Economy & Business

Hillary Clinton’s Uber Speech Belongs in 1930s America

(Photo Illustration: NRO)

It is a supreme irony of modern American life that the political movement that terms itself “progressive” is, in the economic realm at least, increasingly passionate about the status quo. Speaking today about the burgeoning “gig economy,” presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton could not help herself but to set modernity firmly within aging ideological tram-lines. Developments such as AirBnBZaarlyUberDogVacay, and RelayRides, Clinton conceded, are not likely to “go away” any time soon. But they are worrying nonetheless. Indeed, the “sharing economy,” she proposed, is “polarizing” and it is disruptive — guilty of no less than “displacing or downgrading blue-collar jobs.” Technological advances, she concluded, must not “determine our destiny.”

And who should “determine our destiny”? Why, Hillary Clinton of course!

In the eyes of us free-marketeers, the teams behind the host of new peer-to-peer services are no less than digital liberators. For us, the arrival of a system such as Uber is salutary, not scary: It is an end to waiting in the rain for a state-approved cab; it is the key to a transportation experience a cut above that which is provided by the cartels; it is the source of golden opportunities for those who wish to construct odd or custom-built work schedules or to make money without answering to a boss. That a few ingenious programmers have found a way around the artificial scarcity, state-union collusion, and high barriers to entry that The Man has seen fit to impose is, in our view, an extremely positive development. More of this, please.

But for Hillary Clinton? It is a death knell. Like Bill de Blasio before her, Clinton has seen the list of newly available iPhone apps, and she has grasped her own obsolescence.

RELATED: Woman Who Hasn’t Driven Since 1996 Denounces Uber

If he is smart, the eventual Republican nominee will spend 2016 casting Clinton as the spirit animal of a washed-out and intellectually bankrupt generation that belongs nowhere near the levers of power. If they are really smart, the broader party will make this case broadly and perpetually — and long after next year’s election is over. All political movements are guilty of nostalgia, certainly. But few of them refuse to acknowledge their sentimentality in quite the same way as does the wing of the Democratic party to which Clinton is currently attempting to agglutinate herself. From self-described “conservatives,” one expects a Burkean preference for the tried and tested. From “progressives” — and yes, Hillary used the word today – not so much.

Like Bill DeBlasio before her, Clinton has seen the list of newly available iPhone apps, and she has grasped her own obsolescence.

Economically, the Clinton-Sanders-Warren-O’Malley project is stuck squarely in 1938. Theirs is a country in which tax rates can be set without reference to global competition; in which the taxi commission and the trade union are the heroes while the entrepreneurs and the dissenters are a royal pain in the ass; in which families can simply not be trusted to determine which services suit their needs and which do not. It’s a country in which our heinously outdated, grossly illiberal, neo-Prussian educational system is to be set more firmly in place — even as it crumbles and falls. It is a country in which the state must determine which firms are Good and which firms are Bad, and reward or punish them according to its whim. It is a country in which Upton Sinclair is an up-and-coming writer, and in which anybody who doubts the efficacy of federal control is in danger of falling headfirst into a rendering vat.

#related#Most important, perhaps, it is an America in which one’s opportunity to customize one’s life is reserved to the social and sexual spheres. Sure, the freelance writer in Brooklyn and the on-off driver who picks him up might think that they are entering into a mutually beneficial contract. The backpacking student from California and the Chicago apartment owner who hosts him might think that they have been liberated by technology, and the stay-at-home parent who makes knick-knacks and sells them on Etsy might think that he has a sweet deal. But from Hillary Clinton’s intolerably prescriptive perspective, they have failed to think through the consequences of their arrangements. One can tell a great deal about a person’s broader worldview by asking them a simple question: “Should one person who hopes to pay another person to perform a legal service be restricted from doing so by the state?” That Clinton used the words “crack” and “down” when attempting to answer that inquiry should worry you.

RELATED: Hillary Clinton and the Youth Vote

Once upon a time in a faraway place, many of the policies preferred by the Democratic party of 2015 were at least practically defensible. Because most of the rest of the world had been destroyed by total war, the federal government could impose pretty much whatever taxes and regulations it liked without fear that employers would move elsewhere. Because most people worked in a single industry for their entire careers, they were often in genuine need of both a uniform system of schooling and of adequate representation in the workplace. Because good information was generally hard to get hold of, bureaucrats could act as virtuous protectors of the unwittingly ignorant, and not as cynical reapers of public treasure. That country is gone, and in its place is a big, diverse, fractured mess. We are all struggling to work out how to navigate our way through the chaos. But only some of us are taking aim at the navigators.

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