LIVE STREAM: Uber and racial discrimination – A conversation with Chris Knittel


Join us on Wed., Feb. 15, at 9 a.m. PST for a live conversation with Chris Knittel, professor of applied economics at MIT Sloan, who will talk about his latest research on racial bias in the sharing economy—how Uber and Lyft are failing black passengers and what to do about it.

Eva Millona, the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), will also appear on the program to discuss ways Uber and Lyft can work on mitigating discrimination.

You will be able to view the live show by bookmarking this page and tuning in Feb. 15 at 9 a.m. PST.

Submit your questions to #MITSloanExperts on Twitter before 8 a.m. PST on Feb. 15. Your question could be answered live on the air.

Our last installment featured Zeynep Ton, MIT Sloan Professor and author of The Good Jobs Strategy. The live stream with Chris Knittel will play from here on Feb. 15.

Powered by Go-Live

Jewish comedian T.J. Miller arrested in altercation over Trump with Uber driver


Comedian T.J. Miller was arrested for allegedly slapping his Uber driver following a heated discussion with him over Donald Trump.

The driver, who was bringing Miller back to his Hollywood home from the GQ magazine’s Men of the Year bash, made a citizen’s arrest Thursday after he said the comic hit him on the head, the entertainment news website TMZ reported.

According to a police source quoted by TMZ, the alleged slap came after an argument over Trump’s election as president last month, but the report did not elaborate.

The driver had no visible injuries and Miller appeared to be intoxicated, according to TMZ. Miller, star of the 2016 comedy film “Office Christmas Party” and the HBO sitcom “Silicon Valley,” was later released without having to post bail.

Neither the Los Angeles Police Department nor a representative for Miller responded immediately to a request for comment by the New York Daily News.

Miller’s mother is Jewish, according to the J. Jewish news weekly of Northern California.

The 35-year-old comedian arrived at the GQ event in Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles with a bloody ear recently pierced with a small safety-pin, the Daily News reported.

Driverless cars could save lives, kill businesses


The automotive and tech companies pursuing the driverless car share a utopian belief: Autonomous vehicles will benefit society, eventually saving most of the nearly 33,000 people each year killed in road accidents in America alone.

“If the situation was reversed, and we had automated vehicles today and someone proposed to let people drive cars, what would the reaction be?” asks Glen De Vos, vice president of global engineering for Delphi Automotive PLC, a supplier of driverless-car technology.

“You would be basically asking that 33,000 deaths per year be allowed on highways as part of a policy plan. There's no way on earth anybody would accept it.”

The big win for society wouldn't be big, or even a win, for everybody, however. There will be losers and winners.

Take automakers. Eventually, if fully driverless cars (“L4” vehicles under the American government's classification system) can be summoned with a smartphone just like Uber cars today, many people might forgo car ownership. Or families in developed nations might own one car instead of two.

That could be a financial boon for families. In the United States, cars are usually the second-largest item in the household budget, even though studies show they sit idle 90% of the time. But automakers would suffer.

If driverless cars catch on, U.S. car sales could plunge 40% in the next 25 years, Barclays analyst Brian Johnson wrote in a report last year. General Motors and Ford Motor Co, he added, would have to cut their combined number of assembly plants in the U.S. and Canada to 17 from the current 30. Some 25,000 auto workers would lose their jobs.

Auto makers now are moving to offset any loss of sales with revenue from providing transportation as a service.

“We've run a number of scenarios trying to understand some of the sensitivities,” Mike Abelson, vice president of strategy and global portfolio planning, said in an interview. “Some scenarios show a decline in volume, but we have some scenarios that show it going it up.”

As the cost goes down for autonomous vehicles, it will allow people who cannot drive – the elderly and disabled – to own or use vehicles, Abelson said, echoing comments by Google executives.

Ubiquitous driverless Ubers are a couple decades or more away, but some automakers already are experimenting with selling rides as well as cars. Ford and Jaguar Land Rover are launching car-sharing experiments without self-driving cars; autonomous vehicles could accelerate the concept. General Motors has purchased 10% of ride-hailing service Lyft, a competitor to Uber.

But a prolonged transition to full L4 autonomy could bring automakers a financial windfall. The stage before L4 is L3 technology, requiring some human intervention – including automatic handling in traffic jams, braking to avoid accidents, keeping a proper distance from cars ahead and pulling into parking places. These features would cost extra and boost profits, especially on luxury models.

