Election 2020

California's Proposition 22 Pits the Future Against Its Enemies

The ballot initiative would allow companies such as Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash to classify workers as independent contractors rather than as permanent employees.

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More than two decades ago, Virginia Postrel published a prescient book with a wonderful title: "The Future and Its Enemies." The technological revolution that has led to "greater wealth, health, opportunity and choice than at any time in history," she argued, has resulted in "a chorus of intellectuals and politicians [that] loudly laments our condition."

Sadly, the future's enemies use the government to fight inevitable innovation and progress.

These critics bemoan the economic insecurity such advances have wrought, as well as other first-world problems ranging from our "enslavement" to technology to the supposed (but not actual) despoliation of the Earth. When she published the book, "smart phones" were rather dull. They were large, clunky, and served solely to make phone calls. It's inconceivable how far those—and other common products—have developed in the ensuing years.

I recall my prized eight-track tape player, my first car with its whopping 70 horsepower and AM-only radio, phone booths, library card catalogs, pneumatic tubes for delivering office documents (Google it), video stores, and, my favorite, Qwip machines. The latter was cutting-edge in the 1970s. The sender put a document on a cylinder that would spin. It slowly transmitted a facsimile of the document—line by line and in crude fashion—to carbon paper at the other end.

Today I scanned and emailed dozens of documents and shudder at the thought of doing things in that archaic manner.  By the way, it's easy to get caught up in the consumer-oriented improvements we cherish while forgetting about, say, the vast improvements in food production that have dramatically reduced world hunger and the many life-saving medical advancements.

In California this year, the fight over the future centers on Proposition 22, which would allow companies such as Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash to classify workers as independent contractors rather than as permanent employees. Obviously, technology has disrupted the way we travel, shop, and work, which has made our lives much better—but has infuriated labor unions, which find it tougher to organize workers in the flexible new work world.

I've noted this before, but they've clearly taken on the role of the 19th Century British Luddites—textile workers who couldn't compete with mechanized looms, so they vandalized them. Modern unions don't destroy property these days—but they lobby the government to do something worse. They try to hobble those industries that are moving the world forward.

A few weeks ago, I took a taxicab for the first time in months. The driver didn't want my business because, apparently, it wasn't a good-enough fare. The cab was grimy. He balked at my credit card, and it took time to process it after I insisted. Compare that to the friendly and seamless experiences we have with Uber and Lyft. Think about the deliveries we receive—and how they allow us to avoid those laborious trips to box stores and restaurants.

Proposition 22 is a reaction to Assembly Bill 5, which went into effect in January. The law, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom and championed by unions, codified a 2018 California Supreme Court decision (Dynamex) that applied a strict test to companies that want to hire freelancers. The measure would exempt drivers from A.B. 5's provisions—and provide them with some portable benefits.

After A.B. 5 became law, it had vast should-have-been-seen consequences. Instead of bringing workers onboard full-time and paying them benefits, companies started laying off their California contractors. Californians who had good jobs but used freelance and contractor work to earn some side income had to give up their lucrative gigs. Consumers suffered, too, as they endured rising prices and fewer choices—all in the midst of a pandemic.

That's why even the union-controlled California Legislature exempted more than 100 industries from A.B. 5's strict provisions. They exempted almost every major industry, except for those increasingly vital transportation and delivery services.

If voters approve Proposition 22, the state will have a groundbreaking labor law that applies to virtually no one, yet that hasn't stopped the labor movement from touting it as a nationwide model. If California voters approve it, they will slow this new Luddite movement from spreading.

Unions can't stop the future, but they can cause misery as we await its arrival. For instance, our union-allied attorney general, Xavier Becerra, has filed lawsuits against the transportation companies to force them to comply with A.B. 5 as we await the election. The companies were hours away from suspending operations here until a court issued a temporary stay. This is nonsensical in a state that sees itself as the embodiment of progress.

Even if labor wins at the polls this November, it will have no more long-term success than any other group that has tried to fight a changing world. Like water rolling down a hill, creative minds will find their way around every obstacle. Sorry, but the union vision of factory floors and cubicles is a vestige of the past—not a roadmap to the future.

This column was first published in The Orange County Register.

NEXT: The Witches

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  1. “In California this year, the fight over the future centers on Proposition 22, which would allow companies such as Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash to classify workers as independent contractors rather than as permanent employees.”

    No, the fight is about how workers can classify themselves, and which employment arrangements they want to choose.

    1. Progressive: “Uber should be allowed because it is innovative and useful.”

      Libertarian/constitutionalist: “Government should not have the power to interfere in private employment contracts.”

      Reason is a progressive publication, even if their conclusions sometimes agree with libertarianism.

      1. Your categories are nonsense.

        Progressives hate Uber and Lyft because it allows individuals to make decisions for themselves.

        Constitutionalists think it fine and dandy to abuse the constitution to enhance the power of the State.

