Last summer, I visited LA for a week without a car, and twice used Lyft, in which random strangers in their own cars come and give you a ride for about 75% of what a taxi costs. It was really easy! I used an app on my phone (into which I also put my credit card info), and then paid at the end of each ride with the app. No money changed hands. I met two new interesting people, both of whom enjoyed driving for Lyft. I saved a small amount of money. It all seemed too good to be true.
That’s because it was. I used Lyft when it was brand-brand new, and before its larger and more popular competitor, Uber, became Ub-iquitous (ha). But shortly after I got home from LA, I started reading articles about these unregulated, underground taxi services (which is actually what they are), and realized that I had made a huge mistake. As St. Louis writer and cab driver Umar Lee puts it in a piece that went deservedly viral a few weeks ago, these fake-taxi startups are actually hipster-libertarian nightmares.
An entire generation of tech-startup-oriented, anti-regulation individuals–“Technolibertarians“, as I’ve heard it put–is obsessed with services like these, from the so-called “sharing economy” (I wasn’t aware that when you provided someone a good or service in exchange for money, it constituted “sharing,” but perhaps I’m just a Statist Moocher). This includes ride-“sharing” like Uber, and apartment-“sharing” services such as Airbnb. Again, how are you “sharing” your apartment when you are renting it out for money? I do not understand the words coming out of your mouth.
Anyway, what’s got these startup circle-jerks particularly Ayn Randy is that these “sharing” services have cut out the middleman–i.e. the evil government that evilly taxes and regulates what should be left entirely to consumers and the invisible hand of the market. I mean, just look at how great Uber responds to “surge” times by jacking up its prices to far MORE than that of a taxi (they’ve since walked back on that, to be fair)! Just look at how safe it is to rent your apartment out using Airbnb (yes, that’s an outlier, but still: EEP). But besides even the obvious reasons why you want something such as taking rides from strangers and staying in strangers’ homes subject to a regulatory body, there is also the larger ethical, economic reason–and this brings me to my larger point.
As Lee points out, services like Uber “help” rich hipsters by saving them a few bucks that are “better” spent on expensive headphones and dumb-looking pants, but they hurt the poor. They hurt the poor a lot. Services like Airbnb, however, hurt the poor even more. Think about it. Who benefits from this “sharing” in big tourist destinations like New York? Someone in the South Bronx? No. Someone who can already afford to live in Manhattan or a “desirable” part of Brooklyn or Queens.
It’s BBFB: By Bougies For Bougies.
The “middleman” in the hotel world is the government, sure, but it’s also the thousands upon thousands of lower-wage workers who depend upon hotels for survival, from reservation agents to housekeepers. Those “annoying” hotel taxes that you pay go to provide resources for everyone in the city–resources you use while you’re visiting, and resources that are available to everyone, including the poor. The “sharing” economy means “sharing” wealth and resources, but only between “deserving” people. Everyone else gets cut out, and becomes even more forgotten and invisible than before.
All of this seems to me painfully obvious–and also nothing to be ashamed about, if you self-identify as a Libertarian (or libertarian-leaning). So why, then, are so many of my so-called “progressive” friends–who would rather impale themselves before voting for Rand Paul, or Ron Paul, or really any of the Pauls besides RuPaul–circulating petitions on Facebook to “save” Airbnb and “legalize” “sharing” (uh, actual sharing is legal, assholes; under-the-table commerce isn’t)?
Don’t get me wrong; I have no problem with people using these services as long as they exist. They’re cheaper. You can’t expect everyone to walk the moral high-walk all damn day long, or even want to. I try very hard to make my own clothes most of the time, but right this second, I’m wearing some leopard-print MC Hammer pants from H&M, that were 100% certainly constructed by glorified slave labor. I have, like I said before, used Lyft. I have stayed in a VRBO apartment, and will probably do so again, until the government finally cracks down on unregulated apartment “sharing.” But when they do? I will applaud. I will understand that it is a decidedly Technolibertarian, anti-poor method of living my life, and the world will be better off if I can’t do it anymore, no matter what’s more convenient for a bougie like me.
So that’s all I want from my friends. If you use Airbnb, or if you rent out your place using Airbnb, you don’t get to call yourself a progressive anymore. You just don’t. You are a Silicon Valley Techolibertarian who believes in market forces and bootstraps. And that’s OK. You need to look in the mirror and say: “The convenience of renting an apartment instead of a hotel, even though every time I do it it harms poor people, is more important to me than living my liberal principles. I guess I’m not really that liberal!”
AND THAT IS OK. Nobody has to be liberal. I’m not a huge fan of libertarians myself, but I catch myself doing libertarian shit all the time. I’m not going to judge you if you are yourself doing something libertarian, as long as you admit it!
What I am going to judge, however, is you self-identifying as a bleeding-heart pinko when your real values don’t align.