Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Let's not let politicians get away with crying 'immoral' to justify their prejudices

It is always a worry when politicians start invoking morality in the promotion of their particular policy or prejudice. It doesn't matter much which side you're on, the objective is always to try and make out that those who support what you oppose are bad people. This applies as much to William Hague going on about the moral case for low taxation as it does to the latest piece of moralising from Labour's 'business spokesperson', Rebecca Long-Bailey:
Ms Long-Bailey told Today: "I don't personally use Uber because I don't feel that it is morally acceptable but that's not to say they can't reform their practices."

She added: "I don't want to see companies model their operations on the Uber model."
The objective here is to make you feel bad when you choose to use Uber - or, by implication, any other business using the 'gig economy' model. Obviously, Ms Long-Bailey has every right to choose the (usually) more expensive option of a hackney carriage or traditional private hire, but when she claims this makes her morally superior she is changing the argument entirely. Where we had an argument about working conditions and business models, we now have one based on making people who don't agree with Ms Long-Bailey feel bad.

Morality is a tricky area for politicians - after all arguments based on morality kept homosexuality illegal, brought in prohibition in the USA, helped keep women out of the workforce, and resulted in the unwarranted stigma of illegitimacy. In this case the appeal to morality is based on an assumption that Ms Long-Bailey knows precisely the minds and motivations of those people who drive for Uber.

The thing is that we know one thing that makes Ms Long-Bailey's argument false - no-one is forcing anyone to be an Uber driver. More to the point, the employment basis of most taxi and private hire drivers is pretty much identical to that of Uber drivers - they are self-employed. And Uber across most of the UK is licensed in the same manner as a private hire vehicle. This company is no more exploitative of its drivers than the typical Leeds, Bradford or Manchester private hire business.

What Labour and Ms Long-Bailey are saying is that it is morally wrong for a new business employing people on pretty much the same basis as the businesses it competes with to charge less money. This is about is protecting the local authority taxi monopoly and the excess rents earned by that monopoly and its employees - this is not about morality but about competition and the desire to protect one section of the market. All at the expense of the consumer - you and me.

Labour are entitled to make the argument for this protectionism using grounds such as safety, tradition, market stability and so forth. I think these sorts of arguments are wrong but that's an opinion. What is wrong here is that Ms Long-Bailey wants to make out that my opposition to her position on the technological disruption of public transport is somehow immoral. It clearly isn't.

This approach represents an unhealthy trend in recent left wing politics. It used to be the conservative right that would invoke morality as justification for policy but today we find this moral imperative used by socialists like Ms Long-Bailey. Whether it's the defence industry, disruptive digital technology, online distribution or Brexit, elements of the left turn quickly to an argument based on morals. We see this starkly with Ms Long-Bailey's unjustified attack on Uber but it's familiar to those who've witnessed arguments for 'ethical' procurement or investment, arguments based not on a real moral code but on the translation of political credo into an ethical platform. If I oppose 'Fairtrade', fossil fuel disinvestment or bans on tobacco advertising then I am a bad person because such policies are 'ethical' - opposing them makes me, in effect 'unethical'.

We need to start kicking back. Using Uber is not immoral, the 'gig economy' business model is not unethical, and to say so is to corrupt the meaning of ethics and morality by twisting it to serve a political ideology. Ms Long-Bailey's argument cannot be allowed to stand there without challenge, to become the presumed truth about self-employment in the UK because it is simply not true that it is immoral to use Uber, it misrepresents the business model and rather insults the folk who earn a decent crust driving for that company.


1 comment:

Jonathan Bagley said...

Also, all Uber transactions are recorded. Socialists should be pleased for the reduction in tax evasion.