Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - April 22, 2014
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The weatherThe National Weather Service has been predicting a pretty strong night of thunderstorms for tomorrow night. What's interesting about that? They've been forecasting it for a full week. From day to day, the forecast will vary a lot, but we've come a long way if they can tell us about the chance of severe thunderstorms a week in advance.
We're from the government, and we're here to helpUber is an online service with a pretty simple premise -- they'll hail a cab for you. But what they hail isn't always necessarily a cab, and that has people nervous. Enough so that it only took the hint that Uber would be opening up in the Omaha market for the Nebraska Public Service Commission to send a cease-and-desist letter threatening them not to offer transportation without state approval. A similar service called Lyft got busted in St. Louis yesterday afternoon.
There's a fine line between regulating services in order to protect the public and regulating them in order to protect rent-seekers. Rent-seekers are people who use the law or other circmstances to get more from a market than their goods or services are naturally worth. So, in the case of Uber and Lyft, the question is whether laws regulating things like taxi transportation are there to protect passengers from unscrupulous, dangerous, or even life-threatening danger. After all, when you hop a cab, you don't necessarily have the repair history of the vehicle or the driver's background check on file, and you don't have the time to make a thorough assessment of those things before you sit down and buckle your seat belt.
But it's also possible that we have moved beyond the era when government could provide the most useful protection in circumstances like this. Millions of us use eBay and Amazon and other online stores all the time without any serious fear, because there are feedback mechanisms built in that enforce good behavior and good business far more than any government intervention ever would. It may actually be more likely that you're protected as a consumer far more when you shop online with the opportunity to leave open feedback than when you shop in some stores in strange towns.
Does the government need to protect you from wildcat cab drivers, or does convenience trump the possible risk?