Shall we obey unjust regulations?
By Alberto Mingardi
“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws,” so goes the old, venerable quote by Martin Luther King. But what about unjust regulations? Typically businesses play by the rules. Some of them play with the rules, by engaging in the political process.
At least in Europe, Uber is following a different strategy. I’ve blogged before on the ban on Uber services in Brussels and Berlin. The logic behind the ban is consistent with the principles inspiring taxi regulations almost everywhere. But Uber isn’t backing down. Rather the opposite.
In Milan, the company just announced a new service – “UberPOP”, which mimics what Americans call “UberX”. So, the Uber platform will be opened not just to professional “black car” drivers, but to virtually anyone who owns a car and wants to drive for a buck. Very cleverly, Uber is marketing it as a “car sharing with a driver”. It also argues that prices will amount basically to a reimbursement for expenses, and they’ll be calculated over a rate table calculated by the Italian automobile club. These are the rates typically used to reimburse people over travel expenses.
Of course, local authorities in Milan are already reacting by threatening to fine drivers that dare to enroll in “UberPOP”, coming thus to the rescue of cab drivers. Cab drivers (in this joined by “black car” drivers) understandably dislike the emergence of competition, but they would also argue that, regardless of the justification provided, this move on the part of Uber goes against the law. After all, a legal monopoly is such precisely because it is legal.
Now, personally I’d consider “UberX” a very positive development for a variety of reasons. If I have a legitimate property right to my car, I suppose this should include the right to use it for commercial purposes (perhaps sticking advertisements on the sides or occasionally driving for a buck).
“UberX” basically makes possible transactions that wouldn’t occur otherwise, connecting potential suppliers of car rides with those that may demand such services. I’d argue that, particularly for a country which has been in a recession for the last eight years like Italy, it is only good that more exchanges and more transactions can happen.
But what if the city government, or perhaps a court, proves eventually that it is indeed illegal under the rules currently in force?
One way would be to urge politicians to change the law, so that Uber’s undertaking could be indisputably legal. This means Uber should resort to the political process, where however I am afraid the taxi drivers will have more clout.
Another way would be to argue that, as people should resist unjust norms, so they should resist unjust regulations. I would personally be inclined towards this argument, but I see it has problems. One thing is to tell people they should disobey norms that impinge upon their individuals rights, resist censorship or legal discrimination. But here we are dealing with a self-interested corporation, that succeeds or fails in business precisely because those unjust norms are upheld or disobeyed. Is the profit motive, here, affecting the validity of the idea unjust norms should be disobeyed?
So, I would be grateful for your view. Let’s imagine that UberX makes its way to Italy, but at some point it is deemed illegal. What shall a libertarian argue then?
P.S: I vividly remember reading David Friedman’s “The Machinery of Freedom“, which is the book that turned me into a maniacal libertarian, and stumbling upon his idea of “jitney service” and found it brilliant. As he himself pointed out in a post a while ago, that is basically UberX. This is an interesting case of a libertarian idea that was realised by free enterprise. We love free enterprise, sometimes she reciprocates.