Uber CEO’s withdrawal from Donald Trump’s economic advisory council is a rare shot of humility for the so-called “sharing economy”—longtime antagonists of communities, cooperatives, and basically anyone suspicious of old-school capitalism

Travis Kalanick once likened his business to an election in which “Uber is the candidate and [its opponent] is an asshole called Taxi. I’m not totally comfortable with it but we have to bring out the truth of how evil Taxi is.”

“Uber isn’t a taxi company; it’s a lobbyist, a loan shark, a labor broker.” —Melissa Hoover, Ours to Hack and to Own

Kalanick’s 2014 swipe at Big Taxi took on a particularly nasty shade last week when the ride-sharing giant attempted to defy the New York Taxi Worker’s Alliance hour-long strike to protest Trump’s Muslim ban. The response was swift: in less than a week, #DeleteUber had gone viral and up to 200,000 people had ditched their accounts in response.1 By Thursday, Kalanick had resigned his position on the President’s economic advisory council.2 But those familiar with the tech juggernaut weren’t surprised: Uber has a history of indifference to the rights of workers. Many experts regard the “sharing economy”—once hailed as the vanguard of a rethinking of capitalism—as simply an escalation of the same old free-market practices that reward the few on the backs of the many.

Two recent books, What’s Yours Is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy by Tom Slee, and Ours to Hack and to Own: The Rise of Platform Cooperativism, a New Vision for the Future of Work and a Fairer Internet, edited by Trebor Scholz and Nathan Schneider, together lay bare some of the shortcomings and hypocrisies of the Uber economy:


Nathan Schneider on democratizing the incumbents—in a world where more and more people rely on ride-sharing, #DeleteUber made it clear Uber needs us as much as we need them:

This also means thinking differently about the incumbents. The Facebooks, Googles, and Ubers aren’t just regular companies anymore. Their business models are based on how dependent so many of us are on them; their ubiquity, in turn, is what makes them useful. They’re becoming public utilities. The less we have a choice about whether to use them, the more we need democracy to step in. What if a new generation of antitrust laws, instead of breaking up the emerging online utilities, created a pathway to more democratic ownership?


Trebor Scholz on why Uber is not above the law:

Many of the business models of the “sharing economy” are based on strategic nullifications of the law. Companies knowingly violate city regulations and labor laws. This allows them to undermine the competition and then point to a large customer base to demand legislative changes that benefit their dubious modus operandi. Firms are also activation their app-based consumers as a grassroots political movement to help them lobby for corporate interests. Privacy should be a concern for workers and customers, too. Uber is analyzing the routines of its customers, from their commutes to their one-night stands, to then impose surge pricing when they most rely on the service. Navigating legal gray zones, these deregulated commerce hubs sometimes misclassify employees as independent contractors. They are labeling them “turkers,” “driver-partners,” or “rabbits,” but never workers. Hiding behind the curtain of the Internet, they would like us to believe that they are tech rather than labor companies.


Dmytri Kleiner on why the “sharing economy” is just capitalism as usual:

Sharing economy companies like Uber and Airbnb, which own no vehicles or real-estate, capture profits form the operators of the cars and apartments for which they provide the marketplace.

Neither of these business models is very new. Media businesses selling audience commodity are at least as old as commercial radio. Marketplace landlords, capturing rents from market vendors, have been with us for centuries.

Rather than subvert capitalism, “sharing” platforms have been captured by it.


Tom Slee on the effect of Uber on communities:

Uber enthusiasts attribute the company’s success to its technology and the efficiency with which it matches drivers and rides, but this misses much of the story. Uber’s success also owes a lot to avoiding the costs of insurance, sales tax, mechanical vehicle inspections, and providing an universally-accessible service. Its ability to provide a cheap and effective service for consumers comes from its ability to run at a loss while pursuing its lavishly-funded quest for growth. Uber’s success comes from being parasitic on the cities in which it operates.


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1 The Verge, published 2 February 2017
2 Business Insider, published 2 February 2017

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