The Uber Economy

Stephen W. Browne

Somehow I always knew I'd wind up as a cab driver.

I think it was that scene at the end of 'The Razor's Edge' when Tyrone Power said his next adventure might be going back to America and getting a cab so he could meet lots of people.

'Cool!' I thought when I first saw that movie, and again when I saw the vastly underrated remake with Bill Murray.

Of course, in this day and age that's a whole lot more difficult than when he so blithely tossed off the idea. Cabs and cab drivers are subject to a stack of regulations which make entry difficult to impossible.

So I became an Uber driver.

The problem is, right now I can't take a full-time journalism gig. Various commitments with my kids mean I have to, as in have to, take them somewhere four out of five weekday evenings. I also have to spend an hour-and-a-half every day without fail helping my daughter with her eye exercises. A commitment that will run at least another six to eight months.

Journalism hours are irregular at best. I've done some freelance work but at least one editor got miffed and cut me off when I couldn't commit to becoming full time.

So I got a new phone and downloaded the Uber ap. When I go online and someone needs a ride I get a ping and a set of directions to pick them up. When they get onboard I get directions to their destination. (A sneaky trick they use to keep drivers from refusing rides to places they might not want to go.)

This is great for me. I can't really take advantage of the best times; early morning and afternoon rush hour, and late evenings on weekends, but I can slow down the cash hemorrhage. For most people it's a part time supplement to their income, but some do make a living at it.

OK, no benefits. I'm a contractor. Some have reacted to indignation at the idea and call it 'exploitive' and 'unregulated,' Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders among them.

Sanders however uses Uber almost exclusively. Hillary uses only limousines to avoid exploiting the little people.

What I'd like to point out to the honorable politicians is, this is not a choice between a good job and a bad job. It's a choice between a job that exactly suits my immediate needs " and no job.

There is also another ride sharing company Lyftt, and something called Arcade City is vowing to redesign the business model yet again to make it driver owned.

What made this possible was computers and smart phones that put a willing buyer and a willing seller in touch in real time.

And this is only the beginning, I just found out there are Uber-like services for freight. Companies like uShip put people with things to move in touch with people who have appropriately sized vehicles. And that means from bicycles to semis!

What else has the technology made possible?

Well by now everyone is familiar with Kickstarter and GoFundMe. By the end of this year I expect to take delivery on a back pack designed for on the go travelers who need to take a business suit, and a new kind of winter parka.

I'm terribly disappointed the flying bicycle didn't get off the ground, so to speak, but the point is I wasn't out any money from a failed investment. And the entrepreneurs who think of these cool ideas have access to capital they don't have to go begging to banks for.

GoFundMe makes charitable giving personal, sending our help and aid directly to the recipient without paying Goldman-Sachs-sized salaries to administrators.

Concierge medical practices avoid insurance hassles and maintain affordable prices for routine care at least in part because they have access to huge medical databases

We are seeing the democratization of access to information and capital at a time when complex taxation and regulation were strangling the entrepreneurial spirit. Of course there is a backlash from those who see their interests in keeping both tightly centralized and regulated.

Hang on to your hats folks, it's going to be one heckuva ride!