        Reason is for free markets and free minds, which is the complete opposite of all kinds of statists, whether progressive or constitutional.

        1. Progressives hate Uber and Lyft because it allows individuals to make decisions for themselves.

          Progressives, as the name implies, believe that the purpose of government is progress. They will use any tools at their disposal to do so, including free markets when they believe that that advances the cause of progress.

          Libertarians believe in a government of limited, well-defined powers, with all other rights reserved to the people. Coincidentally, that’s also what constitutionalists believe. Free markets and free minds follow from that fundamental belief unconditionally.

          Reason is for free markets and free minds, which is the complete opposite of all kinds of statists, whether progressive or constitutional.

          You can be “for free markets and free minds” because (1) you believe that they are the best means of achieving progress and increasing human well being, or you can be “for free markets and free minds” because (2) you believe that humans have inalienable, fundamental rights that government must not interfere with, not matter the consequences.

          If you believe (1), you’re a progressive; the fact that your particular policy preferences accidentally align with libertarian beliefs doesn’t change that.

          1. “progressives” have a certain view on what progress is, the leveling of society. “Fairness” is more important than liberty to the progressive.

            They have an enduring faith that planned economies can be made more “fair” than ones based on individual choice.

            1. The “leveling of society” is a socialist and communist concept, not a progressive one. What those ideologies share is a desire to shape society and human behavior towards some end.

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          2. Such classifications don’t account for the similarities between the “right” and the “left”. I think of it more as collectivism and individualism.

            1. I didn’t even mention “left” vs “right”. I explained the difference between “progressivism” and “libertarianism”, and the fact that libertarians shouldn’t justify policy based on “the future”. Actual libertarians justify policy based on whether it advances liberty.

              FWIW, I view “progressivism” as a kind of “democratic fascism”, similar to “democratic socialism”.

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  2. I’m supporting Prop 22, but I absolutely hate it. Sure, it returns Gig workers back to their roots but it is exactly everything wrong with the legislative process.

    This Prop should have been written, “Fuck you legislators, A.B. 5 is repealed”. Instead, the Proposition is the perfect example of big companies pulling up the ladder behind them. They are going to protect theirs, but they’ll be damned if anything protects OTHER industries, or even start ups who might compete with them. Here are the other things that the prop does:

    “payments for the difference between a worker’s net earnings, excluding tips, and a net earnings floor based on 120% of the minimum wage applied to a driver’s engaged time and 30 cents, adjusted for inflation after 2021, per engaged mile;

    limiting app-based drivers from working more than 12 hours during a 24-hour period, unless the driver has been logged off for an uninterrupted 6 hours;

    for drivers who average at least 25 hours per week of engaged time during a calendar quarter, require companies to provide healthcare subsidies equal to 82% the average California Covered (CC) premium for each month;

    for drivers who average between 15 and 25 hours per week of engaged time during a calendar quarter, require companies to provide healthcare subsidies equal to 41% the average CC premium for each month;

    require companies to provide or make available occupational accident insurance to cover at least $1 million in medical expenses and lost income resulting from injuries suffered while a driver was online (defined as when the driver is using the app and can receive service requests) but not engaged in personal activities;

    require the occupational accident insurance to provide disability payments of 66 percent of a driver’s average weekly earnings during the previous four weeks before the injuries suffered (while the driver was online but not engaged in personal activities) for upwards of 104 weeks (about 2 years);

    require companies to provide or make available accidental death insurance for the benefit of a driver’s spouse, children, or other dependents when the driver dies while using the app;”

    https://ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_22,_App-Based_Drivers_as_Contractors_and_Labor_Policies_Initiative_(2020)

    1. “I’m supporting Prop 22, but I absolutely hate it.”

      Ditto the prop which ‘legalized’ dope.

  3. Oh and by the way, if you needed any further evidence that California is a lost cause, please see exhibit 2034456- The ACLU of Southern California’s opposition to Prop 22:

    “NO ON PROPOSITION 22
    Vote for fair wages and protections for rideshare and delivery drivers.

    Prop 22 is a measure written for and by rideshare and delivery app companies. Instead of increasing worker protections, it preserves an exploitive model and denies drivers — the majority of whom are people of color and in most need of these protections — their rights to a minimum wage, paid sick leave, unemployment insurance, and a path to organizing worker unions. Vote NO on Prop 22 to ensure these workers can receive the benefits they deserve.”
    https://www.aclusocal.org/en/2020ballotguide

    Get that? The ACLU is here to protect your rights to other peoples’ money! And notice that they EXPLICITLY call out that their goal with A.B. 5 is to preserve “a path to organizing worker unions”.

    1. yeah, it’s a big help to “people of color” to destroy employment opportunities for their own good.

    2. ACLU has long been sympathetic to trade unions. What appalled me about the “new” ACLU is their endorsement of kangaroo-court procedings (presumption of guilt) in campus sex accusations.

