OPINION – Innovation is one of the key factors that made America a great nation. If there was a frontier to be tamed or a challenge to be overcome, Americans could be counted on to find the way.
Unfortunately, innovation is being slowly strangled out of existence by the growth of the regulatory state at every level. A perfect example of this can be seen in how authorities in Miami-Dade County are reacting to an innovative approach to transportation.
Capitalizing on smart phone app technology, Lyft was created to allow individuals needing a ride to request to be picked up via their phone. The app tracks the approach of the assigned driver and provides a photo and description of the driver and car so there can be no doubt.
The large pink mustache on the front of the car is also a good indicator that they’re dealing with an official Lyft driver.
All drivers are vetted by the service and must pass DMV and background checks before accepting riders. Lyft drivers use their own vehicles to provide rides for a few hours a week in their spare time. They also carry an additional $1 million liability coverage in addition to their insurance policies.
Those needing a ride are driven to their requested destination and the app automatically bills their account for a “donation” from a pre-stored credit card number. The driver keeps 80% of the donation, which can be adjusted upward or downward depending upon service, and Lyft keeps a 20% commission.
Drivers and passengers rate one another and if the rating is too low, they are never paired up again. A strong indicator that they’re on the right path is that Lyft has received more than $250 million in venture capital funding.
An innovative idea with a free market approach that has caught on in 60 different markets ought to be welcomed with open arms, right? Not so, according to Miami-Dade County officials.
Using undercover code enforcement agents, officials in Florida have begun conducting sting operations and confiscating the vehicles of Lyft drivers. This is done to protect limousine and taxicab companies who pay a great deal of protection money to officials each year in the form of permits, applications, inspections, and fees.
But Lyft drivers are not a fleet of full-time drivers working for flat or metered rates. They are using their own vehicles and technology to bring private individuals together in a mutually agreed upon manner that solves a transportation problem.
The fact that they can do so for roughly 30% less than what most cab fares would cost is a function of the free market working as intended.
Cab and limousine companies complain that they are paying an arm and a leg to officials for the privilege of doing business. Rather than questioning whether this shakedown is a proper function of local government, they want the misery spread more equally. If someone wants to do business on their “turf,” they’d better be willing to pay the racketeers too.
It’s a curious mindset that believes a business can only be legitimate if the state says it is. But this is how many of us have been trained to think.
Joseph Sobran explains why this is a erroneous concept:
“But permission isn’t freedom. The privilege of a subject isn’t the right of a free man. If you can own only what the government permits you to own, then in essence the government owns you. We no longer tell the state what our rights are; it tells us.
Such is the servitude Americans are now accustomed to under an increasingly bureaucratic state.”
When a particularly innovative idea cannot be acted upon without permission being granted in the form of licensing, our freedoms are no longer intact.
When businesses can use armed agents to harass their competitors and maintain their market position, there is no longer an appreciable difference between government and organized crime.
The legitimate areas of responsibility for government in economics include preventing the use of illegal force to compel the sale or purchase of a product and preventing fraud or monopolies. Creating economic crimes where an actual measurable harm has not taken place tends to stifle innovation.
We are not immune from this kind of economic protectionism and barriers to entry here in Southern Utah. Entrepreneurs from taxi drivers to home-based Tupperware dealers have felt the regulatory pinch.
It’s time we found the proper balance between innovation and regulation.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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