My much travelled brother – who once said to me “I think I could organize tours of the trouble spots of the world” – commented on how we complain about bureaucracy and how it gets in the way but then described sitting in a restaurant next to a stinking open drain in some third world free for all and how it had made him think we’re better off with our rules and regulations even if our rulers and regulators seem to overdo it.
So is something like Uber the wave of the future?
I’m told that even though the service is illegal, that although there has not actually been one reported incident of anyone using it, the company is promoting heavily on social media in the Canberra region.
In case you haven’t caught up with Uber, it’s described as a ride sharing service which connects passenger with car and driver through a smartphone app.
It used by some hire car drivers, supposedly by some off duty taxi drivers but the real controversy revolves around private citizens who use their own cars.
Canberrans are presently being targeted with Facebook come-ons claiming private individuals can make $500 a weekend driving for Uber.
I see two angles to this: one is the actual practice of Uber and whether it’s really a good idea to get into a car with someone who has no special qualifications, insurance, security measures to guarantee you some measure of safety or an organization behind him/her to which you can take your grievance if things don’t work out as planned.
The other is the general principal of removing government restriction and letting the market find its way.
In August of this year, The Sydney Morning Herald reported New South Wales Minister for Finance and Services Dominic Perrottet as saying the Uber apps – part of what he called the “collaboration economy” – were a good thing for society.
He said “My view is that governments should not stand in the way of this change but seek to facilitate it.”
“As someone on the Liberal side of politics, we should welcome the sharing economy as something profoundly conservative.”
“This is the free market on steroids. It’s individuals, or businesses, seeking to make the best use of their existing assets, for a profit. It’s being an entrepreneur at a grassroots level. It’s a mix of technology, trust and low-cost options to effectively meet demand – and it’s all done without government intervention.”
Now being as how most everything in the great state of New South Wales is regulated to within 2.54 centimetres of its life, I find this laughable.
My immediate comment was to suggest that as Mr Perrottet is apparently such an out and proud evangelist for cutting back on government regulation and red tape, perhaps Sydney could do without zoning laws like – say – Houston.
It actually works pretty well for them there.
This from Bloomberg Businessweek:
Houston is well known as the only major U.S. city with no formal zoning code. Such a seeming lack of order is difficult to grasp by those unfamiliar with the area. The absence of a comprehensive land use code conjures up images of a disjointed landscape where oil derricks sit next to mansions and auto salvage yards abut churches. To some degree these anomalies exist, yet for the most part Houston is like any other large North American city.
What is unique about Houston is that the separation of land uses is impelled by economic forces rather than mandatory zoning.
Of course there is no way known that government in NSW at any level is going to surrender its say over what goes where when it comes to land use.
(Not counting corrupt dealings with developer mates of course).
Nor is it likely to my mind that the planned and regulated ACT is ever likely to take on Minister Perottet’s recommendations.
I can think of a number of reasons why that might be a very good thing (see comment from much travelled brother about life in the unregulated third world).
Even Mr Perrottet has two bob each way, saying “Even the freest of markets requires some regulation to function.”
But there are those who are very enthusiastic about Uber and Airbnb and Shortspace and other ventures which rely on the internet and social media to thrive – and thrive they have.
Bloomberg again: Bill Maris, the managing partner of Google Ventures, which is an investor in Uber, said the long-term market value of the company could be “$200 billion or more.”
Now that is big bucks and big bucks can buy a lot of influence, but it’s early days to start thinking about where that might lead.
For the moment I’m interested in hearing from anyone with grass roots Uber experience in the Canberra region.