SO I PICKED UP two ladies in West Hollywood at bar close last night. They paid me for service. Oh baby, they paid.
The first woman was going to Sherman Oaks. She had a friend going to Brentwood. Could I add her to my route? Her last two Uber drivers had stood her up.
Sure. Just add the address. She did, and -oof- the fare jumped to $110. Ms. Brentwood kvetched as we climbed Laurel Canyon. How difficult it now was to get an Uber now, especially out of LAX since she was only traveling a short distance. Drivers were holding out for rides to Disneyland or Palm Springs. This was unfair. Ms. Sherman Oaks noted the number of office mates who had repatriated to their places of origin during the pandemic but still on the payroll at LA salaries while Zooming in from Maine or Idaho. This made no sense.
Actually it made perfect sense, in Ayn Randian terms.
There is a shortage of Uber drivers now as there is a shortage of service workers everywhere. This is the natural consequence of the government paying people to remain jobless. Uber is a real-time spot market for service on demand: how much will you pay to get home now, as opposed to an hour from now? Riders groan in dismay, but they’re playing against the house, which sits on years of metadata. Uber knows what you will pay.
So I earned $85 for 34 minutes of driving, plus an additional $12 in incentives above the fare as an inducement to keep me on the road. What Uber doesn’t know, and no one does, is how deeply or how far in the future riders are willing to be gouged. Thus, incentives, a hedge against uncertainty.
Technically L.A. fully reopened June 15, no mask, no social distance, full capacity. Practically speaking its “Help Wanted” signs and signing bonuses everywhere.
Establishments that are able to reconstitute their staff are making a killing. A third of my weekend trips involve just seven Westside businesses:
There are frequently one hour lines. For bars.
One might ask: how long can this go on? I thought when word leaked on chat boards this spring of all the fat, once-a-decade money being made behind the wheel, drivers would return. My contemplative brethren have failed to heed the call. Then the Biden administration extended full PUA and UI benefits through September. The California eviction moratorium was extended to October, with taxpayers picking up 80% of the back rent and landlords required to eat the remaining 20%.
Protections for some tenants could last into March 2022 while they apply for financial aid from the state.
Okay, March then. Maybe. But why would it end there? People (some, not all) can double-dip with impunity, taking the dole and shorting the rent. Woe betide the politician who says yes to the first televised eviction in Los Angeles.*
And there’s more. Buried in the “infrastructure” reconciliation bill now before Congress is a $7200 refundable child tax credit: the old, reviled AFDC/cash welfare resurrected by another name. That’s per kid, permanently, on top of EBT, Section 8, Medicaid and free phones. Add it up. No one collecting $50K in baseline support is going to apply for shift work at Costco and its not because she is busy writing a novel.
How far we have moved the Overton window in 15 months. In 2019 the Universal Basic Income proposed by Andrew Yang was a $1000/month supplemental floor, which would scale downward with earnings, intended to augment, not replace work. I thought it a potential boondoggle, but it would pass for sober and responsible now. Easily Americas most likable politician, Yang got a respectful hearing, but his proposal didn’t achieve liftoff . That was so 2019, when we paid lip service to moral hazard and inflationary pressure. Now we pay $100 for Uber rides and $100 for a sheet of plywood.
If one were to conjure a black swan event which would fundamentally weaponize America’s most self-destructive proclivities: safetyism, media hysteria, profligate spending, veneration of bureaucrats, corporate oligarchy; if would be hard to improve on the Wuhan virus.
If you’re wondering when the bill will come due for all the deficit trillions, it’s already here.
Here’s a sweet coda: despite her frustrations with Uber Ms. Sherman Oaks left me a $22 tip. On top of the $110. Some people are innately gracious.
* Actually, enormous respect and quiet appreciation would flow to such a person. The rending of garments on social media would be considerable.