Forget Uber's "Asshole Problem." The Company is Now Bedding Down with Regulators to Screw Over Competitors


It was a great run, really. For most of its brief existence, Uber has gotten nothing but great press—and deservedly so, since the popular ridesharing service has provided a great way for people in cities to work around sclerotic taxi commissions and local cartels that serve entrenched business interests rather people looking for convenient new ways of getting around in cities.

But lately—and especially after offensive statements about investigating journalists critical of the company's top management and some of its business practices—the only press Uber seems to be getting these days is bad press. "Call it Uber Angst," reads a typical recent story in The New York Times about the growing movement to delete Uber's app due to perceived moral lapses. "This is a new quandary faced by customers reliant on Uber's on-demand taxi app but unsettled about supporting a company whose attitudes toward privacy and women have been making headlines."

Here's something else to consider: After spending years antagonizing would-be regulators, Uber is now working with them to hammer out agreements that will let the company flourish even as less-connected competitors face tougher regulations.

Does this latest strategy, which involves hiring former Barack Obama adviser David Plouffe to smooth things with cities, mark Uber's turn from market disrupter to political player? That's the question I ask in my latest Time column. A snippet:

In The Myth of the Robber Barons, historian Burton W. Folsom made a distinction between market entrepreneurs, who got rich by providing goods and services to people at cheaply and efficiently, and political entrepreneurs, who maintained and grew their market share by lobbying for regulations and special privileges that gave them an edge. Folsom underscored that it's common for market entrepreneurs to become political entrepreneurs (think Thomas Edison, who used all sorts of political connections to kneecap market rivals).

Uber's latest strategy may make sense from a business point of view—Plouffe even calls it "Uber-mentum"—but if you believe in free markets, it's just as dispiriting as most of the other things that have ginned up anti-Uber fervor. And to the extent that new regulations make it that much harder for the next great disruptive business to come along, it's worse still.

Read the whole thing here.

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  1. Ah good old regulations providing perverse incentives to corporations to commit regulatory capture for their own benefit.

    The solution is of course more regulations.

  2. The ‘story’ about Uber and the journalists is concocted from nothing.


    I will say the same thing I said when Nick recycled this article previously: the new regulations are nothing compared to the taxi cartels Uber is breaking. Uber isn’t gaming the system, it’s surviving it while destroying it.

    1. Criminy, that’s pretty bad. I avoid Buzzfeed whenever possible, but never expected them to have such an old fashioned yellow journalism business model.

      At the end of the page is a note that Buzzfeed’s owner is an investor in Sidecar, an Uber competitor.

  3. Pure, lying junk.

    1. Could you be less specific?

      1. Pure junk!

  4. Nothing new here. Companies have always been among the greatest enemies of markets, and libertarians have been saying this from the time we crawled out of the protoplasmic Lockean goo. If your purpose is to make as much money as possible, and regulators are handing out blank checks, you either take the check or wait for a competitor to do so.

    But since you can’t maintain a monopoly or cartel without threats of force to new market entrants, maybe we should continue to point the finger at the state.

  5. Dude I would totally roll with that.


  6. Totally unpredictable!

  7. I’m calling bullshit. The Time article doesn’t cite any example of how these regs that Uber is negotiating excludes Lyft or Sidecar or anyone else.

    as for hiring a lobbyist, that’s something that any company of their size pretty much has to do for defense.


    1. Nice business you got there? be a shame if something? regulatory happened to it.

  8. Praise free market?

  9. offensive statements about investigating journalists

    Actually a close look at Buzzfeed and Gawker and their writers and practices would be a welcome read for me.

    1. I mean one doesn’t even have too look that deep to see how both organizations only go after businesses that don’t advertise with them.

      Basically any click bait witch hunts coming out of those sites I just assume are shack downs.

  10. my best friend’s aunt makes $60 hourly on the computer . She has been fired for nine months but last month her check was $17081 just working on the computer for a few hours. go to website….

    ?????? http://www.payinsider.com

  11. Given that regulators forced Uber to the bargaining table, I don’t blame Uber for trying to negotiate the best deal possible for themselves. As long as regulators promote rent seeking, businesses have to compete for rent seeking just like they do for customers.

    Rent seeking is exclusively a failure of government, not of the businesses receiving the benefits under it.

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