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Of typewriters, buggy whips and slide rules

By Karl Sweetman

In a recent CuencaHighLife article about independent contractors competing against licensed cabbies, author Robert Bradley took the subject and enlarged it into a broader discussion lamenting the emerging “gig economy” and its effects.

Since the position Bradley staked out is only a small part of a much larger battle of ideas, I would like to further expand it to include an even wider philosophical discussion.

But first, a response to the finer points Bradley made in his article.

Using Uber drivers or Airbnb owners as examples, Bradley argues that the competition that independent contractors bring to established markets is unfair and should not be permitted. I would argue just the opposite; that competition is actually the impetus that stimulates improved quality of products, better service and usually better price.

In his article, Bradley viciously attacked an admittedly impolitic comment [“Let the cabbies cry. You can’t stop progress!”] submitted by someone calling himself “Doobie.” Perhaps Doobie could have chosen his words a little more carefully but the fact remains that he is right on point. This is exactly how progress is made, i.e., by challenging the often antiquated status quo with new ideas and concepts. Unfortunately, those vested in the existing model who fail to adapt are often displaced or left behind in the process.

But just because Mr. Underwood invested thousands of dollars into his typewriter business or Mr. Smith’s family depends on income from his buggy-whip sales, is that justification for refusing to move forward with new and better products or services as Bradley contends?

Instead of defending the Mafia-style protection racket of taxi medallions selling for $40,000 in Ecuador or upwards of $1.3 million in New York City, maybe Bradley should instead question the propriety of such an obviously corruption-prone system and its hyper-inflated price of entry. Why is the cost so exorbitant? Who benefits from such an arrangement? The passengers? The taxi drivers? Or instead could it be the politically favored syndicate participants who control the monopoly?

As for Bradley’s criticism of the “1099 worker loophole,” I’m with you all the way on that one, Robert … but for an entirely different reason. It stinks not because it allows employers to shift responsibility for benefits to their employees, but rather because it is a direct consequence of foolishly-implemented wage-and-price controls and an arcane, complex, and overly-burdensome tax system that precipitated the practice of employer-provided benefits in the first place. There are good answers to that problem, but that’s a subject for another time.

The “gig economy” also offers benefits that Mr. Bradley fails to recognize: the freedom to be one’s own boss; the ability to work at home; the avoidance of time-and-resource-wasting commutes; the flexibility to invest for retirement as one prefers; and the ability to earn additional supplemental income without having to first invest tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars up front into licensing and permits, just to name a few.

The gig economy is not “skullduggery” nor the “shenanigans” of evil Snidely Whiplashes. Rather, it is new ideas and business models that offer benefits to consumers, providers, creators of the concepts and investors who are willing to risk venture capital into their development. If the concepts weren’t beneficial, they wouldn’t succeed. It’s called the marketplace.

Lastly, I am a little disheartened by the number of comments supporting Mr. Bradley’s stance. But I’m even more disappointed that no one called Bradley to task for his completely unfounded, presumptuous, imperious and condescending blanket insult in which he characterizes “too many gringo expats” as “selfish, callous and astonishingly uninformed” with a “me-first attitude … typical of too many gringo expats who are unable to let go of the apron strings of their childhood and now resort to chest-beating and jingoistic claptrap while pretending to be living in a U.S. suburb. What a shameful display of entitlement, arrogance, and ignorance.”

Wow, Mr. Bradley. Talk about arrogance. Have you taken a look in the mirror lately?

There’s much more to say but let’s leave it at that and move on to the broader philosophical discussion.

Bradley’s lament and his scorching, holier-than-thou castigation of those holding opposing viewpoints perfectly frames the current state of affairs, i.e., an ever-widening philosophical chasm between opposing ways of looking at the world. Please forgive the generalizations that follow, but I think it fair to say that most of those in the “Bradley camp” tend more to the left side of the political spectrum while most in the “Doobie camp” tend to the right.

Those in the Bradley camp tend to favor more government, not less. They tend to favor more regulation, not less. More social programs, not fewer. More taxes. More government surveillance, snooping and invasion of privacy (but strictly for the safety of the citizenry, don’t you know). More surrender of personal property rights. More centralized authority and less local control. More globalization. More government control over our lives. More regime change and meddling in the affairs of other sovereign states. And recently, more suppression of freedom of speech for those with opposing views.

Some still hold out hope for a Rodney King “can’t we all just get along” outcome. But the opposing sides are way too far apart to compromise. And in too many cases there is no possible “middle ground” on which to meet. How can pro-life and pro-choice advocates find an acceptable happy medium? How do anti-war and pro-war supporters meet in the middle? The list of such issues for which there is no middle-ground is endless. One side loses and the other wins.The battles rage on with each side hurling insults at the other and a constant, ever-increasing state of disharmony bubbling up or boiling just below the surface.

What if there were a better way to resolve this fight? What if progressives weren’t forced to brook the insolence of knuckle-dragging libertarians? What if libertarians could shed the constant whining and shaming of do-gooder Nanny State progressives?

There is an answer.

And what may be surprising to Mr. Bradley and others is that Ecuador is way ahead of the rest of the world in solving this seemingly inextricable dilemma. Ecuador’s solution specifically addresses the differing beliefs, cultures and customs of the country’s many minority populations by embracing what is described in the 2008 constitution as pluriculturismand plurinationalism.

The constitution recognizes these collective group rights and it delegates control and decision making to small groups. Using the indigenous concept of sumak kawsay (“buen vivir”), it provides for territorial autonomy and the legitimacy of indigenous justice systems with alternative-development models. Article 257 of the Constitution states:

Within the framework of political-administrative organization, indigenous or Afro-Ecuadorian territorial districts may be formed. These shall have jurisdiction over the respective autonomous territorial government and shall be governed by the principles of interculturalism and plurinationalism, and in accordance with collective rights.

Maybe — as Mr. Bradley observes — Ecuador’s example can indeed “serve as a model for good citizenship not only for this country but for the world.” Maybe the way to resolve our huge philosophical differences is not for one group to bludgeon the other into unwilling submission. Maybe the answer lies not in one-size-fits-all faux diversity but rather in acceptance of our differences and the recognition that people of differing beliefs should have the freedom to exercise those beliefs in peaceful quietude.

Let people vote with their feet. Let progressives, libertarians and people of all political stripes live together with people of like mind and with autonomous control. There would then be no need for them to force their beliefs upon others living in other autonomous communities who may disagree.

Yes, such a system would face huge hurdles and problems initially as “the big sort” took place. Nothing good comes easily. But imagine what could be learned by testing competing systems in the real world and examining the successes and failures of each. And imagine the peace that could emerge as neighbors no longer descended into calling each other “selfish, callous, astonishingly uninformed,” ignorant, entitled and arrogant but instead worked together toward their common goals.

Look around the world today. Is what you see working toward peace and harmony? Or is it just a continuation of the selfishness, enmity, greed, hate and senseless wars with the loss of tens of millions of innocent lives and the wanton destruction emblematic of the previous two centuries? Maybe it’s time to try something different.

Because what we are doing now sure isn’t working.

And that’s one observation that I’ll bet Mr. Bradley and I could agree on.
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Karl Sweetman is a long-time resident of Ecuador who retired from a life-long practice of orthodontics. He spent several decades working as an unpaid volunteer for non-partisan organizations dedicated to intergenerationally responsible federal fiscal and tax policy, serving as a regional director, media relations coordinator and in other leadership positions for the Concord Coalition, Americans for Fair Taxation and other similar 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 organizations.