My intuition, which is probably wrong, is that the model fails most straightforwardly when there are monopsonies playing the "source and allocate" role. The trouble is that many of these companies work on a "winner take all" go-to-market plan, which almost dictates that they end up controlling the market.
There have already been low-grade rumblings over this in the past. For instance, the Microsoft "Permatemp" scandal. But we can see the model taking hold across the economy --- see: drivers, housecleaning. My guess is that the long-term resolution for this is going to be legislative, and it's not going to make companies like Uber happy.
Essentially these are all simply lead generators with a feedback loop that have found a way to insert themselves directly into the billing process so merchants / suppliers become dependent on them. They can be a very hard habit to kick.
For instance, in NL we have 'thuisbezorgd' which started out very reasonable and is now positively extorting the restaurants they book their deliveries with.
It probably won't take that many more items in FLSA's classification list to fix the situation.
Oh! I did not know that - do you have any good resources on that story? (I'm interested because I'm their customer)
But not online (I can put you in touch with someone who is much more directly involved). The chances of retaliation are just too large.
The email address you entered couldn't be found or is invalid.
The problem is that the distinction is silly to begin with. If large companies have to provide various insurance and benefits but sole proprietors don't, the market is going to shift to the entity structure with lower operating costs. You either have to do it everywhere or not at all. But nobody wants to tell legitimate small business owners that they have to buy various insurance for themselves the cost of which would in actual fact make them uncompetitive against larger competitors.
The fundamental cause is that this is what capitalism does in markets where the supply of labor outstrips demand. What did people expect to happen when suddenly you could make $20/hour from unskilled labor? High prices spur an increase in supply and drive down prices. Works for labor the same as it does for bushels of wheat.
This is why the unionization attempts never work. Uber doesn't have a huge barrier to entry in its market. If you can provide an app to source rides which provides lower fares, customers are going to switch. So if Uber's drivers unionized and successfully demanded higher fares, customers would immediately switch to Lyft and Uber would go out of business. If Lyft's drivers then unionized it would create a market opportunity for a new competitor to come in and drive Lyft out of business by offering lower fares with non-union labor.
The problem for these drivers is not Uber, it's that there are many other drivers willing to do the same job for less money.
Your description why unions don't work is in fact the explanation why unions organize workers across different employers.
Your description why cheap labor will skip out on the unions is in fact the explanations why unions make economic sense for its members. You earn more in them than out of them.
Organized labor creates a level playing field across markets, simply because they have a shared interest with the unionized companies that they thrive and provide work for its members. It is a natural part of a healthy free market.
I don't think the problem described in the article is particularly unique or interesting. We've seen it before and we know the solution. What is new is that workers are called contractors and not workers, but the markets dynamics is largely the same.
It is similar to the use of the word act in "you act surprised". This is something you can say, even in writing, and people will generally understand what is meant.
What is important for a civil debate is not to pick on words, but to try to understand one another. If someone you are responding to writes something that can be understood in several ways, choose the one that is more flattering to their side of the argument.
That doesn't work when the employer's market has low entry barriers and the employees have low skills. As soon as you unionize all the existing employers you get a new employer hiring non-union employees and putting all the union employers out of business by charging lower prices.
> Your description why cheap labor will skip out on the unions is in fact the explanations why unions make economic sense for its members. You earn more in them than out of them.
It's not the union employees who go to work for the non-union employers. It's the unemployed. Until the non-union employers charging lower prices cause the union employers to lay off workers or go out of business, at which point the previously union employees become the unemployed and go work for the non-union employer since they can no longer work for the union employer.
> Organized labor creates a level playing field across markets, simply because they have a shared interest with the unionized companies that they thrive and provide work for its members. It is a natural part of a healthy free market.
Organized labor is an attempt to create a cartel of workers to balance a cartel of employers. The problem is it turns into a mess unless the balance is even and there is nothing to ensure that it is.
What am I missing about your argument?
