In his tirade against “app cabs” in the Salt Lake Tribune, former mayor Ross C. “Rocky” Anderson argues for a strange, seemingly un-Utahn idea: increased government regulation and oversight, “in the public interest.” While many of us will defend what we are familiar with in the face of potentially destabilizing change, the way a Utah business lawyer might see it, Rocky’s argument flies in the face of free economic markets, entrepreneurship, and innovation, the last of which being an idea at which he literally scoffs in his opening statements.
“Look at how bad UTOPIA was for other cities, and how grateful we all should be that I avoided its trouble for our citizens,” he boasts, condescending with perfect hindsight about the project’s “highly speculative” and “extremely risky” nature that went against the interest of the public. Applying the same arguments to his denouncement of burgeoning businesses like Uber and Lyft in Salt Lake City, Rocky tries to leverage their poor Better Business Bureau ratings as a reason to do away with their viability as legitimate business altogether. A Utah business lawyer experienced in backing up ideological arguments with hard evidence might call this particular move a little flimsy.
But does Rocky have a point? He argues that Uber and Lyft take money out of Utah—they don’t hire “local accountants, advertising firms, printers, restaurants, and other local businesses,” while “locally-owned cab companies” are great at “cycling money through the local economy.” But as a Utah business lawyer like Stephen Walter might counter—it depends on which economy we’re talking about here. The one that Rocky says needs to be closely guarded and regulated? Or the one whose consumer-based choices spur market growth and diversification? Uber’s and Lyft’s drivers are all local residents, too, and would probably call themselves “professionals,” same as YellowCab’s drivers.
Did Rocky mention that he’s also the general counsel for YellowCab? Oh, yes, he did.
The point former Mayor Anderson wants to drive home is the “shoulds.” How the cab drivers “should” be limited so that their services are commoditized, while their consumers “should” still be able to “count on cab services in any area of the city at any time.” Local monitoring and supervision “should” be the basis of the business model, rather than the self-monitoring and self-correcting system that Uber and Lyft employ through mutual-participant ratings. Perhaps what comes off most strongly in the former mayor’s argument, however, is that all his “shoulds” end up being quite condescending to the group of citizens in the Salt Lake valley who value freedom.
Freedom to establish viable companies and business partnerships based on consumer demand, a Utah business lawyer might argue. Freedom of choice in service providers. Freedom to participate in a free-market economy that encourages innovation and experiments with new ways of doing business before deciding what’s in the better interest of the citizens who comprise the consumer group. Freedom to purchase goods and services that don’t automatically enhance government tax-bases, and through which government-business relationships—like former Mayor Anderson’s and YellowCab’s—remain more profitable than those formed through independent citizen choices.