“Uber” is a German word generally used in English to mean “super,” and I am here to argue that nothing is more uber for building an economy than innovative entrepreneurship and that few entrepreneurial companies these days are more uber than Uber. It’s a taxi company that is not really a taxi company.
Before explaining that a little better, let’s mention a recent news item, namely that Brent Callinicos, the chief financial officer of Uber who was hired from Google a couple of years ago, is quitting to be a full-time family guy. When he joined the company, it was valued at $3.5 billion, but today it is valued at $41 billion as it carries out profitable, customer-pleasing business in 200 cities and 53 countries.
Mentioning the quick rise to the current value is a means of underlining the achievements of this company founded in 2009 in San Francisco, an upward spiral that owes something to Callinicos but also a ton to such people as its founders (Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp), and, not least of all, to innovation.
It is new ideas that best explain Uber achievements that probably have much further to go even as crony capitalism and regulatory stupidities try to hold them back, and it is new ideas that help explain why the world we live in is the most prosperous per capita that it has ever been.
The Uber ideas are about enabling you to get quick, convenient transportation without the hassle sometimes involved in getting a taxi. Instead, you download an app on a smartphone that will charge your credit card as it gets in touch with the Uber car closest to you. You can watch as the car moves in your direction on an online map with a good idea of when it will arrive. Unless you wanted something luxurious, it will cost less than a traditional taxi and will be driven by someone you can grade and whose contract with Uber will be canceled if the average grade is too low.
Users like this arrangement to the extent of whole, big bunches of them dissuading Virginia officials when that state decided to outlaw Uber’s operations in contradiction of the principles of a free society, a thriving economy and the public good.
Even though they have to pay for their own gas and drive their own cars, the contract drivers like the arrangement because they still make more than most taxi drivers and can pick their own hours.
Any number of outside observers like it because they believe this particular rethinking of old ways of doing things has a variety of other uses and is precisely what’s required for new opportunities and improved outcomes.
Those who don’t like Uber or some of the other smaller companies doing much the same thing, such as Lyft, are established taxi businesses that do like their protected hold on the market. In many cases, the long-term understanding with those in power has been to outlaw competition.
Uber has made its share of mistakes, such as one executive threatening critical journalists with counter-investigations, but seems to have calmed down and was hardly amiss when it hired a political strategist who knows what he is doing: David Plouffe, who managed the 2008 campaign of President Barack Obama. At least one news report makes it seem as if a less confrontational approach both here and abroad may be more successful in overcoming objections to its presence.
The main thing to keep in mind, as some astute thinkers such as the British writer Matt Ridley have taught us, is that new ideas breeding ever more new ideas making themselves felt in a free marketplace have generated amazing human benefits in our era, from increased longevity to better nutrition to more education worldwide. For an uber future, we need to encourage, instead of discourage, companies like Uber.