The problem is people want to pretend that the choices they're making are not trade offs when they are.
You can't give the drivers a 50% raise and expect the money to come from Uber when Uber is taking 20% and have their own expenses. So the money has to come from passengers. But that violates the narrative of the evil corporation oppressing the poor workers. The passengers are mostly regular working class people. Transferring wealth to the working class from the working class is hardly social justice. Meanwhile supply and demand is still in operation so when the cost of rides go up the demand goes down, which means some of the drivers are going to lose their jobs and some of the passengers are going to try to drive home drunk.
The unions like to take credit for every good thing that came out of the 20th century, but the reason American kids today don't work in the mines has less to do with labor laws and more to do with the fact that a) modern American mines and manufacturing are highly automated and b) American families no longer need to send their kids into the mines.
Which is exactly how the labor situation should be addressed. Automate every crappy job we can so nobody has to suffer them, then take part of the massive productivity enhancement that brings and use it to provide a basic income. The basic income allows people to turn down unreasonable working conditions without starving and to make a living with a job that has reasonable working conditions but low pay.
I don't think that there's any historical truth to a notion that we simply one-to-one replaced domestic child labor with foreign child labor. And even if we did, putting aside the morality of it, why would it be a replacement and not a supplement? That is, if a hypothetical person is okay with child labor, why not have both their children AND foreign children go down into mines?
That is the point of a union.
> The fundamental cause is that this is what capitalism does in markets...
I'd argue that the current employer-provided insurance scheme in the U.S. is not an inevitability of capitalism but a historical accident resulting in nonsense-but-untouchable tax code. Health insurance should be taxed as income or should be deductible on personal income taxes. Employers-provided healthcare shouldn't be discounted.
> the supply of labor outstrips demand
This is a good point, though. And if the surplus of unskilled labor is a problem, why hasn't relaxed immigration enforcement come up in this discussion yet? If labor doesn't have enough leverage, wouldn't flooding the market with unskilled laborers be a much more important factor than employment status and business models?
We as a country are simply eroding our own need for (or at least focus on) unskilled labor. In fact, we're eroding "almost" all of our labor, unskilled, skilled, artistic, etc... Engineers, software devs/coders, and machinists are some of the only ones that have really escaped the purge, and even they're being eaten by foreign labor and technology. By its nature, entrepreneurs who want to make money try to find areas of the market where there is a cost/supply, productivity, or other form of inefficiency, and then fix it.
And they're doing a good job.
Whole ranges of American labor have been automated, crowd-sourced, or offshored right out of existence in the US (and world). See this chart by the MIT Tech Review that talks about it.  In particular, note the effect of changes in the service industries, such as Uber, which already make up a ridiculously large portion of our economy. Purely speculation, but I'm generally on the side of folks that think "first world problems" is very shortly going to represent having tons of productivity and no actual jobs.
I'm actually pro-immigration, but I do think wages and working conditions for native-born Americans would be better if large swaths of the economy weren't dominated by imported labor. It just seems like we're trying to have our cake and eat it to with respect to open borders and labor.
I do suspect that longer-term trends point to less demand for "unskilled" labor, but I believe that people have an unquenchable appetite for new things (artisanal carbon-neutral Bolivian gherkins) that can't be easily invented, sold, and managed by computers, even if certain tasks are performed entirely or partially be robots.
What about other startup benefits? Laundry, parking,air hockey tables, free food etc? Isn't the whole point of these benefits to increase effective salaries without increasing taxable wages? I've heard talk of looking at total employee compensation from an HR perspective, but the government doesn't see those as earnings.
Health insurance is entirely different, as it's fundamentally monetary in nature (in the form of premiums and underwriting other expenses). Not only should it be treated as (or more like) income, but having it funded so much by employers mean that a lot of people don't even know what they are paying for health care. It keeps them uninformed, which is yet another way it's not a "free market".
