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Uber Alles
Who Will Be The Party of Uber?

Republican presidential candidates are unfairly claiming Uber for the GOP. At least, so says a New York Times editorial, in which Vikas Bajaj argues that there’s no good reason to believe that Republicans are the friends of the so-called “gig economy” while Democrats are its enemy. More:

Conservatives are just as likely as liberals to find themselves on the other side of a company like Uber. For example, Mayor Boris Johnson of London, a Tory, proposed restrictions on Uber’s growth earlier this year. In Philadelphia, a regulatory board appointed by the state and made up primarily of Republicans has decided that the company’s popular UberX service is illegal […]

But in some policy areas, the interests of Uber are more closely aligned with Democrats than they are with Republicans. Mr. Kalanick, for example, has gushed about the benefits of President Obama’s health care reform law, which Republicans love to hate

This editorial does suggest one truth: Neither party has (yet) made the gig economy into the kind of winning political issue it could be. But the reasons are more complicated, and, in the end, more favorable to the GOP, than the piece suggests.

The conflicts over the so-called “gig economy” aren’t just about Uber or AirBnB or any one company, but about a whole new kind of economy focused around freelancing and service jobs. This economy is already coming, and, as it does, 21st-century trends are colliding with 20th-century institutions. Established business interests naturally have a stake in maintaing the status quo, and they have the political power to influence regulators and politicians. Thus Democrats and Republicans alike will be pushed by existing companies to limit the growth of the gig economy, and we can expect both parties sometimes to yield to that pressure and sometimes not to, as competing forces shake out.

But political parties that understand the wider issues at stake here can indeed make headway with a younger electorate that is at home in the new economy and protective of the benefits it brings. That goes for either party, but, contra the editorial, making that pitch is a more natural fit for the Republicans than the Democrats. On both this issue and on school choice, millennials appear naturally friendly to the policy of “more options and less regulation”, and the GOP is the party that more vocally preaches that laissez-faire message. Democrats trying to shore up life-long blue employment by coming down on the gig economy will find themselves working against the interests of two core constituencies—young people and ethnic minorities—who are increasingly embracing it and the opportunities it offers. It’s true, as the editorial argues, that there is no simple line between liking Uber and voting for a Republican candidate; there are not likely to be many single issue AirBnB voters. But young people who enjoy the service economy and the options it offers are apt to be friendlier towards laissez-faire rhetoric and policy than they would have been if they had never encountered these new services, and the GOP naturally stands to gain in the long run from that kind of shift.

For Republicans to reap the full rewards of backing the gig economy, however, they have to do more than just cheer deregulation; they also need a positive vision for what a social system of support looks like for workers. As the editorial points out, Obamacare is a prime case. Whatever else the ACA may have done (and we are on record pointing out its failures), one thing it did do right was make insurance coverage less tied to employment, so that it’s become easier for people in new kinds of employment situations to get insurance. Future health reforms need to protect and extend that. Nor is it only health insurance at issue. Our tax system punished low and middle income who are self-employed, for example, and retirement is harder for the self-employed as well.

Both parties need to think about how to support workers as the 21st-century economy takes shape, and if Republicans can do that, as well as push for a regulatory light touch, then they really might become the party of Uber, after all.

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  • Kevin

    I’m a big supporter of deregulation, but that’s not the driving force behind the gig economy. Instead it is largely the result of the worst labor market in decades, especially for those lacking skills and a long work history. The labor force participation rate is awful. The Great Depression saw plenty of people in lines at soup kitchens and hobos riding the rails. That was no more the harbinger of of some new rail riding hobo economy than Uber is of a new Gig economy.

    • Tom

      There’s a big difference, though. The hobo has no job, save the odd ones he scrapes up. The gig economy is contract work writ large.

    • TMLutas

      Have you asked yourself why we have the worst labor market in decades? It’s because we’re in the process of liberating over 2 billion people out of economic bondage, largely in China and India but in many other countries as well. This massively increases labor supply and the dominant world elites have not prioritized kicking up labor demand to match. It is a similar problem to what the US faced right after the civil war. What do you do with all those newly freed blacks who need the basics of life but have never participated voluntarily in the market and who are naturally fuzzy on the concept?

