Uber, Escargot, and the Law of Unintended Consequences

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Posted by The Savvy Retiree on May 31, 2016 in Uncategorised

“The “private sector” of the economy is, in fact, the voluntary sector; and the “public sector” is, in fact, the coercive sector.”
— Henry Hazlitt

Joel Bowman, writing today from Paris, France…

You’re not going to believe this, dear reader…but the unions are on strike today in France!

Yes, yes…it sounds unlikely. We couldn’t have imagined it ourselves. But there it is, right outside our window.

Trucks have blocked off the motorways. Transport workers march in the streets. And rioters torch police cars…in broad daylight!

They wouldn’t try that in the U.S. of A., where police observe a strict “shoot first, ask questions later” policy.

Here in France, law enforcement officers are just as likely to stage a protest as they are to contain one. (No joke. Cops here marched last week against “anti-police hatred.” Counter protesters responded by hurling a petrol bomb into a squad car. Go figure.)

This latest kerfuffle comes in response to new labor laws which, according to The Telegraph newspaper, will make it “slightly easier to hire and fire transport workers.”

Ports, airports, and city rail systems are all affected. Some are closed entirely.

Apparently, workers aren’t happy with the reform proposals…at least not the “more easily fired” part. So they bring the roads and railways to a halt. They show how critical their jobs really are, in other words, by refusing to do them.

The resulting slowdown is jokingly referred to as an “escargot.

Commuters un-jokingly refer to it as a “pain in the derrière.”

Meanwhile, your editor watches the clock… We have a flight to catch in a couple of hours. Will the roads be open in time? Will the flight take off? Or will we extend our stay a couple of nights and enjoy the show?

We wait to find out.

Last time we were in this city it was the taxi drivers’ turn to strike. They were protesting ride-sharing companies, particularly Uber.

Their main boeuf?

Taxi drivers have to pay huge licensing fees to the government for permission to transport willing passengers from point A to point B.

Not so for Uber, which operates as a simple “app,” connecting people who want to go somewhere with people who are happy to take them. Without the added cost of licenses, Uber is able to pass on the cheaper fares to passengers.

Besides that, their platform allows for user reviews, where both parties are able to “rate” their experience. This way, drivers can determine if someone is likely to be a safe and reliable passenger and vice versa. And the whole thing is done via credit card payment online. So drivers don’t have to worry about carrying large amounts of cash around. (Something that, historically, made them targets for thieves.)

Uber works so well, in fact, that the taxis decided to stop working entirely. But rather than blame the government for extorting them of outrageous licensing fees (up to $200,000 a pop), for creating an “uneven playing field,” they turned their anger toward their counterparts.

They accused Uber drivers of “stealing” their customers…as if somehow business “belonged” to them and them alone. And they clogged up the arterial roads and brought traffic to a standstill to make their point heard.

But the stunt that was supposed to bring attention to the plight of the taxis only brought more customers to Uber. In the days after the protest, downloads of the Uber app skyrocketed by as much as 850%.

Think “the law of unintended consequences.”

We have no idea what will happen with this latest round of protests, though it looks as though their efforts will be in vain. French President François Hollande insists the new measures will be enacted regardless.

But we’ll have to leave it there for today. Our Uber has arrived downstairs…and we’ve got a plane to possibly catch.

In the meantime, please enjoy some thoughts and insights from your fellow The Savvy Retiree Daily readers in today’s mailbag, below. (And feel free to write to us here if you have something of your own to say.)

Image ©iStock.com/Onickz Artworks


Joel, I used to think it scandalous to even consider not participating in one of our most vaunted civic duties: voting in the general election. I couldn’t understand how anyone would voluntarily or by accident not be present for this important affirmation of the democratic process. After all, “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain,” right?

In the past few years, it has begun to dawn on me that there might actually be people who feel seriously disenfranchised from our electoral system and these folks may be actually expressing themselves by NOT voting at all. Your piece made sense to me today for the first time. Of course, I won’t vote for Donald Trump and I doubt I will vote for Hillary Clinton either. My problem is that I’m not sure I’m ready to join the ranks of the seriously apathetic, those who are more interested in Kanye and Kardashians than on living in a decent country.

Not much of a choice, is it?

~ Jon F. Palm Springs, CA


Dear Joel,

The one thing missing from your blog is the significant and, I believe, demonstrably corrosive effect of Citizen’s United.

This single change has authenticated and validated government of, by, and for money/corporations/banks—no longer of, by, and for the people other than as consumers. Many large corporations can pay their employees so poorly that the U.S. taxpayer must be asked to make up the difference (see Walmart and MacDonald’s notices to employees on how to get food stamps).

Alan Greenspan told companies their sole reason for existence was to produce profits and dividends for shareholders. They had already begun to take that business model/philosophy to heart by systematically privatizing profits and socializing costs (superfund cleanup, big-bank, billion-dollar fines, using while defunding infrastructure maintenance, growing military/pharmaceutical industrial complex while stiffing veterans and sick individuals considered “too expensive”).

However, yes, nothing much will change as long as governance is purchased by highest bidders offering only choice A or choice B, both of which are bought by those bidders who have only incentive to grow themselves for themselves at the expense of everyone and everything that is not themselves.


~ Tom M. Albuquerque, New Mexico


Joel, having lived here in Texas since 1970, I especially enjoyed your commentary on Houston’s absence of zoning. When I lived there in the late 70s, I had the good fortune to have a retired dentist (now long gone) as a next door neighbor. He had served in North Africa during WWII and when he returned to Houston afterwards, he became active in the late 40s political fight to save Houston from the zoning activists. He told me that his friends were absolutely convinced that no politician could ever be trusted with the unaccountable power that zoning would gift to them. I’m convinced he was exactly right.

One of my most treasured memories of him is his copy of Ludwig von Mises’ Human Action which he gave me shortly before he died.

RIP, Dr. August B Strozier, D.D.S.

~ Dee G. Frisco, Texas


T&P Tool Shed

Apps to Make Your Life Better

By the Staff of The Savvy Retiree Daily

Uber is a perfect example of an app creating a solution to a problem we didn’t know existed. Sure, we had taxis but nobody was asking the question “how do we make this better, cheaper, safer?”

There are plenty aspects of our life that could use improvement, and we may be aware of a lot of them, but knowing where to start or what goals to set can be difficult. Apps can serve as a guiding hand and help keep us on the path to success.

Below are some of the best apps to make your life just that little better.

Rescuetime: Worried you’re spending too much time on social media? Rescuetime monitors the time you spend online and updates you with reports on your activity. You might be surprised how much of your life you’re wasting on Facebook or simply answering emails. The app sets goals to reduce your online time in order to increase your productivity. Rescuetime will notify you when you’ve exceeded your daily limit and update you with weekly reports on your progress.

My Diet Coach: My diet coach is a “gamified” dieting app that creates healthy eating and fitness habits through goals and challenges. Challenges include things like drinking more water, filling your plate with veggies, or staying below a certain calorie count. The app rewards you with fun little virtual prizes for your in-app avatar.

IFTTT: IFFTTT is the ultimate self-improvement app for the obsessive tinkerer. This app is less about a single function and more about putting you in control. IFFTTT can be customized in a vast number of ways from sending you an email every time the Giants play a game, to tracking your workout progress, to apartment hunting. The app interacts with many of your other apps to give you the maximum amount of power and control.