Health Care, like most services, is something we pay for. I agree that it would be better if it were less byzantine and it would be much more practical if healthcare were in priced independent of employment status. As it stands though, practically it is quite similar to any other benefit, except that sometimes, the cost is split between the employer and the employee. If you applied this logic to free startup food, it would be akin to allowing you to opt-in to the free food if you wanted it, with the company covering some percentage of the cost.
Its not a practical matter of whether or not we want to be taxed more, its how much we value the society our government enables and how much more we want to enable it. Our government could use a great deal of work to become more efficient, but that is not to say that the projects facing it don't also have a nearly infinite price tag (things could always be better)
I meant more that the second-order effects would probably be negative. I'm not interested in paying "my share" of tax for a new pool table, can I opt out by swearing that I'll never use it? Does my employer then have to police who uses it? Are there enough people willing to pay for it - even with the negative feedback of people opting out making it more expensive for those who opt in?
I think when you get into the area of free services (day care, dry cleaning, etc) it's much murkier. In many cases the free benefit replaces one that I would normally pay for, so it's not in the end much different from (say) a cash day care allowance.
You could say that it was due to new legislation in those areas but it could as well be that we simply became richer and richer people buy various comforts.
Post hoc ergo propter hoc and all that.
The costs are not usually lower; contractors can and should be charging a higher hourly rate than they would receive as staff, for exactly this reason: to cover benefits and ancillary costs.
Companies prefer contractors not because of lower employment expenses, but because it avoids a whole raft of employee/employer liability related to hiring and firing. Unlike employees, the liabilities between two companies are usually nearly completely constrained by the language of the contract.
I don't hold as much hope for this as you do. It's not a new situation, although the fact that I'm citing really recent coverage here is evidence that there may be some movement in the air. There are a lot of lobbying dollars going in the other direction, though.
Without unionizing, the prices will continue to be cut and they will continue to lose out. Going even further, lots of people are talking about the job creation boom associated with the sharing economy. However, in the case of Uber and Lyft, that's short term. In 10-15 years, does anyone actually think people will be driving cars for Uber in San Francisco? With the way things are going, auto-driving cars will take their place.
Unions could lobby the state legislature to make for auto-driving cab or ride services illegal without a driver in the car. Right now, they could make a serious case for that as a safety thing, since the technology is unproven. In 5-10 years, that won't be the case.
So yes, from the driver perspective, they have to unionize. If they don't they're finished sooner or later.
Every worker replaced by a robot is tremendous productivity gains for the economy. Or, moreso, for their boss. The sooner we accept that many people will soon be unemployable, and that is a good thing, the sooner we can move on with our society and not need to try forming unions to prevent progress out of fear of jobs that have no reason to exist and thus are a drain on everything.
The difference between slowly transitioning from one role to another and just getting cast aside as unemployed is profound.
Since we don't want to pay higher taxes, the government can't do it, since we don't want to make our infrastructure, national parks, etc into for profit companies, neither can they. A big problem with all of this free labor thats becomes available, is you need another company or the government to hire them to do something, the money has to come from somewhere.
The worker after all is suddenly saddled with being negatively valuable, in that he has to continue to meet his living expenses, and has to be retrained, either at the cost of his employer, himself, or the government OR he can go on welfare.
(That assumes that these people aren't used for something else considered to be useful for society: Consider the people who were displaced by using the computer to automate calculation or telephone operators. Basically, if robots cause mass unemployment in the long term people will become cheap).
At 1% interest a $1mm robot costs about $4.5k/mo on a 20 year note. At 6% it's $7k and at 10% it's nearly $10k.
When interest costs are so negligible it's very hard to justify hiring people and having to deal with all the regulations regarding employment. That might be another $500/mo or more and then there are benefits on top of that.
I'm not necessarily anti-regulation but I think a better statement would be pro-simplification. Don't eliminate protections for workers but do make it easy to comply by systematically refactoring the laws to get say 90% of the desired effect with substantially less words, statutes and loopholes.
