Ruth Ann Dailey: App lovers, take note — big government lurks

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In today's version of David versus Goliath, what if the stone in David's slingshot is an app?

The latest installment in the eternal war of the big on the small is the opposition everywhere -- from London to Lawrenceville -- of taxi companies and governmental regulatory agencies to upstart ride-share businesses such as Uber and Lyft.

But the same kind of battle is being waged in other arenas, and the millennials are getting it, sort of.

Chances are they'll win some and lose some, they'll rally around some causes and not others -- but what if their political notions get upended in the process?

From ride-share to couch-surfing, from light bulbs to the minimum wage, millennials who signed up for hope and change are witnessing how the unholy alliance of big government and big business can really harsh your buzz.

For starters, it takes away your money and your choice.

The young have been early adopters of ride-share and couch-surfing businesses. It makes sense: They tend to be underemployed (if not unemployed) and therefore strapped for cash. Plus, they're comfortable doing everything with their smartphones.

So when they need a ride -- especially in a city like Pittsburgh with a severe shortage of taxis -- they use a smartphone app to find a citizen-chauffeur.

And when they need a cheap bed while traveling, they use Airbnb and other Internet-based enterprises that undercut the big hotel chains.

But the pushback against these startups is tremendous. Supposedly liberal places like Quebec and New York state have essentially banned Airbnb, with New York making it unlawful to rent apartment spaces for less than 30 days.

Earlier this month in Europe, taxi drivers staged mass protests against Uber's attempt to move into the market. The city of Miami has started impounding drivers' vehicles.

Closer to home, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission is fining Uber and Lyft $1,000 per day, issuing citations to drivers and considering a cease-and-desist order while the two companies' license applications are pending.

And how have people responded? After the European protests, Uber's downloads were up 850 percent. I didn't dare try Airbnb in New York, but it's my miracle-maker in Chicago.

Uber, Lyft and Airbnb are all San Francisco-based, by the way, and if Americans associate San Francisco with anything besides fog and a beautiful bridge, it would be "doing your own thing."

But big government and big business do not want you to do your own thing -- especially if it takes money out of their pockets. If they limit your choices, they will make more money.

That's why the big light-bulb manufacturers -- not just the environmental movement -- teamed up with government to severely tighten incandescent lighting standards. They didn't make much profit on Thomas Edison's invention, and they knew smaller competitors wouldn't be able to compete on the new fluorescent and mercury-filled frontier.

Would some people prefer a less-efficient product to a poisonous one? Would an 80-year-old really prefer a $15 light bulb that lasts 10 years to a 50-cent, 1,500-hour bulb?

General Electric, Sylvania and Philips don't care: They just want to control the market. Mission accomplished -- in the guise of "greening."

Crushing the competition is also why some big businesses have not opposed the big government proposal to raise the minimum wage.

And this is where people of every age -- not just 20- and 30-somethings -- feel their heads begin to hurt. After all, supporting minimum wage increases is an easy way for us to enjoy our own compassionate natures -- as opposed to, say, our reasoning skills.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 1.5 percent of potential or actual American workers earn minimum wage or less -- only 0.8 percent of them over the age of 25.

And, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, as President Barack Obama has proposed, would cost the economy 500,000 jobs.

Big corporations with deep pockets won't feel much pain with a higher minimum wage. But the small guys providing us with unique, one-off, local options -- while employing more than half the American workforce and creating six out of every 10 new jobs -- will stagger under this new financial burden.

Is it worth it?

At some point, those of us who want a taxi when we need it, a cheap bed, locally grown food and non-chain stores have to bring our politics in line with our daily lives and fight the Leviathan spawned by big government and big business -- no matter which political party is feeding it.


Ruth Ann Dailey: ruthanndailey@hotmail.com

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