Most people know actor Ashton Kutcher for his various roles as a dopey oversexed 20-something man-child, and frankly we didn’t like him much when he first came on the scene. Our reaction was that Hollywood’s idea of a leading man used to be Clark Gable or John Wayne, or Clint Eastwood or Sly Stallone, or Chuck Norris or Bruce Willis…and now it’s this guy.
That said, something has changed with Kutcher. He’s clearly not the dopey guy he’s portrayed himself to be on TV and the silver screen.
The first real clue that Kutcher had some depth to him came when he gave a jaw-dropping speech on ambition, humility and work ethic when receiving some goofy teen choice award. That was a bit of an eye-opener, but given that it came while Kutcher was promoting the release of Jobs, the movie about the founder of Apple with Kutcher in the lead role it was worth a little bit of skepticism – after all, actors often present themselves in newsmaking ways in order to promote their work, and speaking in entrepreneurial terms at an award ceremony when building audience interest in a movie about the foremost American entrepreneur in modern times was…timely.
That said, Kutcher went on Jimmy Kimmel’s show earlier this month. He’s not promoting his Steve Jobs movie anymore, but his tune is exactly the same.
It turns out that Kutcher has an investment fund which provides equity finance for startups. One of which is Uber, the web-app based black car service which is mushrooming all over the country (including in New Orleans, one hopes) despite resistance from local governments. And when Kimmel asks Kutcher about it, the conversation gets really interesting…
The more we see, the more our idea crystallizes that the overarching problem in American society is this – we have an Information Age society with an Industrial Age government. And until the government and its institutions catch up to society, our problems – debt, deficits, lack of public confidence in government, stupid policies, incompetent management, increasing lawlessness and cultural disconnection – will only worsen.
This kind of problem has happened before. The Civil War can be seen as the triumph of an early-Industrial Age society over the agrarian governmental model which the South was attempting to impose on the country. And the Progressive/New Deal era was a triumph of the massive welfare state an urbanized 20th century society demanded over the the early-Industrial Age frontier-capitalist governmental model the Republican-dominated post-Civil War society ushered in.
Now we’re in the midst of a new revolution. Kutcher’s Uber example is but a sign of this.
Uber obliterates the usual mentality which governs how local government handles for-hire transportation. Like Kutcher says, you can get a car using an app on your mobile phone basically by pressing a button. That’s a major improvement from the usual process of catching a cab, and the way the taxi industry is governed is a classic case of crooked, stupid Industrial Age government at the local level – the cab companies are mobbed-up and often so are the regulators, and the business is set up to discourage if not ban new entries into the marketplace and thus enrich those incumbents who grease politicians and regulators in turn.
All with the stated purpose of “protecting” the public. If you don’t have regulation, goes the song, then cab drivers will give passengers the runaround or operate vehicles posing a safety hazard.
And so on.
But you’ll look far and wide to find an Uber passenger who has those kinds of complaints about its service. Why? Because the technology Uber brings to the table eliminates a lot of the reason you’d have a need for Industrial Age regulation.
For example, an Uber driver doesn’t need to take you the long way around to jack up his fare – because he’s seeing a constant stream of fares pass through his mobile device while he’s driving you to your destination. The sooner he gets you there the sooner he can grab another fare, and the amount of time spent waiting for a new fare or gas spent getting to that new fare is completely minimized. He will make more money getting you to your destination as quickly as possible than wasting your time.
And he’s going to keep a clean, safe vehicle because Uber works on reputation. If his passengers rate him poorly, it’s going to make him less desirable to new passengers. That means fewer fares and probably less money. Thus, his motivation isn’t to cut corners; it’s to provide the best passenger experience possible because of the feedback his customers deposit onto the net.
In short, Uber is an example of society evolving beyond the bounds of its government. Uber, and the rideshare companies like Sidecar and Lyft which operate on similar business models, often have to function as outlaws because they can do things a lot better than the 20th century regulatory state is set up to govern.
But the regulatory state isn’t going away without a fight, because there are too many vested interests propping it up. In the taxi industry Uber and the rideshares are rather violently breaking into, there’s a chummy, greasy relationship between some rather unsavory characters who have achieved their positions largely by fixing the game against passengers and workers alike and local politicians who are predominantly big-government urban socialists.
This plays out across a host of industries, and it’s why the public has less trust in government than at any time since…well, since the last time you had a government so badly misaligned with American society.
There is probably a book to be written about all this. Not that I don’t have enough on my plate.