Even Santa Can't Survive the Red Tape

Sooner or later, if we restrain the regulators, the market might even produce flying sleighs.

Santa in chainsSteve Rhodes / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-NDIf you saw a fat man in a sleigh distributing presents this week, he was in violation of several government regulations.

The Federal Aviation Administration has complaints about his secret flight path. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources might shoot his unauthorized reindeer the way they shot a baby deer named Giggles at an animal shelter this year. His bag of gifts definitely violates numerous charity tax rules.

In real life, government barely lets people give each other rides in cars. But now the Internet has given birth to some exciting new businesses that challenge this conceit.

Companies called Lyft, Uber, and Sidecar offer a phone app that allows people who need a ride somewhere to connect to a driver nearby who'd like to make a few extra bucks. It's like creating an instant taxi business—which is why it makes existing taxi businesses nervous.

I became a Lyft driver. Once I passed a criminal background check and got my Lyft driver app, I pressed a button on my phone saying I was "available." I quickly got a message from someone nearby who wanted a ride.

My passenger was easy to find—my phone gave me directions. He wanted to go to a grocery store. After I dropped him off, I told my phone app I was "available" again. No cash changed hands. My passenger's phone suggested he give me a credit card "donation" based on time and distance. He could have stiffed me, but if he did, it would appear on his Lyft "rating," and he'd have trouble getting another ride.

My next passenger was a woman. Why would she feel safe getting into a stranger's car? Again, the rating system protects both her and me. Her phone showed her my picture and ratings from other passengers (with me, she took a chance, as I was a new driver).  

Because of the ratings, both passengers and drivers have an incentive to behave well. The higher your rating, the easier it is to get or give rides. In the end, I made money, and my passengers saved money (Lyft rides are about 20 percent cheaper than taxis). Win-win!

But regulators and taxi companies don't see it that way.

Taxi companies aren't happy about losing business to people like me, driving my own car. One cabbie complained, "We have to pay big money for licenses, get fingerprinted, have commercial insurance. (Lyft) has nothing! Sidecar has nothing!"

But it's not "nothing." I had to have a driver's license, a state-inspected car and there was that background check. But more useful than all that: the ratings. This instant feedback gives drivers and customers more reliable information than piles of licensing paperwork spewed out by regulatory agencies.

Do you pick a contractor or dentist after examining their licenses? No, you consult friends or websites like Yelp to determine the sellers' reputation. Feedback from customers is more useful than any bureaucrat's stamp of approval. Internet apps like Lyft's make this feedback ever better.

Will government crush innovations like Lyft? Maybe. Seattle moved to limit it. Nashville declared it illegal to charge anything less than $45 for rides, so there's no way for a company like Lyft to compete by undercutting regular cabs' prices.

Regulators want their fingers in everything. A new idea gives them an excuse to draw attention to themselves as "consumer protectors." In addition, existing taxi companies request regulation. They want politicians to regulate new competition out of existence.

Luckily, technology and capitalist innovation sometimes move faster than the lazy dinosaur that is government. Lyft, Uber and Sidecar have quickly become popular, and this may help them avoid being crushed. By contrast, politicians don't hesitate to destroy things that people think of as weird or dangerous.

Ride-share companies, perhaps sensing that it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission, offered rides without first seeking approval from every regulator. Now they have millions of customers. Politicians often fear regulating things that are widely liked.

Government is as crude and annoying as a speed bump, but individuals looking for better ways to do things keep cruising ahead. Sooner or later, if we restrain the regulators, the market might even produce flying sleighs.

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  • EDG reppin' LBC||

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  • Archduke von Pantsfan||

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Happy Wednesday!

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    There is a technological innovation to restrain regulators. It is called a guillotine.

  • MoMark||

    Speaking of regulations

    The only honest man in a lair of thieves!

    http://www.youtube.com/embed/svGDZOW-brA?rel=0

  • ||

    Merry Christmas Ho's!

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    Have I mentioned I like Stossel?

  • On The Road To Mandalay||

    The premise of most libertarians is that government in general is bad. However, nothing substantial is ever proposed in the way of replacement, except some very very vague notion that if left unrestrained people will do the right thing.

    The reality is that a great number of human beings on this planet don't do the right thing when left to their own devices. For example (one of hundreds) people were told that is dangerous to text while driving, and yet most people went right on doing it until they were killed, or killed others, or were maimed for life.

    The basic idea of libertarians is, leave me alone and I will do the right thing. No to that. We already know that what most human beings do, think, and say are three entirely different things.

    There is no real consistency in human behavior. We also know that most people can juggle from three to five totally contradictory ideas in their heads and believe in all three to five of them simultaneously.

    Sorry folks, but until everyone becomes rational in all ways, government and laws, and so on are necessary.

  • Agammamon||

    For example (one of hundreds) people were told that is dangerous to text while driving, and yet most people went right on doing it until they were killed, or killed others, or were maimed for life.

