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Sharing with whom?

April 28, 2015

I’ve been skeptical of Uber and other so-called “sharing economy” companies for a while. It seems like they are making money by skirting regulation and pretending not to have employees; they are a “platform” for matching people who want services with people willing to provide them, and as such they don’t have the legal responsibility of a traditional company. Or at least that’s the idea. Plus it is offensive to think of the word “share” in this context.

But my complaints have remained relatively vague, until this morning, when I read two articles about the issue.

First, Sharing and Caring by Tom Slee, published by Jacobin. He nailed it:

Meanwhile delivery giant DHL has launched its MyWays delivery service, powered by “people who want to deliver parcels and earn some extra money.” TaskRabbit and others call their workers “micro-entrepreneurs,” but that is a poor description of precarious piecework. The preferred phrasing of “extra money” harks back to women’s jobs of forty years ago. And like those jobs, they don’t come with things like insurance protection, job security, benefits — none of that old economy stuff.

Next, The Class-Action Lawyer Shaking Up the Share Economypublished in The Recorder (hat tip Nathalie Molina). It profiles a lawyer named Shannon Liss-Riordan who is going after the sharing economy companies to first acknowledge, then pay their employees better wages and benefits. From the article:

“Uber is what, the most highly valued startup in the world right now?” she asked. “Valued at over $40 billion? I think they can afford to pay for workers’ comp and unemployment.”

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. JIm Bender
    April 28, 2015 at 8:48 am

    You are correct that a lot of these start up ideas, like Uber, are trying to circumvent regulation. Us (I should speak for myself as a big-spending, big-government type) big government types don’t take kindly to people trying to get out from under our thumb, so we naturally react to things like this. It is not a joke, either, because at least some of the regulation served a purpose other than suppressing competition and keeping potential competitors out of what ever regulated business that they were trying to enter. In Texas, they wanted to regulate hair braiding, and it was with an eye to controlling markets.


  2. msobel
    April 28, 2015 at 10:21 am

    I agree with you. If you have the time, you might read The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger http://www.amazon.com/Box-Shipping-Container-Smaller-Economy/dp/0691136408

    A lot of it is about getting rid of longshoremen.


  3. April 28, 2015 at 11:21 am

    I spent over 25 years in logistics and while it’s one of the most progressive businesses out there with technology, it’s also one of the most cut throat. I’m not a big long shoreman fan and dealt with it for many years in the LA harbor with contracts, etc. but today I kind of look at them as the last standing group that has the ability to stand up to business without getting duped over by some technology. It is interesting about the Longshoremen, considering that we as a country in the US own very few of our own ports anymore and sold them out to other countries. The “China Ocean Shipping Company” owns the Port of Long Beach (which is larger than the port of Los Angeles) here in so Cal. So today, i kind of give the long shoremen a thumbs up with protecting themselves, as it’s a different world.

    There’s no more “sharing for the good” out there, it’s all about “sharing for the good money” when it comes to data.


  4. davidwlocke
    April 28, 2015 at 11:28 am

    The Box changed the country in a lot of not so good ways. If you wanted to get rid of longshoremen, show them how to make more money, rather than figuring how to keep them working class. Business has done globalism in a zero-sum fashion, because it really isn’t smart enough to have done it in a non-zero sum manner. They don’t know how to show a longshoreman how to make more money. Instead, they offer a job at McDonalds.


    • Min
      April 29, 2015 at 12:16 am

      I doubt if it is that business is not smart enough. Rather, I think that they are playing the top and the bottom against the middle, with the top raking in most of the surplus from trade. (The middle being the workers and middle class of developed economies.)

      The classical argument for free trade requires the winners to pay off the losers, which is not being done.


      • davidwlocke
        April 29, 2015 at 2:42 am

        Well, it isn’t only the middle that is losing. We need discontinuous innovation and it’s not happening, so one day soon, the money will run out for today’s winners.


  5. April 28, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    Some licensing schemes are certainly enacted as a way to suppress competition (Planet Money has had a few podcasts on this, noting that they are the historical heirs of Guild restrictions). Other schemes have other roots; when Airbnb goes beyond getting people with vacant rooms (semi-permanent or transcient) together with people making trips, and starts getting companies who buy empty apartments for the sole purpose of renting them as “shared rooms/apartments” together with travelers, they aren’t engaging in “sharing economy”, they are engaging in tax evasion (hotel taxes) and are avoiding things like safety inspections, etc., not to mention that you hire someone to clean 50 apartments on different terms than you hire someone to clean 50 hotel rooms (again, unions, salaries, etc). Claiming that Uber is about the “sharing economy” and getting people willing to give rides together with people who need rides is disingenous: they are a gypsy cab company skirting regulations, inspections, and exploiting their drivers by pretending they aren’t workers.


  6. Richard Séguin
    April 28, 2015 at 11:54 pm

    Uber drivers accused of misconduct:


    Wisconsin Republicans are now proposing wresting control of regulations on companies like this from local governments. Uber’s lobbyists must have been working overtime on this one.

    Also recall a story about a driver refusing to give a ride to someone with a service dog. Apparently that’s just fine with the company.

    Uber is the dream of modern business, making tons of money as a middleman with little capital investment of their own, no investment in employees, and no responsibility to the public or even its own customers.


    • davidwlocke
      April 29, 2015 at 2:46 am

      When you see the centralization of regulation, you are seeing the centralizing of bribery. By moving regulation to the state level, you are seeing a next reduction in the cost of the bribes. Similarly, arguments about states rights vs the fed is similar. It is, however, cheaper to buy the state politicians than the federal ones.

      Every time you see politicians saying that they will address this of that issue in the coming months, they are soliciting bribes by the industries involved. We are a kleptocracy after all.


  7. April 29, 2015 at 8:25 pm

    “Uber is what, the most highly valued startup in the world right now? … Valued at over $40 billion? I think they can afford to pay for workers’ comp and unemployment.” is spot on.

    And TaskRabbit immediately comes to mind – https://prospect.org/article/task-rabbit-economy


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