Further, get the interest rate up to something approaching reasonable. Yeah housing prices will go down and people will be under-water in houses but at least the labor market can get reasonable again. Better that people have to declare bankruptcy but have jobs to continue to live and eat than to have a great priced house and no jobs to speak of.
The idea that the Fed is doing a great job of managing the economy should start to look more and more like a joke if you pay attention.
Many of those people are going to be unpleasantly surprised.
It is giving the people daycare. I do not relish the thought of a kindergarten society.
Note: I have nothing against spending on unemployed people (education etc) or welfare spending in other ways, I just don't like keep-busy kinds of activities.
We should channel our efforts to other ventures that would provide food, housing and health security for those losing their jobs due to automation.
Software can automate a really huge swath of jobs. From research (performing experiments) to art to physical checkup, it's a list that keeps growing.
While I essentially agree that such programs should lead to extremely high taxes followed by redistribution of tax money to people, right now it's not the model most western countries are moving towards.
What's needed is a different path to remuneration. Or a different way of allocation. A market failure that cannot be patched has already arrived in Europe and will come here, too.
The best way forward would be reeducation and training of professional drivers. One way to fund it would be recognizing the imminent future and creating a special tax on Uber-like businesses to channel funds toward driver training programs.
We're automating faster than we can create new jobs. In the long run, we'll figure something out. In the long run, however, we'll all be dead.
Is there any evidence of this? My assumption was that people are using Uber in situations where they otherwise would have called a regular taxi.
I don't have any hard data to support my claim. I can provide some anecdata about waiting for a Yellow Cab in SF in the mid 2000s. Sometimes they would arrive and other times they wouldn't.
But I agree, without a union the drivers won't get anything done. I think also the state should see those drivers as what they are, Uber employees. It shouldn't matter what Uber calls them. If someone works full time for one company they are employees of that company.
Airbnb: Have a room in your home or can leave your home, and allow others to rent it.
Taskrabbit: Have extra time you can sell
Say what you want about the ethics of either company, but users are free to negotiate prices.
A "sharing economy" car company would monetize spare capacity in cars and allows drivers/passengers post rates.
But that would be complicated. So Uber has adopted a fixed rate model. Whatever it's virtues, it's not sharing. It's just service for hire at a fixed rate.
And that's just fine. In terms of producing greater efficiencies from a fixed stock of privately held material resources, this approach can be a very good thing. However, you have to be careful when dealing with people who are too nervous or deluded to be honest about what they're actually doing, and who opt for a thick slathering of bullshit instead.
It would be wise to ditch the dishonesty a.s.a.p. Sticking with it runs the risk of being disrupted by organizations that can deal with regulation more effectively thanks to greater comfort with general transparency and basic integrity.
I can totally see why people are giving Uber and Lyft a bad rap now. Because the drivers are treating it like a job. And no wonder that they're now using employee-like terms such as "minimum wage" and "living wage".
Not to mention that so many people are probably desperate for an easy (to get and to hold) job like this that they've flooded the market. No wonder that Uber/Lyft is able to command their prices.
AirBnB and Uber facilitate both sharing and business type transactions, but the article seems to mixing these up to me in terms of the problem being expressed.
Now that the idea is proven, there's nothing stopping more competitors from building local app driven services to compete with them.
If you can organize thousands of drivers, you shouldn't bother with a union. You should just have them collectively fund their own driver owned app and compete with uber instead of asking for crumbs.
Sure, it might not be hard to write a ride allocation app that works like Uber. But getting a large number of people to change their habits to use the new service instead of Uber will be hard. Just getting them to be consistently aware of this new option will be expensive.
As a first mover, Uber benefited from enormous amounts of earned press. An Uber clone today will not get so much free coverage, and will have to spend money on marketing. That is a significant barrier to entry.
That is actually a large part of the problem. Competition from Lyft will force Uber to lower fares. Competition from a driver-union-app would force them to be even lower.