    Not even getting into whether or not texting is actually as dangerous as is said - you're placing an impossible burden.

    You expect *everyone* to do the 'right' thing, if even one person doesn't then its a failure and we all will be punished (by being regulated into the ground). Everyone not doing what they're told to do is simply used as an excuse to keep ratcheting up the regulation of more and more of our lives.

    The issue isn't whether or not *everyone* does the 'right' thing, its whether we have better outcomes with or without excessive regulation - do *enough* people do the right thing that proposed regulations fail to provide any extra 'good' and can even have serious negative consequences outmatching any good consequences.

  • ||

    "The premise of most libertarians is that government in general is bad."

    You argue that man is in imperfect given he doesn't always do the right thing. Yet, you want the same flawed man to govern other people's decision - through force?

    My father in law (may he RIP), a pious and scientific mind, was President of his Church. In many of our discussions about religion, he explained why he was dedicated to God and no one else.

    Everything was just a man-made structure - Priests, rituals etc. - created by flawed men.Man, wretched creatures we are, will argue, fight and even kill over even the most senseless of things thus often missing 'the point' about leading a pious life.

    We're flawed. And to argue that the second they do the wrong thing somehow negates the libertarian position is outrageous. We can EASILY flip that argument, as often is the case here, that government actually enhances and even empowers those same flaws.

    The fact and idea you take the usual liberal (defensive) position that A) we have to come up with another solution which supposes yours to be the proper one B) libertarian principles are "impractical" shows just how much we've come to rely on the government.

    Got a problem? Take it to the government. They will make it 'just' for we can't be trusted to make the 'right' choices.

    The progressive position isn't compassionate. Nay, it's cynical.

  • Sevo||

    On The Road To Mandalay|12.25.13 @ 3:30PM|#
    "The premise of most libertarians is that government in general is bad. However, nothing substantial is ever proposed in the way of replacement, except some very very vague notion that if left unrestrained people will do the right thing."

    Yeah, you stupid pile of shit, those rethuglicans just don't have a replacement plan for O'care, do they?

  • CE||

    My premise is that stealing is bad, even if the people doing the stealing call themselves a government and claim to represent me. Even if they give me a vote that never matters because I never vote for the winner.

    My other premise is that free, civilized, peaceful people left to their own devices can come up with contractual ways to provide security, dispute resolution services and utilities, and that with open competition they will be far better than what the government "offers" now.

  • sarcasmic||

    The premise of most libertarians is that government in general is bad.

    No. The premise of most libertarians is that force is only justified in reaction to the initiation force and/or fraud. Because that's all government is: force. It's not that government in itself is bad, it's that government (people who can deal deadly violence without consequence when they don't get their way) is not the always the first resort when someone wants something done. Sure it might be effective, just as a hammer is effective at bashing in heads. But that doesn't mean that that's the best use for a hammer.

    Or, like some old dude who wore funny clothes once said:

    "Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master."
    --George Washington

  • Free Society||

    The premise of most libertarians is that government in general is bad. However, nothing substantial is ever proposed in the way of replacement, except some very very vague notion that if left unrestrained people will do the right thing.

    Go back to your People's Republic paradise, slaver. At least behind the Great Firewall we won't ever see your drivel on the internet again. And for your sake, you'll have bureaucrats telling you what is and is not permissible to say and wouldn't that just make you feel so safe?

  • DWC||

    First, crushing things is the business of government. B - If humans were not, generally and naturally, inclined to look out for each other and take care of each when left to their own resources, we would have disappeared as a species long ago. There is always going to be that small percentage of people who are bad people inclined to harm other people. Government has little impact at all on the behavior of such people. It is a truism, but in fact true that only law abiding people (and I am referring to plausibly legitimate laws only - not stealing, pillaging, raping, killing etc.)obey the law and those are not inclined to behave anyway are going to misbehave law or no law. Think of all the great harms done by some people to others over the entire course of human history - they have been done under the auspices of government. Governments have killed hundreds of million of people over the centuries. Private people and even private people in groups can not even come close to doing that much harm. And yet, somehow, government is there for our protection. Idiocy.

  • On The Road To Mandalay||

    DWC

    And YOUR solution is?

  • CE||

    1. Stop legitimizing theft.

    2. Let entrepreneurs in the free market come up with ways to provide the services governments used to provide.

  • On The Road To Mandalay||

    Explain to me how exactly I am "placing an impossible burden"?! Where did I say that I expect everyone to do the right thing? Where did I say that? So you think we are going to have "better outcomes". Start cracking a few books on history and you learn very quickly that people tend to choose evil over good most of the time. I also think you have reading comprehension problems. My premise is that we need government, but it needs to be better and good. Of course it is composed of fallible people, but there needs to be some control. In any event, the breakdown of our society is a crisis of morals and ethics.

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    you learn very quickly that people tend to choose evil over good most of the time.

