04 September 2015

Uber, Airbnb, Public Policy, Conflicting Interests

"... In general, social scientists recognize that different people and groups in society often have conflicting interests in how economic institutions are shaped. These interests are reconciled — if they are reconciled — through political institutions. Many social scientists thus look not so much at efficiencies but at political institutions to understand why economic institutions are shaped the way they are. For example, a democratic local government in principle represents the interests of its citizens, through political institutions such as council elections and public consultations. Local governments consequently try to strike a balance between the conflicting interests of hoteliers and their neighbours, by limiting hotel business to certain zones. In contrast, Airbnb as a for-profit business must cater to the interests of its customers, the would-be hoteliers and their guests. It has no mechanism, and more importantly, no mandate, to address on an equal footing the interests of third parties like customers’ neighbours. Perhaps because of this, 74% of Airbnb’s properties are not in the main hotel districts, but in ordinary residential blocks. That said, governments have their own challenges in producing fair and efficient economic institutions. Not least among these is the fact that government regulators are at a risk of capture by incumbent market participants, or at the very least they face the innovator’s dilemma: it is easier to craft rules that benefit the incumbents than rules that provide great but uncertain benefits to future market participants. For example, cities around the world operate taxi licensing systems, where only strictly limited numbers of license owners are allowed to operate taxicabs. Whatever benefits this system offers to customers in terms of quality assurance, among its biggest beneficiaries are the license owners, and among its losers the would-be drivers who are excluded from the market. Institutional insiders and outsiders have conflicting interests, and government political institutions are often such that it is easier for it to side with the insiders..."

Read more at: Uber and Airbnb make the rules now — but to whose benefit? | The Policy and Internet Blog

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