This fascinating quote from Havas Media’s Tom Goodwin has been frequently cited, even in this space, but it is so eye-opening that it merits repeating yet again. “Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles,” he wrote in March. “Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.” Anyone who marvels at the pace of human innovation should by rights appreciate the inventiveness of this wildly successful economic strategy. For those who purport to embrace “progress,” however, this ongoing revolution is a grave threat. It is not without irony that those who call themselves “progressives” have no greater objective than enforcing and preserving the status quo – at least, beyond the realms of gender and identity politics. Rarely, however, has the contrast between conservatism’s support for modernism and progressivism’s retreat from it been as unambiguous as it is in regards to the advent of the sharing economy.
Last month, gangs of disaffected Parisians wrapped bandanas around their faces and took to the streets where they tipped over cars, smashed windows, set tire fires, assaulted tourists, threw objects from overpasses, and barricaded the highways linking the French capital to Charles de Gaulle Airport. Were these the estranged and alienated youth tormented by fabricated phenomena like “income inequality” that haunts the imaginations of American liberals? Hardly. These rioters were the employed, unionized livery workers of Paris who have seen a fraction of their business lost to the upstart cab sharing company Uber. In response to this modest economic challenge, Paris’s cab drivers chose to indulge in an orgiastic tantrum of masochism and property destruction. In the end, the French capital caved to the hostage takers’ demands and kneecapped the cab sharing firm’s ability to do business in that restive city.
The Parisian riots generated little coverage in the United States; they represent a dark portent of things to come in America if those who are busily trying to prop up failing livery unions by hobbling services like Uber and its competitor, Lyft, have their way. And those who do seek to handicap these and other novelties of the sharing economy are invariably members of a clan that has the unmitigated gall to call itself “progressive.”
Likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has sought to stave off a challenge from a self-described socialist by seeking to put a human face on the left’s preferred totalitarianism. When she outlines her economic philosophy this week, the former secretary of state will reportedly take dead aim at these and other innovations; and all in the name of “progress.”
“Clinton’s aide said she will discuss some of the structural forces conspiring against sustainable wage growth, such as globalization, automation, and even consumer-friendly ‘sharing economy’ firms like Uber and Airbnb that are creating new relationships between management and labor (and which now employ many Obama administration alumni),” Politico reported. “But she will argue that policy choices have contributed to the problem, and that she can fix it.”
“She will propose to expand on Obama’s high-income tax hikes, while also pushing measures to fight wage theft, raise the minimum wage, encourage profit-sharing for workers, and support collective bargaining by unions,” the report added.
Much of Clinton’s economic platform can be written off as constituency maintenance. As the power of organized labor in the United States has contracted amid unfavorable economic realities, this paranoid and cornered institution has grown rabidly protective of the privileges it earned in the 20th Century. Democrats are more than happy to take advantage of the organizational muscle and campaign contributions that they can exploit from labor unions, even if that means sloughing off its image as the party of tomorrow.
It was this impulse that led President Barack Obama to lament the “structural changes” in the economy that have replaced bank tellers with automatic teller machines and airport ticketing agents with kiosks. The left has always regarded the creative destruction inherent to capitalism as a problem to be managed and guided (or abolished altogether). But this fundamental aspect of market economics can only be leashed for so long before it must be suppressed through state-sanctioned coercion. Democrats who are consumed with the project of hiking the minimum wage will be shocked to discover that those states and municipalities that pass wage hikes have only incentivized and accelerated the process of automating rote tasks. And to inhibit this innovative evolution further, the left must again appeal to the power of the state. Only the threat of force can compel the tides of history to recede.
Rarely have Republicans been in such an advantageous position, blessed as they are with an opposition party that is so consumed with the preservation of unearned privilege and the maintenance of special interests. While the left stands athwart history, yelling “stop,” they victimize the millions of average Americans who benefited from cheaper taxis, no-frills hospitality services, and reduced retail prices as a result of a lack of brick-and-mortar overhead. The modern “progressive” wants nothing more than to roll back the clock to the turn of the 20th Century. If Republicans cannot make the case for advancement better than the spooked Luddites who today dare call themselves “progressives,” they should clear the field for those who can.