At some point, lowering fares will directly hurt uber. Prior to that point, it's hurting the drivers because uber doesn't care at all about drivers costs, and drivers are either not good at taking that into account, or have been screwed by falling fares.
Airbnb has given the sharing economy an inflated reputation, because they feed off a great business model: renting a scarce asset (land) with minimal marginal cost.
This isn't true in some cities, such as Boston, where weird politics have driven the cost of a medallions, required to operate a taxi, up to ridiculous levels (The Boston Globe did an excellent article series on this http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2013/03/30/spotlight/9eVWW7..., there are a lot of factors that go into cab fares, and some of them genuinely are stupid and antiquated.
When will amazon-uber come up and say to uber: "Your [20% profit] margin is my opportunity".
What's left to cover engineering & profit is probably only 2-3%.
You will be when your job gets automated. The challenge is to be able to think ahead of that event and not be left to react to it.
It would be tragically ironic if this article resulted in his being 'deactivated'.
It is more like a kind of gatekeeper discussion. Digitalization has moved the gate keeper role from media dinosaurs to agile startups and companies.
Uber can de-activate their users as well as Facebook can reduce organic visibility of fan pages or Google may kick you out of their index. The open internet that we have is still built upon the gate keeper behavior.
In the Uber case that clearly affects individuals, like taxi drivers, but in the case of Facebook, Twitter and Uber that can affect large companies, too.
So, may I read this article also as a manifest against "attention" monopolists?
Jacobin articles are rarely 'about' anything. Their primary mode of reasoning is like folk etymology on a discourse level. There's usually a fair amount of factual evidence included, but it's forced through a narrative -- that's there for the sake of appearing novel -- into a conclusion that doesn't logically follow from anything presented.
(I haven't read this one yet, but if it's anything like Against Chairs, my criticism should apply. Admittedly I'm doing the same thing in this comment that I'm criticizing Jacobin for doing.)
This domination of the tech side of old industries makes it especially hard for tech companies that want to disrupt the "old" companies because the market often assumes there is only room for one technological provider/disruptor per market service. This is similar to the first to market principle. If you get your service out there and generating new users before your competitor, you have an innate advantage over all the competition AND a great advantage over future companies using a similar model to yours. In the process of shutting out new, small tech companies, the competition is narrowed down to the "old" companies/interests in which the tech company has a clear new, tech-inspired advantage over, else why would they be called a disrupting tech startup?
So you have situations where 1 tech company, slowly morphing into a giant, effectively shuts out both the entrenched interests who cannot adapt fast enough to stem the hemorrhage of customers and the new interests who can't compete on either price or availability without a long ramp up and generally necessary venture capital. This creates a situation in which the contractors are taken advantage of, due to the lack of competition and complete monopoly that is slowly being acquired by the tech company.
Which means über can only maintain a monopoly with thin margins which is generally considered ok.
The fact is that there is no scarcity of people who can drive, so prices will be driven down to the point where a consumer can make a choice between a college student who is part-timing with a ten year old car and a full time driver with a brand new Prius. You might pay a small premium for the latter, but the former will be dirt cheap and they'll be paid next to nothing.
AirBnb is a sharing company that won't have this squeeze because the supply of properties is more bounded than the supply of drivers.
So even if there was a service that allowed old cars, there would probably be some segmentation.
If Uber or Lyft don't take advantage of the supply of drivers with 10 year old cars someone else will. So Uber and Lyft can either take that low-cost market under a different name and hope that they can maintain income at a quality point that doesn't pollute their brand, or someone else steps in and Uber/Lyft become merely services for people who would take limos.
Also, neither Lyft or Uber has much control over drivers signing up one car, then using a different one. It happens all the time.
Finally, many limousines are actually this old or older.
Maybe I'm splitting hairs, but does it bother anyone else that the 'Sharing Economy' is not sharing at all? Renting your assets out for use when you're not using them is entirely different than giving them to someone else to use and expecting nothing in return.
