Uber, the riding sharing company, has recently under gone a run of bad publicity. Ok so maybe thats a understatement as #DeleteUber continues to trend. But are these perhaps just hallmarks of what is a fundamentally a toxic, but currently profitable, business model?

Efficiency savings, or the pursuit of them, has been the mantra of business and government for many years as a way of creating wealth and value. Uber is just the latest in a long line of companies who have sought to enter and disrupt a sector through delivering such efficiencies.

Uber’s disruption of the market is clearly seen by considering its position with the surrounding business eco system. Uber as an app only service could have been positioned as a user to business to business service. A service that allows the individually to immediately secure a taxi through trusted local taxi services.

However Uber’s sought to go beyond this middle man service and instead created its own driving force, which critically it then seeks to disavow.

The creation of this literal driving force has perhaps been facilitated by a number of external factors,

  • the presence of GPS systems deskilling a trade, local detailed geographically knowledge is no longer required
  • the great depression creating redundancy cheques to facilitate vehicle purchase
  • the great depression creating low interest rate environments again facilitating vehicle ownership
  • the great depression creating labour with reduce wage expectations
  • the prevalence of smartphones and realtime data aware apps

These factors combine to create a large, human driving force who could then be leveraged into a owned market. That of private hire vehicle.

This owned market is then encouraged to manifest into a gig market. This gig market creates the gig economy presenting as easy for individuals to enter into, requiring no ongoing commitment and offering no coherent individual branding opportunities. Critically as the owner of the market they seek to claim no ownership of the labourers within the market which also prevents the bonding of employees into unions. Consequently they then excuse themselves from the typical employer obligations. It is this, that creates the efficiencies and grants Uber a competitive edge.

This model is increasingly prevalent in a number of different industries (food delivery) and typically leverages similar factors. It then typically seeks to create and control a market to then disavow employer responsibility.

As a business model the primary advantage (or efficiency), is through the redefinition of the employee/employer relationship to create cost savings. This new type or employee relationship, non exclusive and non committal, may become the primary method of employment. To suggest it is bad is to simplest. However, I would suggest that it is intrinsically incompatible with the anticipated norm of PAYE, employer national insurance contributions and the identification of on shore profit.

Companies of this model can perhaps be anticipated to pay limited national insurance contributions, limited local and national tax, limited employee benefits and even evade the need to provide sustaining employment, for as long as new entrants can be found.

While Uber is a possible example of this concern, it is clear that Uber intends to move from this model in the future. Human drivers are likely to be replaced by automated self driving cars. Consequently, while concern at the emergence of the gig economy owned markets is valid, the drive of future large scale automation systems perhaps makes such concerns temporary and a distraction from larger existential employment problems.

I think its fair to say that within the UK Tony Blair has become a somewhat reviled character. Many of the supporters would voted for him in the elections he won have since abandoned him and the centralist politics of new labor have certainly been abandon firstly in name of austerity and now in the name of Brexit.

I personally found the New Labour third way concerning due to clear failure to represent the core labour vote throughout its tenure, the sneaky craftiness of the working tax credits redistribution project, the introduction of tuition fees and of course the war in Iraq.

However rational argument does not depend on the individual bur rather the quality of the argument as all people are flawed.

The best of men are but men at best… (J. Flavel The Method of Grace (1681))

However his recent speech (Full text) at Open Britain (Feb 2017) perhaps hints towards the formation of a true resistance towards Brexit and the quality of discourse missing throughout the referendum.

For this I am willing to consider the quality of the argument. I have blogged regarding my support for the EU many times and continue to hold that opinion. I am also of the opinion that the EU Referendum represents a point in time and that we should all feel free to continue to campaign in support of and in opposition of this issue like all others.

In fact my main complaint with the campaigning around the EU Referendum was the lack of positive pro European messaging. The project fear approach, successful in the Scottish Independence vote, offered nothing in response to the wild, unattainable promises of hope that the leave campaign offered. To this end I feel there is still a case to made and test by the public and perhaps such an opportunity will present it self soon. A case for greater European integration, greater unity in Europe and a full participation by the UK in the European project.