  4. The common thread of AB5 and Prop 22 articles is that they focus on the corporations, and not on the independence of individuals.
    Since I fled the fascists in CA many decades ago, when they first raised their ugly heads, I have not bothered to get in the weeds of this, but does anyone know if this affects individuals who have formed a corporation to contract with uber/lyft rather than as a sole proprietorship?

    1. LTBF- Forming an LLC is being used by a bunch of Gig workers as an experiment to try and circumvent the rules, and it may or may not pass muster. The problem is that if the Gig companies lose Prop 22, they will likely not want to risk it. They will either pull up stakes, or they will only support hiring people on as employees. The risk to their bottom line to support LLCs and employees, and then defend that in court is probably too much to accept.

      Of course, if Prop 22 goes through, then Uber, et al are on the hook for paying liability insurance which decreases the existing incentive for these contractors to incorporate in the first place.

      1. I always wondered why the legislature thought it necessary to even pass AB 5, since the CA Supreme Court already enacted its guts for everybody who didn’t want it. It can’t be because they thought a federal court might rule it a violation of the Contracts Clause, since AB 5 would be a way around such a ruling.

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  6. When she published the book, “smart phones” were rather dull. They were large, clunky, and served solely to make phone calls.

    Then is wasn’t a smart phone. It was just a regular old cell phone.

  7. “This is nonsensical in a state that sees itself as the embodiment of progress.”

    The 90’s called. They want their meme back. California is now longer the embodiment of progress. It’s a third world state with a rich class a large impoverished class and

    1. Eh, his word processor lost the “ivism” at the end.

  8. The real fight for the future in California is much broader. There are proposals on the table for a wealth tax, for forcing companies to make 60% of their workforce work from home on any given day, for forcing consumers to buy electric powered vehicles, and countless other intrusions on consumer choice, personal freedom, and the ability of corporations to serve their customers, shareholders and employees while competing globally.

    California isn’t just killing the goose that lays the golden eggs, it’s actively destroying everything that encouraged the goose to nest there in the first place.

  9. I have already sent in my ballot, and do not remember how I voted on this. On the one hand, AB 5 is an abomination, an abrogation of contracts in the worst paternalistic way. On the other hand, all Prop 22 does is undo one specific class of workers. I detest laws like that. It may as well be a bill of attainder. Why not repeal AB 5 entirely?

  10. California has decided that the jobs it wants are those in finance, tech, the media, law, academia and Hollywood. It doesn’t want forestry, oil, manufacturing, any more ag, or other industries that actually require blue collar workers. Instead, they should move to Texas or some other state as so many have been doing. Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and the like have enabled some of these unwanted people to hang on a little longer. That’s why progressives hate it so much. Many of those drivers might have moved away if not for someone coming up with some idea to put them to work.

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  15. When I began my career on the management side of one of the big three automakers, I was convinced that the unions were holding us back.

    Many years later I understood that managers greed push the company into crisis and ONLY unions can organize workers to protect their interests.

    Slavery wouldn’t have ended without government supporting workers organization.

    1. Gee, a Nazi *and* a slaver. And an ignoramus besides.

      1. Partial cremation retardo.

        1. I’ll explain my statement.

          When the usual trolls and bigots show up I enjoy refuting them.

          One dipshit said they “saw pictures” of burnt bodies from the “ovens”. I asked why there would be anything more than ashes after cremation. Retard sevo said “ it’s called partial cremation dontcha know”.

          When I asked why anyone would want to make such a mess, coward retardo cut and ran as all troll bigots do.

          One cited a book as proof of “the holocaust”.

          “ Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland” is about some polish police who confessed to killing Jews for Nazis as per the narrative.

          Thing is, none of the police were executed or charged in exchange for their convenient story. That makes their story, as all the others, coerced and inadmissible as evidence in any court of justice.

          Another regaled us with the story of his gramps who was telling anyone who would listen that his job during “the holocaust” was carrying the dead bodies out of the gas chambers, day after day.

          The dumb fuck didn’t know that cyanide is absorbed through the skin and his lying gramps would have died on his first day.

          One Schlomo survivor wrote a book illustrated with pictures of people being dragged out of gas chambers by bare handed and shirtless Jews, who apparently defied science by surviving.

          When a fundamental aspect of a narrative is demonstrated to be impossible bullshit, as above, the entire narrative is proved to be bullshit.

          The evidence contained in Nickolas Kollerstroms book, Breaking the Spell, soundly refutes the biggest false narrative in history.

          http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23629458-breaking-the-spell

          1. I believe your right to free speech ends when you lie.

            You should hop in a woodchipper.

            1. I haven’t lied, bigot. I proved what I said with logic and science.

              How does it feel to be so stupid that you can’t prove what you say?

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  17. The “future” of the gig economy would be one that doesn’t have intermediates between the gig workers and the customers.

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