homeaboutarchives + tagsshopmembership!
aboutarchivesshopmembership!
aboutarchivesmembers!

kottke.org posts about Hubert Horan

The Uber Delusion

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2019

Hubert Horan’s broadside of Uber for American Affairs starts out like this and doesn’t let up:

Since it began operations in 2010, Uber has grown to the point where it now collects over $45 billion in gross passenger revenue, and it has seized a major share of the urban car service market. But the widespread belief that it is a highly innovative and successful company has no basis in economic reality.

An examination of Uber’s economics suggests that it has no hope of ever earning sustainable urban car service profits in competitive markets. Its costs are simply much higher than the market is willing to pay, as its nine years of massive losses indicate. Uber not only lacks powerful competitive advantages, but it is actually less efficient than the competitors it has been driving out of business.

This is one of those articles where I want to excerpt the entire thing; it’s just so jammed packed with goodies about a company that represents everything I hate about “tech” and Silicon Valley.

In reality, Uber’s platform does not include any technological breakthroughs, and Uber has done nothing to “disrupt” the economics of providing urban car services. What Uber has disrupted is the idea that competitive consumer and capital markets will maximize overall economic welfare by rewarding companies with superior efficiency. Its multibillion dollar subsidies completely distorted marketplace price and service signals, leading to a massive misallocation of resources. Uber’s most important innovation has been to produce staggering levels of private wealth without creating any sustainable benefits for consumers, workers, the cities they serve, or anyone else.

A later section is titled “Uber’s Narratives Directly Copied Libertarian Propaganda”.

In the early 1990s, a coordinated campaign advocating taxi deregulation was conducted by a variety of pro-corporate/libertarian think tanks that all received funding from Charles and David Koch. This campaign pursued the same deregulation that Uber’s investors needed, and used classic political propaganda techniques. It emphasized emotive themes designed to engage tribal loyalties and convert complex issues into black-and-white moral battles where compromise was impossible. There was an emphasis on simple, attractive conclusions designed to obscure the actual objectives of the campaigners, and their lack of sound supporting evidence.

This campaign’s narratives, repeated across dozens of publications, included framing taxi deregulation as a heroic battle for progress, innovation, and economic freedom. Its main claims were that thousands of struggling entrepreneurial drivers had been blocked from job opportunities by the “cab cartel” and the corrupt regulators beholden to them, and that consumers would enjoy the same benefits that airline deregulation had produced. In a word, consumers were promised a free lunch. Taxi deregulation would lead to lower fares, solve the problems of long waits, provide much greater service (especially in neighborhoods where service was poor), and increase jobs and wages for drivers. Of course, no data or analysis of actual taxi economics showing how these wondrous benefits could be produced was included.

Horan reserves a healthy chunk of his criticism for the media, whose unwillingness to critically cover the company — “the press refuses to reconsider its narra­tive valorizing Uber as a heroic innovator that has created huge benefits for consumers and cities” — has provided a playbook for future investors to exploit for years to come. Blech. What a shitshow.