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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

November 24, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

ColumnsElephant in the Room

Uber: Innovation and Inspiration

A few weeks ago, I had one of the most meaningful conversations of my summer. Having interned at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, I had the opportunity to meet some of our nation’s most influential policy makers and politicians. This conversation, however, was not with a congressman — it was with an Uber driver.

To make small talk during each Uber ride, I often ask how long the driver has been working for Uber and why they started. Most drivers mention wanting to make some extra cash. But in one of my last Uber rides, the driver shared much more: a story of hard work and determination. A story of making a better life for herself. The Uber driver explained how she wanted to become a phlebotomist — a professional who draws blood — but she didn’t have enough money or a way to get to classes. So she turned to Uber. Without a car, she wasn’t sure if she could be a driver. Through the company’s vehicle leasing program, however, she was given a car and an opportunity to earn an income. And now that Uber driver is taking classes on her way to becoming a phlebotomist.

If progressives had their way, she and many other Uber drivers wouldn’t have the chance to work. Bernie Sanders said he wasn’t a fan of Uber because it is “unregulated.” Hillary Clinton, unsure of whether she should try to appeal to labor unions or millennials, has criticized the “gig economy”, as she calls it, because it lacks certain workplace rights and regulations. Clinton’s complaint focuses on Uber’s classifying its drivers as contractors instead of employees. This prevents the drivers from collective bargaining, a favorite activity of Clinton’s labor union donors. Progressives often forget that people are smart enough to choose what type of employment works best for them.

If anyone knows the benefits of the “gig economy,” it is the Clintons themselves. Their wealth has not come from their work in the public sector but in their countless gigs as speakers, authors and private consultants. These are all independent contractor jobs. Why should Bill and Hillary be allowed to reap the rewards of the sharing economy while everyone else must rely on the government to tell them what type of job they can do?

People are not liabilities to be managed by the government. People have potential to be tapped into, and they need a government that allows everyone to live their lives to the fullest. Sometimes that means getting the government out of the way, no matter how good the intentions of politicians and bureaucrats are. The beautiful thing about free markets is that if you want to work for a company like Uber, you can, and if you think Uber is horrible, you can work somewhere else. Or you can start your own sharing-economy service. In fact, it is competition with more ride-hailing services that will force Uber to improve, not regulation.

Kyle Stewart can be reached at kstewart1@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @KyleStew107