A Lyft driver

In November, San Francisco voters defeated an anti-Airbnb ballot measure, but the bitter battle highlighted growing anxiety over the “sharing economy”. In his new book “Raw Deal”, author Steven Hill takes on Airbnb, as well as Uber, Lyft and TaskRabbit, arguing for greater regulations on their operations and safety-net protections for workers.

Guests:
Steven Hill, fellow, New America Foundation; author of "Raw Deal: How the "Uber Economy" and Runaway Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers"

  • EIDALM

    Yes it is , while Uber top elites are cashing on 100’s of million , their crummy drivers are fighting over few crumbs , ,destroying the Taxi companies and exposing their passengers to extremely unsafe conditions,as well as destroying whatever little is left of the American middle class,,,,Shared economy is a bogus word created by elites and the money machine to their robbery of the American people and the story goes on.

    • A Different Perspective

      “Shared economy” is Orwellian, an oxymoron. “To the winner (ie, the shrewdest IT gimmick), go the spoils.”

    • Lowell Goss

      I find it hard to believe that anyone would defend taxi companies. Taxi commissions have been used by a small number of rich medallion owners to create monopolies that make access to transportation limited. DC, NY and many other cities have had corruption scandals involving the taxi industry.

  • Reverend Lurlean Tucker

    This is the same kind of exploitation economy that kept Southern plantations in business for generations — both before and after Reconstruction. The rich get richer (thinking they’re just working harder than everyone else, when they really aren’t) and the poor get crushing student debt that keeps them out of what was once the middle class until their forties. Those who can’t afford student loans now form an underclass eking out subsistence working at thankless McJobs in the low-wage service industries. That’s hardly a firm foundation!

  • Pontifikate

    With government regulations that lag the speed of business developments and don’t come down hard on businesses that start operating illegally (Airbnb and uber) and then don’t enforce the law or collect taxes, what chance do we have to put a stop to the corporatocracy?

  • Sean Dennehy

    I’ve been arguing against the part-time uber economy for a while now. These corporate models need to be quashed as soon as possible or else we’ll see a future where everyone’s work is part time, everyone’s home is temporary, and no one has any certainty about the future.

    • Noelle

      Precarity!

  • Noelle

    It would be nice to work part time in order to have better work-life balance, however, we have not figured out how this can translate to a living wage.

    • William – SF

      Would be better to have sufficient work that offers a life beyond work. (I have 3 passions beyond work, only 1 of which I can make 3 hours a week to pursue. That sucks. And retirement seems elusive.)

      Why exactly are we all so dependent on our jobs?

      What exactly do we want our society to look like?

      What are we all working for?

      • And

        We’re all working so big corporations can make more money.

  • marte48

    ALL employment in California is on an “at will” basis. Whether it is called “permanent” or “contract” the employer can let you go for any reason, or no reason at all. They do not have to have a reason or give you a reason, and they are not required to give you any notice. And there is nothing new about this. It has been the policy for years.

  • TimDoyle

    It’s a race to the bottom. It’s Capitalism run amuck like the 1800s.

  • eriksf

    The other problem with being self employed and middle class is that your healthcare costs are outrageous under the Affordable Care Act. For my wife and I we pay $12,000 per year for insurance and have a combined $12,000 max out of pocket. This year our total costs out of pocket will be $18,000.

    This forces one person to enter into full time employment for health benefits. Add to this the self employment tax and it’s super clear America is discouraging the growth of small business.

    • Tony Rocco

      Whether your health care costs are outrageous or not depends on whether you qualify for subsidies. If you earn $47K or less, you qualify for some kind of subsidy. A good insurance agent can help you save money on health insurance by getting the subsidy you qualify for.

      • eriksf

        I have the cheapest policy available (47K or less for subsidies in the Bay Area is obviously absurd). I’ve spent days researching this. There are no alternatives. I’m part of the 5% of Americans who fall into this category (self employed, make too much for subsidies, no good options). I sent out letters to politicians, white house, journalists etc after the ACA was launched expressing my outrage at this abyss that has been created for the self employed under this program and they all said you’re correct. You’re part of the 5% who have no good options.

        • EricWelch

          The best solution would be to extend Medicare to everyone. ACA is just a band-aid on a ridiculous system.

          • Tony Rocco

            Agreed.

  • De Blo

    The real problem is that excess regulation is hurting the rate at which Sidecar, Airbnb, and Uber are expanding. This guest is trying to crush technologies that have made our communities and lives much better and allowed thousands of folks to save their homes and cars and make a few extra bucks. This guest sounds reasonable, but he is attacking the livelihoods of all of our neighbors who rely on Airbnb as hosts.

