Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Protectionism lurking in the guise of 'professionalism' - the elitism we expect from the Financial Times


Hot on the back of this particular egregious misunderstanding of trade comes a further example - one that, as we find too often, festishises the 'professional':

We argued back in July for example that the way Airbnb actually differentiates itself in the hospitality market is largely by throwing amateurs at the professional hospitality market. Which is fine, if you don’t care much for professional hospitality. But it’s not so great if you do, because the service certainly doesn’t augment the availability of professional hospitality services.

Understand this my fellow peons, this person (writing in the elite's journal of choice, the Financial Times) has a problem with you being allowed to set up a business. Bear in mind that this is the sort of attitude that led to requiring interior designers to have a college degree. In a more free world this is known as protectionism and it's a tax levied by those who have control of something on those who don't. Oh, for sure there's lots of the usual excuses about safety, about consumer protection and about the traditions of whichever service we're on about.

The quote above attacks AirBnB because the people renting rooms aren't providing "professional hospitality services". The author goes on to tell us that AirBnB doesn't work out for some providers and that "there’s more to short-term letting. than just handing over keys on changeover day". Well blow me sideways, that's a real shock! But it completely (and I suspect - this is the privileged speaking here) misses the point which is that people have the opportunity to rent out a room in their home - indeed it does so by repeatedly talking about the market as if it's a holiday cottage business. Merely - the writer goes on to do the same with both Uber and the impact of driverless cars - reminding us that what we have here is a sniffy, snobby criticism of people (ordinary, regular people in the main who never read the Financial Times) who want to make a bit of cash to supplement their income.

For the readers of the Financial Times - who are either wealthy or the employees of wealthy businesses - the idea that someone might prefer a stay that's a bit rough and ready rather than very expensive "professional hospitality services" is difficult to comprehend. But if you're a travelling student, an artist or just someone who want to see the world on a budget such accommodation is a godsend. What this writer is doing is pushing the idea - loved by the sort of big hotel chains who advertise in the FT - that somehow these low-cost, private lets are a threat to civilisation rather than something that's challenging the presumptions built into "professional hospitality services".

It's called protectionism and it makes us all poorer. And anyhow amateurs are awesome.


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