French cab drivers are frightened out of their gourds by Uber, the ride-for-hire app. So last week they overturned cars, burned tires and incited general mayhem. Then one of them said, evidently with a straight face, “Why isn’t the government enforcing the law? It’s apparently possible not to respect the rule of law.”
The complaint was not quite so weird as it sounds: Recent French law prohibits both the ride-sharing app Uberpop and unlicensed taxi-driving, but Uber has continued to operate while awaiting a final court decree that would shut it down. But in another sense it is grotesquely wrong: meting out indiscriminate violence to demand the government threaten further violence — operation of Uberpop can get you two years in a French prison, kid you not — to make consenting adults stop engaging in free and peaceful economic activity. On Monday French authorities arrested two Uber executives for the unpardonable sin of offering people a product they really seem to like.
And they’re not alone. As The Wall Street Journal reported Friday, “Courts in Spain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands (also) have banned Uberpop.” The reason is that Uber’s ride-sharing and ride-for-hire services are immensely popular — far more popular than traditional taxi services. So the traditional taxi services want the government to do, by force, what they cannot do themselves: keep Uber from enticing customers by offering a more appealing product at an appealing price.
Which is pretty astounding, when you think about it. It would be like telegram companies trying to outlaw telephones. Like record companies trying to get digital music banned. Like the Postal Service demanding prison time for anyone using email.