Sunday, February 11, 2018

#42 / Lyft Every Voice?

I think that Uber probably qualifies as the "bad and evil" ride-hailing service. At least, Uber has received a lot of justifiably bad press

Lyft, in contrast, would like to claim to be the "good guy" company. 

Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan aren't having any of that. In a column that ran in my local newspaper yesterday, on February 10th, the Democracy Now commentators outline how both Uber and Lyft are "driving drivers into poverty and despair." 

Their column is well worth reading. Their column also tells a story that turns on a couple of points that I try to make, quite often, in these daily blog postings.

Prior to the advent of Uber and Lyft, with their high-tech ride-hailing applications, taxis were the way people got around. That was particularly true in our larger cities. The taxi business was essentially a regulated utility, meaning that the government (which is supposed to represent the community as  whole, and actually does so in a lot of cases) set up rules that governed how the taxi business was run, protecting both consumers and providers alike. 

The "disruptive" technology spawned in our own Silicon Valley/Bay Area incubator blew that regulated utility model into smithereens. Lyft and Uber are based on an "individualistic" model of how society works. 

Read that Goodman-Moynihan column! What that column shows is that disruption doesn't, automatically, bring benefits to all - or even increase net benefits, understanding that there are always "winners" and "losers" as economic realities change. Furthermore, without a collective ability to establish how corporations conduct their business, the corporations will victimize whomever gets in the way of maximum corporate profits. As we each, individually, try to better our individual positions, social losses mount. 

The Lyft (and Uber) story is quite different from that inspiring hymn by James Weldon Johnson (1871 - 1938), "Lift Every Voice and Sing," which has come to be known as the "Black National Anthem." The reality of the Uber/Lyft story is not so inspiring!

Our current economic system, and specifically including the "disruptive," high-tech exemplars of that system, are not, in fact, "lifting every boat," either, to cite to a stock political phrase often misused to bad purpose, and to justify the kind of individualistic profit-taking characterized by rapacious corporate behavior. 

Uber and Lyft, poster children examples of our high-tech disruptors, demonstrate this truth. We continue to need collective systems of strong governmental regulation to guarantee that avaricious corporations, and those who create them, will not be able to prey on our community, while proclaiming what a great thing they are doing.

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