Every time Uber, the Web-based taxi intermediary, enters a new city, it provokes controversy about its race-to-the-bottom business practices and bullying of regulators and politicians. The problem with Uber and other network-based intermediaries such as Lyft, Task Rabbit, Mechanical Turk and others, is that they are trying to introduce brave new market structures as a fait accompli. They have only secondary interest in acceptable pay rates, labor standards, consumer protections, civic and environmental impacts or democratic debate itself.
Rather than cede these choices to self-selected venture capitalists and profit-focused entrepreneurs, some European cities and regional governments came up with a brilliant idea: devise an upfront, before-the-fact policy framework for dealing with the disruptions of the “sharing economy.”
If we can agree in advance about what constitutes a socially respectful marketplace – and what constitutes a predatory free-riding on the commonweal – we’ll all be a lot better off. Consumers, workers and a community will have certain basic protections. Investors and executives won’t be able to complain about “unlevel playing fields” or unfair regulation. And public debate won’t be a money-fueled free-for-all, but a more thoughtful, rational deliberation.
Now, if only the European Union will listen to the Committee of the Regions (CoR)! The CoR is an official assembly of regional presidents, mayors and elected representatives from 28 EU countries. It routinely expresses its views on all sorts of major policy issues that may have local or regional impacts. In December, the CoR submitted a formal statement about the “sharing economy” to the EU in an opinion written by rapporteur Benedetta Brighenti, the deputy mayor of the municipality of Castelnuovo Rangone, in the province of Modena, Italy.