Yesterday at about 12:30 pm, I was getting on the bus after mass in Cambridge, MA heading downtown. At first, the bus was relatively empty. Then, as we went through the heart of Harvard Square, BOOM! Probably 30-40 sign wielding students descended upon us, cramming the bus absolutely full. Although I wasn’t thinking about it at the time, it suddenly became obvious what was going on: a demonstration against the “#MuslimBan.”
I’m not writing today to comment on the topic of immigration or refugees. Honestly, I think it is a much more complex issue than anyone on either the Trump or progressive side of things wants to admit. No, instead, I’m writing today in defense of a company that has probably done more for both immigrants and natives alike in recent years: Uber.
I started seeing some progressive friends of mine on Facebook yesterday posting the directions on how you can delete Uber, with no explanation given as to why one would want to do such a thing. Upon further investigation (please correct me if I am mistaken), it seems that in response to a New York City taxi protest in support of refugees, cab companies in the city would not drive to JFK airport on Sunday. In response, Uber decided it would suspend “surge pricing.” This action has enraged many people. In doing so, they argue, Uber is seeking to put profits over people! Have they no shame?
So, let me get this straight: if Uber charges surge fees, that is selfish pursuit of profit. If they don’t charge surge fees, that is also selfish pursuit of profit. Which one is it?
If anything, turning off surge prices yesterday HURT Uber’s own bottom line. Without the surge, there were likely an inordinate number of rides from short distances that would normally cost more ending up costing much less. It seems that Uber was simply trying to publicize the fact that even though many other transit options in the city were quite limited that day, you could still use their service. Service which, by the way, provides rides to natives and immigrants alike and gives an income source to many that these protesters would describe as “marginalized.” As of 2015, 59% of Uber drivers did not have a college degree and 19.5% were Hispanic (vs ~16% of total population), and 15.2% were black (vs ~12% of total population), for example. The source I provided doesn’t detail how many of these drivers are immigrants, but anecdotally, I would say that at least half of all the drivers I’ve had were foreign born. (As a side note, Uber drivers average a wage of $15.68/hour, surpassing even the ideal minimum that many left progressives want to enforce on everybody).
The main question on my mind is: if an individual, be it a white Wyoming native or an Arab immigrant, chooses to drive for Uber in the first place and then further chooses to drive (with or without surge pricing) during a taxi strike, what exactly is the issue? Are the immigrant drivers who chose to drive yesterday just ignorant and contributing to their own exploitation? Or do they perhaps have children at home and are trying to make honest money themselves to provide for them? Were there NO immigrants in New York City yesterday that might have needed to get to the airport for any number of reasons? Are they self-hating for taking Uber? Why are some people so radically against voluntary, non-coercive action?
So, people of America, delete Uber if you like. There is certainly something to be said for supporting or not supporting companies depending on their corporate values. If you don’t want to provide your hard earned money to an institution that works against your beliefs, then don’t. But a couple things: a) be grateful that you CAN choose to not support such organizations (those against Planned Parenthood, for instance, have no such option), b) make sure that you have considered all sides of the issue before doing so.