Saturday, March 4, 2017

Every time we take an Uber we’re spreading its social poison: Laurie Penny

here are very few things that $5bn can’t buy, but one of them is manners. This week video emerged of Travis Kalanick, the CEO and founder of ride-share app Uber, patronising and swearing at one of his own drivers, who complained that harsh company policies had forced him into bankruptcy. “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit,” sneered Kalanick. Truer words were never spoken by a tycoon: for Uber, along with many other aggressive corporations, not taking responsibility for your own shit isn’t just a philosophy, it’s a business model.

Uber has barely been out of the news this year, with a succession of scandals cementing the company’s reputation as a byword for cod-libertarian douchebaggery. Accusations of strike-breaking during protests against Donald Trump’s “Muslim ban” sparked a viral campaign to get customers to delete the app. A week later, a former employee went public with accusations of sexual harassment and institutional misogyny. Kalanick, who was pressured to withdraw from a position as a business adviser to Trump, is now facing legal suits across the world from drivers who insist that they would be better able to “take responsibility” for their lives if they could earn a living wage.

Liberal outrage has been a chorus to Uber’s apparently unstoppable rise, but it has never before been a bar to its expansion: the company continues to grow, even as it registers record-breaking revenue loss around the world, much of which it puts down to the inconvenience of still having to pay its drivers. Given what we already knew about Uber’s institutional sleaziness, why is this clip so shocking? Because it reveals an uncomfortable truth about the character of our modern power elites. Part of us would prefer to imagine the svengalis of exploitative businesses as polished, scheming villains, geniuses enviably unencumbered by such old-fashioned burdens as ethics and morality.

From Trump down, these men would prefer us to picture them as competent and potent – a little brash, perhaps, but that’s all part of how corporate power brands itself. This is why it matters that this video exposes Kalanick, one of the world’s richest men, as a thoroughly unpleasant person. There is an ugly entitlement in the way he swears at the driver – sorry, his “partner”, albeit one without a seat on the company board. He doesn’t come across as ruthless. He comes across as rude… read more: