Sitting on a couch on Jimmy Kimmel Live! this February, Ashton Kutcher spoke out against what he sees as needless regulations that are preventing Uber from thriving in major cities around the country.
“There’s only some cities where there’s some bizarre old antiquated legislation which doesn’t allow it to exist there,” he said of the app-based car service, in which he invests. “Basically it’s like mafioso village mentality of ‘we’re not gonna let the new guy come in.’ Like in Miami, [where] it doesn’t exist because of some dumb regulation that said it can’t exist there.”
Kutcher’s comments could be seen as a surprise. Thanks to his years of playing Kelso on “That 70’s Show,” he is a certified millennial icon. That makes him an unlikely spokesman for reducing government regulations, a cause where young people and conservatives generally don’t see eye-to-eye.
According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, adults ages 18 to 33 tend to be more politically independent than past generations, but still skew towards the Democratic Party. Overall, they are less conservative, and tend to be more fond of government regulation of the economy.
But increasingly, conservatives see deregulation as a selling point to younger voters, especially where it intersects with tech startups like Uber that young voters might see less government involvement as improving their lives.
Last month, Sen. Marco Rubio (R), a Miami native, has made stops in the Google headquarters in Washington and spoken at an Uber-sponsored event. In both instances, he made appeals to deregulate industries or to loosen specific policies that might stifle the growth of these startups.
“Regulation should always be used as a way to help the public and ensure safety. It should never be used as a tool of anti-competitive activity,” Rubio said at the Uber event.
Pushback from the taxi industry against on-demand car services, such as Uber and Lyft, have been mounting in cities from Chicago and Paris to Seattle. As usership from the app has risen in these cities, taxi ridership has been on the decline. Taxi unions and associations in several cities have lawsuits in progress against Uber, with the Western Washington Taxi Cab Association in Seattle claiming that the company is operating an ‘unlawful and deceptive business practice,, for example.
“We should never allow government power and government regulations to be used to protect an established incumbent industry at the expense of an innovative competitor,” Rubio continued.
“The company has become a cause célèbre among conservatives,” GOP strategist Gregg Keller, the former executive director of the American Conservative Union, recently told the Wall Street Journal. “As a movement, we need to champion these kinds of disruptive technologies, because they represent the free market.”
That sentiment is echoed by Brian Solis, author of “What’s the Future of Business(WTF)”. He told Fusion that the taxi industry, and others being affected by like-minded services (think hotels and Airbnb) will simply have to adapt.
“You can stand there and force politics onto anything that threatens you, but all you’re going to do is stall the inevitable, and cost a lot of everyone a lot of money,” Solis told Fusion in an interview. “If the laws are protecting things that consumers don’t want anyways, then conservatives can step in and say ‘that is wrong. Regulating that [sector] is killing progress.’”
Back in Washington, Rubio clamored for a change, implying that it could help get Republican ideals across to youth voters — a sector the party will desperately need in future elections. In 2012, President Obama was reelected, and voters under 30 favored the president by a margin of 24 percentage points over Republican Mitt Romney.
“For the first time, I see young people that potentially might be friendly to more government involvement in our economy arguing against regulatory impediments to an existing business,” he said during the Google visit.
In New Jersey and Texas, a separate, but similar fight has been brewing in regards to the direct-to-consumer car company Tesla. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was recently called out by fellow Republican and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for not allowing the company to operate in his state.
“There is no rational justification for the state to intervene and impose an obsolete business model on a 21st century startup,” Gingrich wrote in an email to supporters.
That future, as Gingrich and Rubio are seeing it, is increasingly in line with these startups that young voters have become more pervasive in the everyday lives of young voters, with the added bonus of potentially bringing down consumer costs.
During the Uber event, Rubio offered a bit of learned wisdom. He talked of students he teaches at Florida International University in Miami who had recently traveled to the nation’s capital, who noted how easy it was to get a ride from Uber at 4am after a night out. They wondered why the service wasn’t available in Miami.
“Suddenly, I had a bunch of 20, 21 year old anti-regulatory activists on my hands,” he said.
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