I think that this type of employer-employee relationship described is just being rebranded as "sharing economy" and "disruptor."
"As the economy evolves to a state where nearly everything can be delivered as a service, companies are increasingly tapping external expertise and resources they need — and on an as-needed basis — to fill skills and resource gaps and to accommodate rapidly changing business and customer demands. That means more temporary staff, more consultants and contract workers, and even “crowd-sourced” projects. In fact, of those companies surveyed as part of Workforce 2020, 83 percent of executives say they will be increasing the use of contingent, intermittent or consultant employees. " (Source, Workforce 2020 study, Oxford Economics, SAP)(http://www.successfactors.com/en_us/lp/workforce-2020-insigh... - need to register to download)
I laughed when I first heard the term "contingent labor". We all know that companies like Uber, and a whole host of companies that rely on contractor drivers/deliverydrivers will be the first to buy self-driving cars. That Uber would tout their job-creating function is pretty low. They would love to cut out the drivers and run 24/7. The sad part is, engineers could probably figure out optimizing algorithms that would make the service better if it didn't have human drivers, and maybe even cheaper.
I haven't reached the point yet where I give up on these kind of services, but its close. I feel badly that we aren't coming up with jobs as fast as we are coming up with ways to get rid of them.
There's more polish on an Uber vehicle than any car or cab in my neighborhood. It seems odd to use the word "sharing" for something that seems like ultra professional service - even on the low UberX end.
Is Uber offering financing?
And as our knowledge, e.g. of long-term health effects, continues to grow, such topics remain open for further analysis and refinement.
Perhaps Ken Burns could put together a series on the economic history of the U.S., for example. (Perhaps those spreadsheets are more interesting when subjected to a slow pan... ;-)
Seriously, though. Last year I got sucked into yet another discussion of recent politics, and I suggested putting the whole situation under a comprehensive cost accounting analysis. For the other parties in the discussion, it -- a bit surprisingly, to me -- seemed to be something of a "lightbulb moment".
It's unfortunate people associate the Jacobins and the Revolution with Robespierre, when it was much more Thomas Paine-esque.
Either developed countries implement some variation of basic income or the social order will go down in flames. Unskilled labour, such as taxi drivers, will be commoditized and become interchangable. If anti-Uber initiatives and quasi-unions will get more power it will only increase the incentives to getting self-controlled cars on the roads. The automation-worker conflict can't be won by humans and can't be wished away.
Socialists (an outdated term for the society to come) should choose their battles much more wisely and concentrate efforts on developing and implementing of sustainable models of creating and redistributing wealth geared towards 90% of population.
Anti-Uber sentiment and the likes aren't sustainable and will fail.
The comoditization of labour (skilled and unskilled - don't think that you are immune) is already well underway anyway, and Uber makes little difference to the process. The number of Uber drivers is tiny compared to the number of warehouse pickers, fast food workers, cleaners, social carers, designers, labourers, mechanics etc etc who are on zero hours contracts or have been reclassified as self employed contractors.
The main reason to talk about Uber is that it's in the public consciousness at the moment, not because transport drivers are a special case. I guess it also has a lot of high profile backers. So we can talk about how Paul Graham thinks European countries lack 'entrepreneurial spirit' because they want drivers on their roads to be insured. Uber is a case where the capitalists got their order of attack slightly off. They needed to 'disrupt' the idea of insurance first, because at the moment there is a widespread understanding of the need for driver insurance and going against that just makes you look like a massive asshole. It's always helpful in a debate when your opponent keeps scoring own-goals, as Ubers cheerleaders do.
The example of Uber is appealing, because it's probably an easy victory. Maybe Uber will get insurance laws rewritten and in a few years we will all be enjoying the freedom of driving on roads without the regulative burden of mandatory insurance. That won't be an easy argument to win though, even with massive wealth of their backers and assistance from lobbyists like ALEC . So I strongly disagree with your description of anti-uber sentiment as doomed to failure.