    • TimDoyle

      De Blo, you are a PR shill for one of these companies.

  • Ben Rawner

    Though I agree that uber and other sharing companies drop the ball when it comes to taking care of its employees, they fulfill a need. Taxis and uber costs about the same, the only difference is that uber is 5 min away at most, while ur lucky if a cab gets to you in an hour in the city. When you say 50% of the airbnb locations are from real estate investors , it is ignoring the other 50% who need airbnb just to survive. Disruption kills dinosaurs, including those lazy dinosaurs that live off the work of labor activists of the past. People have to become active again and take ownership of our society. Too many years of expecting the gov to protect us.

    • A Different Perspective

      All business needs to be regulated. (period). That is the hallmark of a civil society.

    • William – SF

      Ordered a cab Friday night in the Presidio – took 6 min to arrive.

      • Ben Rawner

        So u took a cab during the busiest nights of the week? And they showed up? How about 4 am somewhere other than the mission. Cab drivers are cool and I hope that they make that cool cash.

  • steppenwolf

    Excellent discussion. This author Steven Hill is very articulate and smart. I must say that Michael Krasny and Forum continue to put together a long, long string of informative shows. I depend on you!

  • Sam Badger

    Traditionally, socialist thinkers argued that the very basis of Capitalism is the exploitation of workers. It seems what makes companies like Uber so innovative is in their ability to find creative new ways of doing this through the loopholes of our regulatory system. At least Uber workers have some personal freedom compared to temps!

    • A Different Perspective

      Yes, “Be happy with your “gourmet” (innovative gimmick) crumbs!”

  • Alex

    Why doesn’t your guest just propose taxing these companies to provide a better social safety net? Relying on employers to provide the safety net (health care, social security, etc) has always been a bad idea and calcifies the forty-hour work week.

  • Another Mike

    Uber is merely the latest step in worker exploitation. At first, the cab driver was a company employee. Then the cab companies thought they could make more money by leasing cabs to the drivers. Finally, Uber makes the drivers buy their own vehicles.

    • Ben Rawner

      It’s all about the money. But it’s a business not a public service. Every business’ ultimate motive is profit. To be unprofitable means u are the government or nonexistent in the world of business. At the same time every municipality around the WORLD needs to make sure that Uber fits into its model. The only similarities would probably be that Uber uses serge pricing tha uses really complicated algorithms to take ur cash.

    • Tony Rocco

      How is it exploitation to give someone the option of driving for Uber or Lyft? Take away Uber and Lyft and all you’ve done is deprive people of a source of income. You haven’t scored any points for worker rights. No one has to work for these firms if they don’t like the terms of employment, it’s entirely voluntary. Do something else for someone else if that is your preference, but don’t tell Uber and Lyft that they can’t exist or that they have to change their business model.

      • Another Mike

        The analogy would be if my grandmother, voluntarily working for a sweatshop, being paid piecework, would have been required to buy her own industrial sewing machine before she could start earning.

        • Tony Rocco

          That is a specious argument because people who drive for Uber or Lyft already own cars. No one would buy a car just to drive for one of these companies. They are simply giving people who already own a car the option of deriving an income from using it to transport other people around. I know two people right now whose livelihoods depend substantially on Uber and Lyft. Believe me, they aren’t complaining about the Uber business model.

          • pastramiboy

            that is not the only truth-there are services which lease prius’ to people to use them only for ride sharing-so the sewing machine analogy is accurate I’m afraid.

          • Tony Rocco

            Anyone leasing a car just to drive for Uber or Lyft would be very foolish…

          • De Blo

            Amen.

        • De Blo

          People already own cars and already sometimes drive them. The only difference is you install the Sidecar or Uber app on your phone is that you are helping to reduce congestion by ride sharing/ carpooling with a passenger. It is a true win-win situation. Do you really think that installing an Uber passenger app on your cell phone somehow reduces your efficiency at your job or requires you to quit your job?

    • De Blo

      There is absolutely no exploitation. I have installed both the Sidecar and Uber apps and they have been a pure good: when I have picked up a passenger, I have met interesting people, reduced our carbon footprint, traffic congestion, and pollution, and made a few extra bucks. Ride sharing is a pure good. This misconception that someone who installs a ride sharing driver app on his phone is going to quit his job is 100% inaccurate. I still make the same $200,000+ in my job; the only difference is that sometimes when I drive my car I am carpooling/ ride sharing.

