California’s Proposition 22 Pits the Future Against Its Enemies
More than two decades ago, Virginia Postrel published a prescient book with a wonderful title: “The Future and Its Enemies.” The technological revolution that has led to “greater wealth, health, opportunity and choice than at any time in history,” she argued, has resulted in “a chorus of intellectuals and politicians [that] loudly laments our condition.”
Sadly, the future’s enemies use the government to fight inevitable innovation and progress.
These critics bemoan the economic insecurity such advances have wrought, as well as other first-world problems ranging from our “enslavement” to technology to the supposed (but not actual) despoliation of the Earth. When she published the book, “smart phones” were rather dull. They were large, clunky, and served solely to make phone calls. It’s inconceivable how far those—and other common products—have developed in the ensuing years.
I recall my prized eight-track tape player, my first car with its whopping 70 horsepower and AM-only radio, phone booths, library card catalogs, pneumatic tubes for delivering office documents (Google it), video stores, and, my favorite, Qwip machines. The latter was cutting-edge in the 1970s. The sender put a document on a cylinder that would spin. It slowly transmitted a facsimile of the document—line by line and in crude fashion—to carbon paper at the other end.
Today I scanned and emailed dozens of documents and shudder at the thought of doing things in that archaic manner. By the way, it’s easy to get caught up in the consumer-oriented improvements we cherish while forgetting about, say, the vast improvements in food production that have dramatically reduced world hunger and the many life-saving medical advancements.
In California this year, the fight over the future centers on Proposition 22, which would allow companies such as Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash to classify workers as independent contractors rather than as permanent employees. Obviously, technology has disrupted the way we travel, shop, and work, which has made our lives much better—but has infuriated labor unions, which find it tougher to organize workers in the flexible new work world.
I’ve noted this before, but they’ve clearly taken on the role of the 19th Century British Luddites—textile workers who couldn’t compete with mechanized looms, so they vandalized them. Modern unions don’t destroy property these days—but they lobby the government to do something worse. They try to hobble those industries that are moving the world forward.
A few weeks ago, I took a taxicab for the first time in months. The driver didn’t want my business because, apparently, it wasn’t a good-enou
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