Critics are predictably labeling Uber and Lyft pulling out of Austin as a defeat of progress at the hands of meddlesome government.

But if fingerprinting is a good idea for cabbies, it should be mandatory for rideshare drivers too. They’re just another variety of cabbies.

I don’t use Uber often, but I love it when I do. However, lately I’ve become concerned about what kind of legal liability and physical danger I might be exposing myself to when I use ridesharing.

Similarly for Airbnb – I’ve only used that service once, and it was fantastic, but I’m concerned how the safety and legal liability compares with a regular hotel.

I’m on my way to Austin now, so this is on my mind.

How Austin Beat Uber – Richard Parker, The New York Times

Uber and Lyft only work because the economy is crappy enough that drivers are desperate enough to work below cost

Uber and Lyft only work because the economy is crappy enough that drivers are desperate enough to work below cost. [Ian Welsh]

Drivers can’t find good jobs and need cash now, so they work at rates below minimum wage and below the cost of keeping and maintaining their cars.

When the economy improves, Uber and Lyft will be in trouble.

Here is the thing about Uber and Lyft (and much of the “sharing economy”).

They don’t pay the cost of their capital.

The wages they pay to their drivers are less than the depreciation of the cars and the expense of keeping the driver fed, housed and healthy. They pay less than minimum wage in most markets, and in most markets that is not enough to pay the costs of a car plus a human.

These business models are ways of draining capital from the economy and putting them into the hands of a few investors and executives. They prey on desperate people who need money now, even if the money is insufficient to pay their total costs. Drivers are draining their own reserves to get cash now, but hey, they gotta eat and pay the bills.

This sharing economy shit works in a shitty economy. In a good economy, where people have what they need, it doesn’t work.

And this is not a problem that will be solved by the free market.

Until we stop pretending the market fairy is going to solve social action problems, we won’t actually solve those problems.

Via Cory Doctorow, who notes that other companies that fail to provide a living wage, such as McDonald’s and Walmart, are taxpayer-subsidized in the form of food stamps to employees.

Sharing economy companies such as Airbnb and Uber are built for abuse

They’ve got billions of dollars of capitalization they can use for public relations and lobbying to bulldoze regulatory oversight.

They’re privately held, so they’re not required to report finance and operations details.

The business model encourages “fake it until you make it” operations. Early investors, who often provide oversight for privately held startups, have every incentive to go along. After all, if the companies fail, investors lose out.

The whole thing is structured for disaster. At least one of these companies is going to turn out to be a fraud of Enronesque or Madoffian proportions. And that’s the best-case scenario — with Enron and Bernie Madoff, the only thing victims risked was money.

[The Sharing Economy’s Dirty Laundry / Tom Slee / Jacobin]