Uber

Uber Just Got a Bunch of Saudi Money. That's Good News for Women Everywhere.

Smart entrepreneurs can minimize pain caused by stupid governments.

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uber
Chalermphon Kumchai | Dreamstime.com

Uber just received an investment of $3.5 billion from Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund. A bunch of headlines have cropped up claiming this is bad news for women—an understandable, but utterly backward analysis. 

At Forbes, Contributor Rebecca Lindland writes

My very first thought upon hearing the news was, "This is just another reason/excuse/barrier to not let women drive."

But she immediately undercuts her own argument:

Not that the Kingdom needs another reason or excuse—it's an absolute monarchy after all.

And she's right. Tyrants gonna tyrannize. The debate over whether Saudi women should be be allowed to obtain drivers licenses is utterly medieval and sophistical. It has almost no contact with the reality of protecting women's safety, promoting female virtue, or anything else that is actually happening in 2016. There's a tweet going around that suggests Austin (which recently banned Uber) is now "reactionary" and Saudi Arabia is "progressive." The Austin Uber ban is backward, but there's no universe in which Saudi Arabia is less reactionary than the hipster home of Texas weirdness. 

What's more: Uber is already operating in the Kingdom—80 percent of its current customers there are female, for obvious reasons—and there's no cause to think that this investment will do much to change that fact. (The money does come with a seat on Uber's board for Yasir Al Rumayyan, managing director of the fund and a Saudi bigwig, which muddies the water slightly. But that fact is likely to have little impact on the broader debate about letting women get behind the wheel.) More Saudi money to Uber isn't the same thing as more Ubers in Saudi. The Uber money is just another investment by an entity that already has holdings in many, many American companies, not to mention U.S. treasuries.

And Uber CEO Travis Kalanick—not famous for his diplomatic skills—is rather spectacularly unsuited to move the needle on the debate about women's right to travel in the famously closed country. Instead, he can do what entrepreneurs do best when faced with a big stupid chunk of deadweight loss created by government intransigence: he can try to find a way to meet pent-up demand that the jerks in power didn't have the imagination to ban in advance. 

While some people were hollering about privatizing the post office, communication got freer and cheaper thanks to phone, fax, FedEx, email, and SMS. The same thing is happening in a more modest way with Uber in U.S. cities, where inefficient and occasionally discriminatory taxi cartels are falling apart thanks to competitive pressure. Those innovations didn't happen entirely outside of the sphere of government influence, but for the most part the technology simply outpaced the rulemakers, to the benefit of nearly everyone.

It would be better if women were legally allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. Obviously. Obviously! Obviously. Sheesh. (Also, I'm still waiting for UberXX here in the U.S.)

But if Kalanick (and Saudi state investors) think they can make money by providing more, better, cheaper ways for humans to move about more freely in any country, but especially in a country where it's quite difficult for women to travel, that's a net gain. Period.

Asking Uber to reject the investment is a classic example of making the perfect the enemy of the good. Poor women will still be worse off than rich women. Women will still be worse off than men. Assaults, harassment, and rudeness will still occur inside and outside the confines of automobiles, public and private. But a well-funded fast-growing Uber will lessen those problems globally (and in Saudi Arabia), not exacerbate them. 

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  1. I think we should now start pointing out that Austin’s Uber ban is institutionalized Islamophobia.

  2. I don’t understand. How are Saudi women able to use Uber, presumably being picked up by an male driver, without being accompanied by a mahram?

    1. A good question.

  3. Cool, a sex trafficking delivery service. Why didn’t I think of that?

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  5. It would be better if women were legally allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. Obviously. Obviously! Obviously. Sheesh.

    My conclusion: KMW is a misogynist.

  6. “asking uber to reject the investment is a classic example of making the perfect the enemy of the good.”

    #neverjohnson

  7. Why do we want to be in the middle east so bad?

    Even though we caused most of the craziness over there, they are still nuts. My grandfather talked about how the arabs would night raid the german tents and slit the throats of sleeping soldiers. I’m sure that happens in all wars by all sides but he said the arabs were especially happy to do it. The americans all thought they were nuts before we started creating wars there.

    Go isolationism and go uber!

    1. Even though we caused most of the craziness over there,

      The craziness was there long before us. About the only thing we have done is given it a different focus.

    2. That doesn’t seem nuts at all. If you’ve got foreign soldiers invading your country who need to be killed, it’s obviously better to do it when they’re asleep and therefore can’t fight back.

    3. We’re the Ottomans?

    4. “arabs would night raid the german tents and slit the throats of sleeping soldiers”

      I’ve literally never heard of a war where this practice wasn’t done. The Ojibwe WWII hero Tommy Prince comes to mind. Also a big fan of slitting the throats of sleeping German soldiers. But Prince was our ally so I guess when he slits throats it’s okay.

      1. Kechewaishke would remind you not to fuck with a Chippewa.

  8. KMW, write more articles, maybe even try cutting into someone else’s article times.

  9. Self-driving cars will prevent women behind the wheel.

    /realsaudimotive

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