You might not have thought that a taxi service could reach the center stage in our great political debates. And yet Uber has become a surprisingly important political issue in the United States. Why?
Well, Uber actually brings two issues to the taxi market. One is the smartphone revolution: Now you can tap a screen to get a ride, rather than stand out in the rain waving your arms and cursing the guy who darts out half a block from you and snags the cab that you were trying to hail.
The other issue is that Uber’s workers are supposedly free contractors, not employees, which exempts the company from most of the regulations designed to protect employee interests.
And it’s this second aspect that has made the politics surrounding the service so divisive.
On one side, Republicans are eager to dismantle as many worker protections as they can. So from their point of view, Uber’s not-our-problem approach to its drivers would be desirable independent of the technology.
On the other side, we’ve recently seen the emergence of the so-called “new liberal consensus,” which argues (based on a lot of evidence) that wages are much less rigidly determined by supply and demand than previously thought, and that public policy can, and should, nudge employers into paying more. If you’re a lawmaker, and that’s your policy plan, you really don’t want to see employers undermine it by declaring that they aren’t really employers.
It’s surely possible to separate these two issues – to promote the use of new technologies without prejudicing the interests of workers. But progressives need to work on doing that, and not let themselves get painted as enemies of innovation.
Wall Street Now Hates Democrats
Over at Vox, Jonathan Allen recently noted that Hillary Clinton, sometimes derided on the left for doing Wall Street’s bidding, is actually getting a lot less money from Wall Street than people think.
In his article, Mr. Allen notes that during her husband’s administration, Mrs. Clinton was known for her relative antipathy toward financial types, which may be part of the story. But it’s also important to put this in the context of finance’s hard turn against Democrats in general. In 2004, facing a presidential election whose outcome was uncertain, contributors in the finance and insurance industries split their donations almost equally between the parties.
But in 2012 they gave well over twice as much to Republicans as to Democrats.
The reason, of course, is financial reform. Anyone who says that those reforms have done nothing and that there’s no difference between the political parties should follow the money, which thinks that there is a very big difference indeed.