  • Gene Keenan

    Uber drivers have told me they can cut be cut for dropping to 4.6 rating which if my elementary math still works is 92/100 or an A rating.

  • John

    Lyft drivers are much friendlier and you don’t have to worry about supporting Uber and its awful CEO.

  • Gene Keenan

    Drivers are extracting equity out of their car for short term gain. The typical driver doesn’t understand this until it is too late. If Uber and other ride sharing companies really cared about it’s contractors they would provide them with tools and education on how to set up a small business so they can at least get some tax advantages.

    • A Different Perspective

      Uber drivers will be in for a rude awakening when they go to file their US taxes and find out they have to pay an additional self-employment tax rate of 15.3%.

      • Tony Rocco

        As a freelance writer, I make it my business to know about tax liability. No one working on a 1099 basis should be surprised about the taxes they have to pay. All you have to do is research it a bit and you can find out. I plan to pay out about a third of my gross income in taxes, including state, federal and FICA. That’s the way it goes…

      • Another Mike

        Uber drivers will be in for a rude awakening when they file their US taxes, and find out the government will penalize them for not having paid quarterly estimated taxes on their earnings.

  • Lowell Goss

    Steven demonstrates a deep misunderstanding of how regulation works in the US. A significant factor in the success of innovation in the United States rests on a practice of reactive rather than proactive regulation. Our system rests on a core idea that whatever is not expressly forbidden is legal. This allows new companies to try things without needing to wait for long periods of consideration as regulators try to figure out what to do. This has served us very well over the past 230 years.

    This does not mean that we should not react to emergent problems and work to fix them. AirBnB and Uber have had tremendous positive effects that we should not ignore. Uber has enabled residents of SF to realistically navigate their lives in the city without owning a car. Given the state of public transport in SF this is a significant good. Uber has put pressure on corrupt taxi practices in countries around the world where medallion owners accrued the lion’s share at the expense of drivers.

    • TimDoyle

      RE: “Given the state of public transport in SF”. I don’t think free market caos is a solution to San Francisco’s transportation problems.

    • De Blo

      Amen.

    • Gene Keenan

      I think you misunderstand what he is saying. He is calling for regulation now which is appropriate. Putting a lot of private cars on the road which is only carrying 1-2 people is also not a scalable solution to SF’s transit problems.

      • Lowell Goss

        Car sharing is projected to reduce the number of cars on the road by 1.2M by 2020.

        • Gene Keenan

          Sorry, I thought we were talking about San Francisco.

    • A Different Perspective

      “Whatever is not expressly forbidden is legal,” is a devious, sub-criminal mentality that erodes any sense of social responsibility and ethical business practice. It “corrupts” (your term) business-as-usual into a “get away with whatever you can” race_to_the_bottom-line in an unregulated, so-called free-market economy.

      • Lowell Goss

        Here’s a bit of extra info from Wikipedia. “Everything which is not forbidden is allowed” is a constitutional principle of English law — an essential freedom of the ordinary citizen. The converse principle — “everything which is not allowed is forbidden” — applies to public authorities, whose actions are limited to the powers explicitly granted to them by law.”

  • Michael Anthony

    There is no exploitation here you idiots. This is about opening up a whole new class for people who want to work but not be tied down to a job. There is nothing wrong with people who work part time.

    • Gene Keenan

      Your first sentence points out who the real idiot is here. Calling people idiots: SMH.

    • Another Mike

      With Uber, you could easily be losing money, focusing on revenue and not on your operating costs.

    • A Different Perspective

      With your ‘diss’, I guess you missed the entire discussion. You disagree with the premise that all businesses should be regulated? Coal burning, oil companies, toxic waste, food & drugs, labor laws, etc? Who is the “idiot” here? I.e. Who is not thinking critically? Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

  • Natalie

    Agreed! This is an excellent, intelligent conversation. A friend of mine was just in an accident with her Uber driver. Scary. Do your guests think that this “gig economy” includes other more “traditional” independent contractors, such as violinists driving all around the region playing short-term orchestra gigs and adjunct professors? In my experience, many abuses happen in these arenas, too.

    • De Blo

      Taxi drivers also have car accidents with passengers.

      • Natalie

        Yes, you do and I do, too. The issue in conversation was the unknown insurance protection. How do we trust our lives? Is it truly just a friend sharing a ride or is it a professional driver?

        • De Blo

          Normally just a friend sharing a ride, but the ride sharing app companies like Sidecar and Uber do provide insurance and background checks and use ratings of passengers and drivers to make ride sharing much safer than, for example, taking a taxi.