    Quite simply...

    ...bullsht.

    When people choose to do evil, you hear about it. You never hear a word about the, literally BILLIONS, who choose to do the right thing.

    You want to punish everyone for the sins of the few.

    No. Fuck off slaver. Punish only those who do evil.

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    Also, bullshit.

  • On The Road To Mandalay||

    Dear Francisco,

    You could have just disagreed with me. However, since you chose to be nasty, FUCK YOU too you Son of A Bitch Asshole. Kiss my ass. Fuck you again.

  • ||

    Hi, Mary!

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    Now, I'm just gonna cry. Teh troll was mean to me. I haz a sad. :-(

    BTW, if you think my reply was "nasty", you might want to grow a thicker skin before you actually piss me off.

  • On The Road To Mandalay||

    What do I need to do to actually piss you off, so I can proceed to do it?

  • On The Road To Mandalay||

    F U

  • Free Society||

    How old are you?

  • Sevo||

    On The Road To Mandalay|12.25.13 @ 4:57PM|#
    "Dear Francisco,
    You could have just disagreed with me. However, since you chose to be nasty, FUCK YOU too you Son of A Bitch Asshole. Kiss my ass. Fuck you again."

    Right back atcha, shitpile.

  • CE||

    So much for Christmas cheer...

  • Sevo||

    Hey, before 10 on Christmas morning, you get a big smile!

  • Agammamon||

    You're placing an impossible burden on those who call for less regulation. You want perfect behavior from everyone *before* any discussion of lessening regulations - after all, if any *one* person behaves badly that's justification for any regulatory regime.

    You leave no room for deciding whether or nor a regulatory regime causes more problems than it solves.

    I have been cracking a few books on history and what I see is that you're way off base.

    The most people to do what is right most of the time, its those who seek power to make rules that tend to do horrible things to get and maintain their power to make rules.

    And, if you hadn't noticed, our 'breakdown' has been pushed along by those who believe that we should take no personal responsibility for our fellows but should instead leave it to 'Top Men' to decide what should be done.

  • On The Road To Mandalay||

    Look hard and you will find a Libertarian who is a 'Top Man". There is always a "Top Man" in any movement. You too will end up producing a "regulatory regime" the same as all other movements.

  • Free Society||

    Movement=/=coercive political monopoly

  • Sevo||

    On The Road To Mandalay|12.25.13 @ 4:13PM|#
    ..."Start cracking a few books on history and you learn very quickly that people tend to choose evil over good most of the time."...

    Assertion substituting for argument, asshole.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Right here--

    "Sorry folks, but until everyone becomes rational in all ways, government and laws, and so on are necessary."

    This is an impossible burden.

    When one does crack a few history books one can find instances of people doing bad things--maybe thousands of them--and they get written about because they are not commonplace. Commonplace things, like people living their lives happily, don't merit big writeups. In those instances we tend to describe it as times of peace, or times when nothing was going on.

    Even in history, if it bleeds, it leads.

  • RishJoMo||

    Just roll down the hill then back up again, its all good man.

    www.BeinAnon.tk

  • On The Road To Mandalay||

    Fuck all you asshole libertarians!!!

  • ||

    Take your meds, Mary. The voices and the paranoia will be less bothersome.

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    I'm sceptical when people here call "Mary" on many of the trolls, but I think this time you nailed it, MS. It's her.

  • On The Road To Mandalay||

    Dear Mad Scientist,

    I did take my meds. However, there is some left over. My messenger will be there soon so you can shove the remainder up your Hershey Highway. Have a lovely New Year Anal Breath.

  • ||

    And Merry Christmas to you as well.

  • Sevo||

    On The Road To Mandalay|12.25.13 @ 6:24PM|#
    "Fuck all you asshole libertarians!!!"

    Gee, shitpile, needs more exclamation marks.

  • On The Road To Mandalay||

    Sevo

    I knew you would appreciate those extra exclamation marks. I just threw them in there so pimps like you would get a kick out of it. Have a great 2014 ass chunk.

  • sarcasmic||

    Jesus loves you this I know
    'cause the Bible tells me so
    'cept he can't 'cause he is dead
    like the brain cells in your head

  • Sevo||

    Catchy tune, there!

  • On The Road To Mandalay||

    Nothing quite like a bit of blasphemy is there?

  • Sevo||

    On The Road To Mandalay|12.25.13 @ 9:21PM|#
    "Nothing quite like a bit of blasphemy is there?"

    You'll have to scream louder; the spital hasn't yet ruined your kepboard.

  • ||

    I really don't understand why some people are so against Lyft and Uber services when they are cheaper alternatives to taxis. Using Lyft myself, I truly see value in the whole ridesharing program. And if you use the promo code THEROW2 on your Lyft app you can even get a free $20 in Lyft driving credits wherever you want to go and hopefully see what I mean and get a little perspective :)

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