level. But what chaps my hide, Eric, is that I have to go through specialty insurance companies to insure my cars, at a cost of $500 per unit per month while Uber drivers get to use whatever insurance company they can at 1/12th that cost. The playing field, Eric, has to be level. I congratulate Uber on smashing the medallion system in most cities in the USA, (in NYC the price of a medallion has fallen precipitously, and they still can’t sell them). Other than that, they are a crappy company that has zero regard for its drivers, and little regard for its customers. Uber has openly stated that it is working on a “driverless car” (which you hate, might I point out), and seeks to replace all of its drivers as soon as possible. I certainly hope that they do. A driverless car would be even easier to compete with, and will probably end up being the biggest marketing failure since new Coke.
    Uber is giving freedom a bad name through the way it competes. Singing the praises of a free market is great. Holding up the pirates of Uber as an example is not.

    • ” Uber has openly stated that it is working on a ‘driverless car’ (which you hate, might I point out), and seeks to replace all of its drivers as soon as possible.”
      It’s true that Travis Kalanick has said that publicly on several occasions spanning from the beginning of 2015 to the most recent time (as of this writing) in late 2016.
      But it’s not like the guy has any major influence over the ride-sharing . . .industry . . .
      . . .oh wait . . .

      (please ✔out ParadiseandFaries.com)

  8. I had a brief pause in my employment last year, and wanted to get started driving with Uber right away. I live out where the buses don’t run anyway, and figured there couldn’t be an awful lot of competition, and I’d be willing to drive to a nearby big city to increase my chances if local work didn’t pan out.

    I was driving an ’03 Passat. Plenty of room to take 3-4 people with some bags anywhere nearby they’d like to go. But nooooo. MY state said my car had to be a model year 2008 or newer. So, out that went. Never mind my car had a current state inspection. It just wasn’t new enough.

    The “Medallion” lives — just in different forms.

  9. (mostly off topic, but related)

    Watching how UAVs (drones) are starting to be regulated is an interesting experience in civics. The community seems to be falling into two camps: The first being very pro-FAA and regulation, the other very laissez faire. There is very little stated crossover, but they both seem to pick and choose what they like, especially when there’s conflicting regulation.

    The pro-regulation crowd usually sites saaaaaaafety as the primary reason for lots of regulation. The hands-off crowd always points out that model aircraft have been flying for longer than the FAA has been in existence and there’s never been a documented case of a model airplane of any type colliding with a manned aircraft.

    Local municipalities and states are starting to pass legislation putting limits on drones, where they can and cannot fly mostly, but also taking existing peeping Tom laws and specifically mentioning drones (which in my mind shouldn’t be necessary. If there’s already laws on the books that make it illegal to spy on your neighbors why should technology used make a difference? Is there a specific law against using binoculars or climbing a tree for spying on the neighbor in the shower?). Oklahoma legislators introduced a bill stating it was OK for a landowner to shoot down a drone that is flying over their land. Of course when these bills come up for discussion the “laissez faire” crowd points to the FAA rules, which state that the FAA controls the airspace, not locals, and there is no such thing as air rights if you are a property owner. But many of them also oppose registration of their aircraft, night restrictions, pilot certification and just about anything that might keep them from flying wherever and wherever they want.

    The pro-legistion crowd reminds me of the taxi services. They want the rules, lots of them. They love to point out when new fliers are violating safe operating practices. They want pilot certification and aircraft registration and mandatory service record logs. They want restricted airspace (as long as they can get a waiver). In other words, they want to limit everyone because it will keep the casual pilot from muscling in on their airspace. And any added costs are going to be figured into their fees if flying commercially, so who cares? As long as they are cheaper than flying a helicopter they can get business. Which brings up another point, the same thing is happening with manned aircraft pilots too, since their cost of entry is so much higher than the UAV guys. Again the issue is saaaaaafety and potential for harm, not anyone actually being harmed. Existing taxi services have dispatch radios, expensive, certified (Uncle approved) metering systems, work rules (and HR departments), all that middle management stuff that adds cost. When gypsy cabs and jitney busses come in and undercut them they have a taxi commissioner to run to and he gets the enforcers out to put a stop to it. The legislation people hope to have the FAA to chase down these “offenders” but so far the FAA has been completely unprepared for drones and has no idea how to go about enforcing their own rules.

    The reality is, up until UAVs and small HD cameras, the model aircraft community was extremely small. Like gypsy cabs before Uber and Lyft, when you had to know someone. The idea of flying an RC airplane or helicopter might have sounded interesting, but when you look at the cost of the older aircraft and the difficulty of flying them, it was a pretty good way to limit activity. And people in the hobby were more interested in flying model airplanes, not doing something else and enhancing that activity with a drone, so flying in a model aircraft “aerodrome” was just fine with them. When someone figured out that the same stuff that makes it easy to collect Pokemon on your smartphone can also keep an aircraft stable it changed everything. Now anyone can run over to Target and pick up a Phantom 3 Pro for $500. Just DJI alone have sold about 5 million drones in the US (BTW, the total number of FAA registered UAVs from all manufacturers is about 650,000. What’s the FAA doing about the other 4.5 million?). And they’re finding all sorts of creative and useful things to do with them. Almost none of which are going to happen at an RC model park.

    It all raises an interesting conundrum for me. On the one hand, I don’t like the proactive restrictions for non-problems that will likely overreach their intent. On the other hand, I can see where there will be people (experience tells me mostly teenage boys with no supervision and too much time on their hands) who will do stupid things with drones. There will be collisions with other aircraft. There will be damage to infrastructure like power lines and cell towers. People will be hurt when drones crash into them. Laws won’t change any of that, but putting up barriers to entry will limit activity, so it will appear that regulation is effective. In the absence of industry policing (which is the real answer) there’s a strong case to be made for the FAA to step in and come up with a baseline. The alternative is judges and lawyers, insurance companies and misinformed local legislators passing fear-driven legislation which will make compliance impossible.

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