Uber versus Übermensch

I want to strike a Nietzschean note in this comment on the rideshare ordinance enacted by the City of Minneapolis this past month. Under the ordinance, Uber and Lyft would be required to pay drivers a minimum rate of $1.40 per mile and 51 cents per minute to ensure that they earn the equivalent of local minimum wage of $15.57 per hour — effective May 1. The city council overrode the mayor’s veto to enact the ordinance.

Uber and Lyft would be required to comply with the ordinance, that is, if they are still around on May 1, but they will both be out of Minneapolis by then. Indeed, Uber will depart the entire Twin Cities metropolitan area.

The ordinance represents an exercise in the pure Nietzschean will to power. It resolves a nonproblem with a law that destroys thousands of jobs providing millions of rides. NRO quotes a local Lyft drivers speaking of his fellow contractors pushing the ordinance as “just absolutely lazy people.”

By the way, sixty-one percent of the drivers are (mostly male and African) immigrants. Soon they will feel the benefit of no job at a higher wage.

A day after the council originally passed the ordinance the state released a study finding that drivers could earn the equivalent of the minimum wage if they are paid 89 cents per mile and 49 cents per minute, far below the council’s rates. Upping that to $1.21 per mile and 49 cents per minute could afford them benefits, including paid leave and health insurance. The Star Tribune covered the study here, NRO here.

The drivers, by the way, are inarguably independent contractors. Minneapolis’s minimum wage ordinance does not even apply to independent contractors (see here). It’s will to power, baby.

The story that most caught my eye in this saga to date is the complaint of Chief Hennepin County Public Defender Michael Bender about the ordinance. Bender has sent the city council a letter stating in part:

Our office represents some of the most vulnerable residents of our city. Many of our clients are living in poverty, chemically dependent, and mentally ill. All of our clients have pending matters in the criminal court system,” writes Berger. “Transportation to and from court hearings is a consistent barrier to fair and equitable outcomes in criminal court. Far too often, failure to attend court – because of inadequate transportation – results in warrants for arrest. Warrants for arrest – as we have tragically seen – result in death for a disproportionate number of the Black and brown residents of our city.

A FOX 9 story adds that Berger “is seeking alternatives for his clients, but hasn’t yet found any viable options.” Berger is hoping the council will alter its will some time before May 1.

Even Minnesota’s will-to-power governor Tim Walz sees the problem here: “We have what I can only describe as magical thinking that in the next 30 days, somebody’s going to create a new app that folks around the world and country are going to know to use when they come to Minneapolis, and they’re going to figure out how to make the economics work on that. So I’ve been asking all the folks to get back to the table.”

Press accounts of the controversy refer to Uber and Lyft’s stated intentions to depart as “threats.” I think they would better be understood as extremely well-informed statements of future intentions.

In my heading above I borrow the term “Übermensch” to inject a Nietzschean note here. I think the city council members have more in common with Nietzsche’s Last Man than they do his Overman.

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