By Graham Peterson
Yet another criticism of Uber popped up on Slate today, leading with: “The world’s brashest startup spent 2014 expanding aggressively and infuriating just about everyone.” Once again a small community of upper middle class leftist journalists has crowned itself “just about everyone.” Uber might infuriate these people, but it makes everyone else’s day, if its explosive growth in employment and consumers is any evidence.
Uber is, technically speaking, not news. Companies innovate technologically every day. The logistics software, Cobra, that my father used in the 1980s to coordinate electrical contracting bids has undergone massive improvements. Companies erode government privileges every day. A carpenter buddy of mine hasn’t worked a day for a Union because he prefers working for himself. So why do Uber, or Airbnb, or any of the companies in the sharing economy get so much press?
Because they touch directly the lives of bohemian, college educated, upper middle class lefties who need cheap cabs to get to their reclaimed salmon taco brunches and booty calls cheaply — to wit, the friends of left journalists and bloggers. Uber has caused a stir because of the particular symbolic impact is has on a very particular community who enjoys particularly good access to public conversation — not because of its economic impact. The success of Uber undermines a lot of wrong ideology about the economy, and that hurts a lot of intellectuals’ feelings.
The sharing economy isn’t any different than the economy economy, but it is an especial threat to intellectuals who see their friends becoming convinced, through their own lived experiences, that capitalist progress is pretty great. Uber has unquestionably improved cab service and raised driver salaries. It’s also probably made cabbing safer (have you ever called a traditional cab company trying to complain about your driver?). Critics don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to the traditional economics they’re hurt about, so they’ve reached for a smear campaign.
Uber is sexist. Uber is racist. Uber is classist. And finally, “aha! Uber is anti-left-cultural-critic!” after Uber had had enough and (wrongly) toyed with retaliation. We might forgive people who take exception to being relentlessly smeared on the new left’s critical theory slash meet-me-at-the-swings-at-recess gossip rag, Buzzfeed.
The recent and explosive economic success of lowly nerds, cab driving stiffs, and apartment renters is the latest evidence that legacy money doesn’t buy power. But some will apparently leave no crappy argument unturned to maintain the specter of Big Bad Business Owners. The facts — that markets are ultimately about sharing, giving, creating, connecting, and helping — are what really bothers the left. It’s too bad they find the facts so offensive.