The biggest startups in modern history were built on old-fashioned worker exploitation. Time for an upgrade.
Uber and Lyft sold themselves to investors as world-beating operations that would capture whole markets and then become profitable at scale. Surprise — pure fantasy. Even after a decade, neither company has managed to turn a profit. The startups sold themselves to cities as creators of good jobs and providers of new transportation options. But the cities were hoodwinked by the fantasy, too — those jobs are precarious and low-quality; many workers hover around or below minimum wage and must clock dangerously long hours to hit ride targets and surge rates. Taxi drivers, meanwhile, were pushed out of business by the venture capital-fueled companies and are despairing. And city streets are more gridlocked than ever.
Then there was the greatest fantasy of all, written directly into each company’s IPO documents, that soon — soon, within a matter of years even — the ride-hailing business would be turned over entirely to a fleet of autonomous cars, thus eliminating the pesky need for human labor entirely. It’s not really fair to call that a fantasy — it’s more of a delusion. For the foreseeable future, functional and safe self-driving commercial taxis remain a recklessly pursued mirage; Uber’s autonomous test vehicles have already struck and killed a pedestrian.
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