This is already happening. Last year, Tesla Motors Inc introduced Autopilot, which does all those things, on its Model S that starts at $76,500. Drivers are warned to keep their hands on the wheel – not that they always comply.

The Mercedes-Benz Intelligent Drive system, offered on the new E-Class and some other models, includes features the Daimler AG brand calls Park Pilot, Speed Limit Pilot and Blind Spot Assist. The L3 autonomous features can add $4,500 to the price of a $53,000 car.

Volkswagen AG 's Audi and BMW offer similar systems, and General Motors plans to offer “SuperCruise” next year on its Cadillac CT6 sedans. Other automakers are joining in.

The components companies that sell these systems to automakers are winners, too. They include Israel's Mobileye, Germany's Continental AG and Robert Bosch GmbH, and Delphi and Nvidia Corp in the United States. Silicon Valley's Nvidia, which began by making graphics for video games, now counts automotive as its fastest-growing business segment, with revenue nearly doubling every year.

Two Silicon Valley giants, Google parent Alphabet Inc and Apple Inc, could be big winners.

Google, which says it wants automotive partners, could license its self-driving software to car companies worldwide. Apple, typically tight-lipped, won't discuss its automotive ambitions. Its hiring suggests it might want to market Apple-brand cars, though their manufacture might be out-sourced, like iPads and iPhones.

People who drive taxis, Uber cars, transit buses or delivery trucks would be losers. The number of jobs lost in the U.S. alone could total 2.6 million, or nearly 2% of the work force, calculates economist Martin Zimmerman at the University of Michigan.

To put that in perspective, Zimmerman says, American manufacturing has shed jobs equivalent to 11% of the work force since 1979. The U.S. economy has adjusted well, although many individuals have suffered. Those who moved into other jobs often settled for lower pay.

Eventually, widespread adoption of autonomous driving and automated accident-avoidance technology could undermine automobile insurers. The collapse of auto-insurance premiums in America and Europe as autonomous cars take hold would create a “giant, sucking sound,” Kate Brown, senior vice president of Swiss Re, told a recent conference on autonomous driving at the University of Michigan law school. Insurers would “make it up in China and India” and other emerging markets, she said.

Auto insurers could profit by delaying big discounts for customers who buy automated driving technology, arguing it will take years of claims experience to know how many accidents and deaths are avoided.

Trial lawyers can probably breathe easy: Autonomous driving won't end litigation over accidents. But it will change who gets sued.

“A greater share of crashes could be attributed to a product defect,” Bryant Walker Smith, assistant law professor at the University of South Carolina, said at the Michigan conference. In other words, when cars drive themselves, manufacturers – as opposed to human drivers – would be liable.

Michigan Uber driver accused of anti-Semitism dropped from company


An Uber driver accused by a Jewish University of Michigan student of making anti-Semitic remarks, precipitating a profanity-laced tirade by the student, has been dropped from the company.

Uber told the student publication, the Michigan Review, this week that it was investigating the incident between the driver, Artur Zawada, and the student, Jake Croman.

A video of Croman screaming a torrent of profanities at Zawada has gone viral since it was posted on March 23, three days after the incident. Croman said he was responding to anti-Semitic remarks.

Zawada told the Review in an interview Monday evening that he did nothing wrong. He denies the charges of anti-Semitism.

Croman is being investigated by school administrators and his fraternity over the incident.

Zawada filed a complaint with the Ann Arbor Police Department. He told Tab Michigan that Croman’s rant was unprovoked and came after he told Croman that he would not drive him because of three previous bad experiences with the student.

An immigrant from Poland, Zawada has been in the United States for 30 years. He told the Review that he has no reason to be anti-Semitic.

“Half the Jewish people who founded Israel were Polish citizens,” he said. “I have Jewish friends. I have professors I know at the University of Michigan who are Jewish. I worked for my boss and he was Jewish.”

Croman is the son of multimillionaire New York real estate developer Steven Croman, who is being investigated by the New York State attorney general for allegedly using illegal tactics to pressure rent-stabilized tenants into vacating their apartments, according to the New York Daily News.

