The Ubertarian and Occupational Licensing

December 30th, 2013

Outside of libertarians, most people are just fine with occupational licensing regimes, until it impacts them. Exhibit A is the newly-coined “ubertarian.”

D.C. is home to a growing and curious breed, progressive young professionals who bemoan the city’s income inequality one instant and approach a black limo the next, asking “Are you my Uber?”; who condemn the government for under-regulating the banks and for over-regulating businesses and developers; who lament the decline of American labor but wish the teachers’ union didn’t have so much power in D.C. schools.

They support government regulation—except when it inconveniences them. Clamping down on the big banks? Yes, please. Tighter safety standards? Love ’em. Restrictions on app-based taxi competitors, or on the number of bars or restaurants in their neighborhood? An outrageous imposition on the free market!

I’ve previously commented on the obstructive barriers to entry placed in the path of Uber, and noticed how surprising it was that prominent liberals, who usually love all means of government regulation, have seemed to oppose the most basic instances of occupational licensing. What do we make of these ubertarians who see no problem with the District of Columbia regulating a whole host of professions, but lord help us if they make it harder to get a taxi? Probably nothing.

But if people viewed all forms of occupational licensing the same way–whether it affects them directly or indirectly–rational basis review wouldn’t stand.

A few months ago I took a taxi in Washington, D.C. and asked the cabbie what he thought about Uber. He said he wasn’t worried now, but if they began to take away his business he would do something. He explained that he didn’t think it was fair for Uber to take away his business. When I asked what happens if consumers chose them over him, he repeated that it wasn’t fair, and that he was there first. Well, that settles that.  He asking me if I knew anything about collective bargaining, and said that cabbies wanted to organize, and formally oppose Uber (beyond what the Taxicab Commission was doing I suppose).

A bill was recently advanced in France that would require Uber cars to wait fifteen minutes before letting a passenger in. Let’s see if the right to earn a living makes a surprise appearance in Paris.