      For those who *can* shift out of the labor market and make their money entirely as a capitalist, they should in order to make the labor oversupply a little less awful. For those who can only partially shift, there’s the gig economy which gives you the flexibility to earn money on your schedule and let you gradually become a capitalist without the scary cliff diving out of the labor market that was required in the past. The number of people who can partially shift dwarfs the number of people who can entirely shift.

    • Ritchie The Riveter

      What you are seeing here, is millions learning the truth and acting upon it … that it the responsible exercise of personal initiative, not blind trust in “experts” and “leaders” and “authorities” (that I see one of the usual suspects continuing to encourage below) , that brings prosperity and makes their future more secure.

      The worst labor market in decades, is a direct result of that blind trust … the legacy of the Blue Social Model. That blind trust led millions to believe they could just show up for work … or at least work the same job the same way in the same place … for a lifetime and expect “experts” and “leaders” and “authorities” to secure their future FOR them, whether or not their delivered productivity and market demand could support it.

      The participants in the gig economy are realizing that such blind trust has left them vulnerable, not just to honest competition, but to the errors, greed, mendacity, and delusion of the “experts” and “leaders” and “authorities” … and they are taking the initiative to work around others’ failings and reduce that vulnerability.

  • EndOfPatience

    It depends on what’s understood by the term “Republican”. If it includes the GOPe, then no, the Democrat-Republican Ruling Class Party won’t support Uber or any other part of the gig economy. It refers to rank and file conservatives, then yes, we can capture it. Nut will have to acknowledge up front that we’re fighting the GOPe “leadership” as much as we are Democrats.

  • FriendlyGoat

    1) Glad to see TAI acknowledging that the Affordable Care Act accomplished, at least partly, the BIG DEAL of giving health insurance access to the self-employed, including ESPECIALLY the low-end self-employed (such as most Uber drivers) who ONLY can have this because of the affordability help provided by the ACA subsidies or Medicaid expansion..

    2) The GOP had no interest in doing the ACA, including especially the feature mentioned above. The GOP likewise has no interest in expanding any other government programs, such as SNAP, or public pensions, or any kind of unemployment assistance for the self-employed, or anything else that might help subsidize the efforts of self-employed people on the low end. The GOP is as allergic to the words “government program” as Maynard G. Krebs (Bob Denver, aka Gilligan) was allergic to the word “work” on the Dobie Gillis TV program of old (very old.) The thing is, no one but government can or will do anything to under-support the workers in the gig economy. So the GOP has a very hard time pretending it will help—–when it will NOT support use of the one tool (government) which even can help.

    3) TAI should get a prize for constructing a doozy of a sentence which is the last one in the sixth paragraph of the article. Re-phrased, it says the GOP stands to benefit if it can use Uber to trick young people into believing that laissez-faire rhetoric and policy is fun and cool.

    • bannedforselfcensorship

      McCains plan would have give tax credits to the self-employed.

      Very close to the ACA but much cheaper to implement. (just hand out the subsidies.)

      The lie that the GOP “had no plan” is a lie.

      Its quite hard to blame the GOP for not “solving” healthcare when the Democrats didn’t do it either until Obama. They even failed once under Clinton, and we tried HMO’s, too. HSA’s were another good idea that was done before Obama.

      • FriendlyGoat

        As far as I know, there has not been any GOP plan which does not rely on the concept of selling unspecified insurance products “across state lines” where they would (by default) be supervised only by the GOP-controlled insurance department(s) in the least-regulated GOP state(s). Yes, other phrases are tossed around too , but that is always the centerpiece of any serious right-side proposal. The reason is that the GOP intent is to reduce legal policy standards to whatever low level can be profitably sold by a private-sector insurer to poor people at cheap prices. This is NOT a plan to provide actual health security to the free-lancers of the gig economy. There has been a lot of talk, but nothing that will fly to actual citizens when actually explained. I spend a lot of time explaining it.

        Low coverage standards are to enable low prices. Lower coverage standards are to enable lower prices. GOP states are to control and enable the race between GOP states to lower and lower standards which are then “sold across state lines”. That’s all they’ve got and that’s precisely the way it should be understood by voters.

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