Uber and The Market Platform Backlash

The shadowed economics and ethics that underlie market platforms like Uber

Uber is the poster child for market platforms, and the shadowed economics and ethics that underlie them.

source: Bloomberg

Uber has externalized major elements of its operating economics, just like industrial polluters taking no responsibility for spewing carbon into the air or pouring toxic chemicals into our waterways. But the externalities in this case are people.

Meanwhile, in the arena of public opinion, the boorish, bro-ish, and illegalish operating model at Uber is leading to a consumer backlash, ranging from distaste at Kalanick’s harangue of a bankrupt driver, to anger about sexual harassment, all the way to a growing sense of the inequities inherent in the economic underpinnings of unregulated work markets.

Even if the investors at Uber do the obvious thing, and fire Kalanick, there’s a storm coming.

  1. For example, surge pricing can be viewed as a means to dynamically respond to increased demand for drivers, or as a failure to provide service at a deterministic price to the riders. And the question becomes ‘what are we optimizing for’?
  2. It’s only illegal if they get prosecuted, or legislated out of existence, though.



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Stowe Boyd

Insatiably curious. Economics, sociology, ecology, tools for thought. See also workfutures.io.