Marketplace Radio Laments Uber’s Victims: Investment Banks

On Monday NPR’s Marketplace shared a tale of woe that Uber has created for the hard-working blue collar men who own taxicab medallions in New York City, thereby illustrating once and for all that in today’s liberal zeitgeist, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

In a normal world, public radio’s reflexive liberalism would greatly object to the system of taxicab medallions: A few decades ago New York City set a cap for the number of drivers and gave each driver at that time a medallion that must be displayed on the cab itself to be legal. Because demand for cabs went up over the last four decades, the medallions became more valuable. For those drivers who received theirs at the start the medallion became a wonderful gift and those that sold it did quite well. A few years ago the price of a medallion exceeded $1 million.

However, an increase in medallion value does nothing to help most drivers today, who cannot afford to buy one at any price. Instead, investment companies own most medallions, which bought them from retiring cab drivers through the years and saw them as a safe investment. And they were, at least until Uber came along. Most drivers rent a medallion from the investment company, and pay a good portion of what they earn to the company.

Normally, public radio would object to the exploitation of working class men, especially when it’s been aided and abetted by the government, but when Uber is involved all bets are off. Uber has dramatically reduced the value of these medallions, since people can drive with Uber (or its competitor, Lyft) without a medallion. The barriers to becoming a driver are now almost nonexistent–no more than the price of a car. Taxicabs have lost their effective monopoly, and consumers have gained as a result.

But that doesn’t matter here, as the liberal narrative is that these entities (and somehow not the investment companies that own medallions) are exploitative because they don’t make their drivers actual employees; they are categorized as independent contractors, as are most cabbies. What’s more, they don’t give them health insurance or a pension. Also, the person who runs Uber is apparently isn’t the nicest guy, and–most egregiously–Uber did not recognize an impromptu taxi strike at JFK airport called to protest Donald Trump’s immigration policies in January, so there’s a suspicion that the company might not be reliably Democratic.  

As a result, NPR, the New York Times, and the rest of Big Media has lit into Uber every chance it gets, and Lyft for good measure.

Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, of course, but I remain mystified that any media program focused on economics would lament the decline of the taxicab medallion system in New York, which hurt customers, taxi drivers and even the environment (as more people had to own cars in that inefficient system) with the only beneficiaries being the taxi fleets and investment companies that owned the medallions.

It’s also worth remarking that the left has heretofore–and correctly– complained in the past that the traditional cab system serves New York’s outer boroughs quite poorly, and that’s where lower income people tend to live.

Marketplace apparently mourns such an archaic, inefficient, and in-egalitarian system and went to great lengths to find a couple of sympathetic victims to protest a technological change that has otherwise greatly improved the lives of urban denizens just goes to show that the status quo is always difficult to change. And that too many entities base their position on any topic based on the opposition.