Instead of thinking about how to protect the hotel and taxi industries, policy makers should be thinking about how to make it easier for the next Airbnb or Uber to compete. They could require, for instance, that key application program interfaces remain open to competitors, just as some utilities are required to allow alternative energy companies to send electricity through their networks.
Likewise, it’s not obvious that requiring Uber to contract with drivers as employees rather than as independent contractors is a good idea, even for the drivers. Lots of people are willing to drive for Uber, which suggests that Uber is providing drivers with opportunities superior to those that they can find elsewhere. The first rule of the regulator’s oath should be: “Do not destroy mutually profitable exchanges.” Banning the independent-contractor model could also make it harder for cash-strained startups to compete with Uber. Uber might even accept new regulations as a way of raising the costs of its rivals and locking in its monopoly. From upstart to rent-seeker in just seven years—the speed is astounding, but the arc is commonplace.
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