Either you act on strategy that sustainably benefits the poor and the middle class or you attack "capitalists". When a self-professed socialist regurgitates same points about the evil ways of Uber (which may be absolutely true), he or she doesn't help the poor. Or even drivers in the long-term.
Concentrate on the important issues. Even if you win against Uber, cars will be automated sooner. That's all.
Anti-Uber articles certainly increase the author pageviews though.
Oh, and I am perfectly sure that my job as an entrepreneur, programmer and marketer will be automated, too. A little bit later, but the Singularity won't spare anyone's job.
And they better start soon. Unless there is a path to obtaining material comfort outside of a free-market economy, the only people with comfortable lives will be those who start their lives with capital, those who win the genetic lottery, and those who have a strong guild-like organization putting a thumb on the scales on their behalf.
This will become evident in Europe when QE-like measures fail to do anything about unemployment.
> Anti-Uber sentiment and the likes aren't sustainable and will fail.
Obviously. Uber will evolve into a marketplace for renting out privately owned self-driving vehicles. The humans are not needed.
Absoltely. However, developing countries will be hit sooner and much harder. Factories and large industries will be brought back to developed countries and automated with extreme efficiency. China, India, Southeast Asia, any country where economies are reliant on cheap labour and export of manufuctured goods to developed countries will be ravaged with rapid increase of unemployment. Governments are clueless, social safety nets are nearly absent, educational facilities are subpar. There is currently very little that can be done by individual countries to even mitigate the fallout, forget about fixing it.
The storm is coming.
Only really cheap energy and resources can literally save the world. That's why I am hopeful for asteroid mining and nuclear/fusion energy. However, the fair distribution of the newly created wealth is extremely important too. But humanity as a collective is really bad at that.
I'm not sure what drivers are grumbling about. As a driver, I have to say, I knew what I was getting in to, and I have a plan to get out of it. I'm still ok, though, since I drive a very fuel-efficient car that seems to have had zero mechanical issues (cross fingers) in the 60,000 miles I have driven for the two services.
Whether or not the article is right is another matter, obviously.
There are many other businesses which facilitate the connection of contractor to customer, but we don't call them part of the sharing economy. This is true even when they provide the tools (e.g. car) in addition to their services (e.g. driving). The fundamental difference for me comes down to whether they are providing this service as their primary means of livelihood (in which case it's a job), or are they simply looking to make better use of a resource (e.g. car) that they already own but do not fully utilize.
Uber seems to be used for both "job" and "share," but the problems seem to be with the former.
...by shifting risk from corporations to workers, weakening labor protections, and driving down wages.
This article isn't about how to maximize profit, it's about how profit is being maximized.
Considering that the workers own the means of production, this is a curious thing to say.
The claim is that Uber et al have developed a way to own the upsides (aka positive cash flows) associated with the means of production, while externalizing the downsides (repair bills, depreciation, insurance, bodily harm from accidents, etc) onto the workers. And even in a strictly limited literal sense, the cars are bought on credit, so the bank owns them.
Maybe I'm being overly optimistic here...
We developers can often write an app that is technically competent, but then it never pulls in the users. In the case of Uber, they not just have a successful app and brand that people know and download, but the app also needs to have a large network of drivers in it to provide good service. The vast majority of drivers I've ever had gave me their personal business card, but I never use them since I'd have to call and negotiate a time and a price - and the price they start at is often more than just booking them through Uber or SuperShuttle or whatever. So these guys aren't getting the fares on their own, Uber is clearly providing some benefit.
It is precisely these network effects which are both benefiting Uber and working against the drivers. By training users to go to Uber for their ride-sharing needs, the drivers now have to also use Uber if they want to get passengers. Sure, you have a bunch of individual drivers' business cards, but you're probably _less_ likely to get a ride from any of those drivers than if Uber had never wrangled them in the first place. Meanwhile, the drivers have invested a good deal of money and effort into an industry in which they may not have chosen to participate if Uber hadn't recruited them.