    • And

      Adjunct professors are such a rip off.

  • Michael Anthony

    Is Steven Hill looking to be the new Cesar Chavez.. please let’s not bring our economy back to the 1930’s. There is nothing wrong with monetizing downtime. Steven is very afraid of change in all honesty.

    • Chris J.

      Did you even listen to the show? One of his main points is that more and more full-time workers are being replaced by part-time workers with no benefits and barely getting by. There is an erosion of a safety net for workers and a race to the bottom in terms of wages and benefits.

  • Janet Prochazka

    This is the future. We need to embrace, not go backwards.

    • Gene Keenan

      Interesting perspective. Many believe the Islamic state is the future too: We should embrace it.

    • Michael Anthony

      Completely agree. Let’s get on board.

    • Natalie

      This may be part of our future, but we must discuss how to go forward without abuses. These guests do not suggest we go backwards.

    • And

      Did you even listen to the guest? Or read any of these comments?

  • Gene Keenan

    Techcrunch acted as a Post Mates courier for a day and they made less than $7/hour doing it. http://techcrunch.com/2012/07/02/postmates-courier-for-a-day/

  • TimDoyle

    Flooding the streets with “on-call” cars are not going to solve anything unless we build double-decker streets. Oh don’t mention the word double decker buses as one of those unregulated business models is being sued after the accident on Post St last week.

  • Another Mike

    The beauty of the sharing economy for the companies is that virtually no capital investment is required at all: no cars, no medallions, no garages, just a few laptops while purchasing computer power as needed. This permits tremendous returns on invested capital.

  • De Blo

    The idea that Sidecar and Uber could contribute to congestion seems absurd. Thousands of folks who used to drive before Uber have stopped driving and are commuting via ride sharing. I have at least two friends who sold their cars and multiple friends who installed the Uber partner app so they could pick up passengers on their commute. Ride sharing is an efficient and green use of the automobile.

  • marte48

    When Lockheed layed off 20,000 people in the early 90’s, we were all told by the NOVA “counselors” that we would never have permanent jobs again.

    • Another Mike

      Defense industry workers were sheltered from many of the harsh realities of the free market. Reorienting them was hard.

  • Another Mike

    What does Air bnb do that Craigslist cannot also do?
    What value is added by the corporate victors of the sharing economy?

    • Tony Rocco

      You should learn more about Air BnB before you ask such questions… It’s clear they offer more than CL or no one would use them and pay a service fee to do so.

      • Another Mike

        So you don’t know, either?

        • Tony Rocco

          I do know, having used the service. It’s not my job to inform you…

          • Another Mike

            No, if you actually knew the answers to my questions you would have shared them with me.

  • Tony Rocco

    I am not sure why everyone is so down on Uber and Lyft and other companies of like ilk. There are now thousands of people earning an income when they would otherwise not be able to do so. It seems to be a net gain, to me. Granted, no one is getting rich, but as long as these firms are fairly regulated to ensure the safety of those who use them, I am fine having them around. I know cabbies don’t like it, but competition – better goods and services at lower cost – is what a free market economy is all about. Keep in mind, too, that it is just a matter of time before automated cars replace both Uber/Lyft and cabbies altogether. Some day we’ll look back at the “good old days” when people could earn a living driving people around in their cars…

    • Another Mike

      Imagine if Marriott did not have to build hotels, furnish them, hire security or maids or desk clerks, etc., but somehow collected a healthy fee anyways.

      • Tony Rocco

        That’s called Air BnB…

      • And

        Or be liable when someone gets hurt at their hotel.

        • Another Mike

          Too true.
          Remember when Elie Wiesel was dragged from an elevator and beaten, in an SF hotel?
          And Alex Trebek had to chase down a burglar when he stayed at the Marriott.

          • And

            Totally changed my impression of Alex Trebek to badd azz.

  • Another Mike

    Uber’s website reveals nothing about the details of working for them unless you sign up as a driver. An independent website says the starting charge is $1 a mile plus 18 cents a minute, of which Uber takes 20%.
    But the IRS assumes it costs 57.5 cents a mile to operate a car. And the margin between the 80 cents Uber gives you and the 57.5 cents that it costs to operate is quite slim.

  • EricWelch

    Uber is just the latest to adopt a model that’s been in place in universities and colleges for decades where graduate assistants and adjunct faculty are exploited equally or perhaps worse than Uber drivers. They get much lower pay and no benefits, yet have the same expectations for performance as full-time faculty who also get offices, paid leave, sabbaticals, etc., etc. I wish Steven Hill would also go after academia.

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