Blair conclude his presentation with a call to action,

“This is not the time for retreat, indifference or despair; but the time to rise up in defence of what we believe – calmly, patiently, winning the argument by the force of argument; but without fear and with the conviction we act in the true interests of Britain.”

With the release of yesterdays Housing White paper complete with a policy paper entitled Fixing our broken housing market is government about to take action?

The paper is rather frank at times,

This country doesn’t have enough homes. That’s not a personal opinion or a political calculation. It’s a simple statement of fact. (Secretary of State 2017)

The white paper offers the current preferred typical government strategy, placing targets for others and claiming it as action. Disappointedly in this situation the building targets set for others are perhaps under whelming and lacking in vision.

More fundamentally the white paper does little to deal with the the larger existential questions surrounding the housing crisis.

Is it appropriate for a substantial amount of the wealth of the UK to be trapped within property of which the appreciation of is almost unusable?

Should speculative, appreciation of fixed assets be the primary additional means of paying for elderly care and augmenting for pension income?

Is it appropriate the most substantial act of money creation in society is based around debt creation to purchase housing?

Does the government believe that the imaginable future of work is one which will support the ongoing purchasing of accommodation?

Is it acceptable for people to be homeless in 2017 in the UK?

It would be interesting to see a white paper which examines these fundamental housing questions.

After considering possible effective methods of protest recently I was greatly intrigued to see the outbreak of #DeleteUber.

The hash tag #DeleteUber was born out of perceived strike breaking by Uber of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance strike at JFK airport in New York. I suspect it was also informed by the decision of Uber CEO Kalanick to work with the current presidential administration.

The Verge has a good referenced account of the event. Curbed also has a well written account including response of the other players in the ride sharing industry.

DeleteUber is an interesting example of the ways that digital technology companies may be uniquely susceptible to boycotts.

Historically, boycotts have typically taken a large amount of participation and a substantial amount of time. Traditional accountancy and management practices have often come together to mandate these features.

Non real time accountancy has resulted in the consequence of boycotts taking time to appear on balance sheets. Additionally management could choose to remain unaware of a circumstance until the balance sheet required there attention. Even then they could misidentify the result of the boycott as being relegated to another action or business factor.

In #DeleteUber these two situations were mitigated, the deleting of the app is a metric that I am certain Uber as an organisation are acutely aware of. Consequently the impact of the balance sheet is apparent long before it actually arrives on the balance sheet. Additionally the continuation of the boycott will also be discernible as a metric. While they may or not wish to share the number one suspect Uber will know how many users have reinstalled the app since the trending hash tag. More significantly the empowering nature of social media has played a role here as well. Management, within Uber, will have had no doubt regarding the reason for the app deletions that will occurring and consequently were able to target there response to addressing the causal issues.

What does this mean for future action?

I suspect boycotts in the digital age are actually a means by which communication with companies can be achieved and also used to force public positional changes from companies.

Such changes however many not actually be worth achieving. It should be noted that the #DeleteUber action did not result in a change of government policy.

Over the last few weeks, while taking a break from my normal commute, I have found myself considering what you do when you find the outcome of democratic process unsatisfactory. While you may anticipate that this came about due to the brexit and Trump results it was actually promoted after an email exchange with a local councillor.

Now a simple reflection is that after protest, democratic participation has to occur. In the USA in 4 years time the electoral cycle will complete. In the UK brexit has no inevitable do over though the next general election may provide opportunity.

The query here though is, what happens between the protest of the past weekend and the conclusion of the respective election cycles. How do we empower the respective citizenry to realise that which is possible.

While marches and various other activities of protest have been undertaken in the past years we should reflect that, the Iraq war still happened, poverty was not made history, Occupy did not bring justice to the global financial system and climate change remains unchecked.

Perhaps the forms of protest used in these struggles turned out to be ignorable. Does that mean they are no longer valid? Perhaps more effective forms of protest can be identified? Forms that build lasting and sustaining coalitions without descending into deplorable reflections of that which they aim to oppose.

I hope to write further regarding possible forms of protest that could be considered.