Uber not welcome in Israel, transportation minister says


Israel’s transportation minister wants to prevent alternative taxi company Uber from entering the Israeli market, even as he faces opposition from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said Monday at a Knesset Finance Committee meeting that if Israel changes regulations that currently block Uber from legally operating in Israel, the government will owe Israel’s taxi drivers more than $2 billion in compensation, the Times of Israel reported.

At a Cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu implied that Katz opposes Uber because he is being pressured by taxi drivers, according to the Times of Israel.

Speaking to the Finance Committee on Monday, Katz defended taxi drivers, saying they are a “working community that’s dealing with reality and my job is to enable them to cope on equal terms.”

“We are not talking about the country’s rich,” Katz said. “If someone pays for a taxi license, it doesn’t make sense for someone else to come along with a private vehicle and compete with him.”

Israeli regulations prevent anyone other than registered taxi drivers from offering rides in exchange for payment.

Based in San Francisco and founded in 2012, Uber operates in more than 50 countries. The company contracts with individuals who use their own vehicles to transport passengers ordering the service via a smartphone app. Using GPS, the app matches passengers with nearby drivers.

The company has come under attack not just from taxi drivers concerned about competition, but from critics who say it exploits its drivers by hiring them as independent contractors rather than employees.

On a sharing economy and politics


Uber has pulled off what few others can these days: The beloved car service (if I’m allowed to describe it so prosaically) has united politicians of all persuasions. Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians are all vying to outdo each other in portraying the popular company, and its political struggles to avoid regulatory strangulation, as a poignant validation of their worldview. 

Uber last month hired David Plouffe, President Obama’s former campaign manager and White House advisor, to direct its “campaign” against “Big Taxi” and local transportation regulators across the country.  At the same time, conservative Republicans like Senator Marco Rubio and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist championed Uber even though it is the darling of harried urbanites in Democratic enclaves like San Francisco and New York City.

The Republican Party is embracing Uber’s popularity in such hostile jurisdictions with a plaintive “See, this is what we have been complaining about all along” pitch, complete with a “petition in support of innovative companies like Uber.” Republicans understandably salivate at the sight of liberals, for once, railing against government overreach – excessive licensing requirements, taxes, and safety regulations – threatening a service they love. Is it too much of a stretch to hope that these ride-share fans might rise up to oppose similar government-imposed obstacles facing plenty of other American businesses – power utilities, financial companies, industrial manufacturers, and other “companies like Uber”?

Good luck with that.  The big regulatory clashes of the Internet era – the various iterations of net neutrality, the Microsoft antitrust case, the disputes over taxing online commerce, the Napster music download battles, the recent Aereo TV Supreme Court case, and the current fight over how to regulate Uber, Airbnb, and other “sharing economy” firms – haven’t produced new thinking or  conceptual breakthroughs for how regulate other areas of the economy.

Instead, these “new economy” fights have deepened the dysfunction of our very old political system. Because they have typically involved definitional squabbles— Is Uber merely another limo company?  Was Aereo TV more akin to your old VCR or a rogue cable company?  — and because it is so difficult to dismantle or update regulatory approaches rendered obsolete by disrupting technologies, these Internet-era fights stand out for their brazen hypocrisy, cynicism, and intellectual inconsistency.

Take Uber. It’s hard to imagine Republicans cheering the company on if, instead of stealing market share from local union-controlled monopolies, it was stealing market share from a handful of large, publicly traded national taxi companies that had invested heavily in their infrastructure while satisfying regulations the new entrant was trying to avoid.  

That alternative scenario is pretty much how things stand in the telecom sector, where Republicans have generally defended the prerogatives of incumbent players against regulators and new competitors preaching “net neutrality” (the principle that owners of the Internet’s pipes or airwaves cannot make separate deals with content providers on price or speed depending on their traffic volume or other considerations, but must treat everyone equally). When it comes to the long-running net neutrality battles at the FCC and in the courts, the GOP has been far more sympathetic to what economists call the “stranded costs” and property rights of established incumbents who built their businesses the old-fashioned way.

But conservatives aren’t alone in their hypocrisy, or semantic creativity, when it comes to Uber.  Liberal Uber lovers, instead of addressing cities’ burdensome transport regulations head-on, are more comfortable arguing that the company doesn’t belong in the same category as those old yellow taxis and limo companies.  Uber, you see, is a technology company!

This sort of semantic nonsense has been a staple of all Internet regulatory fights — and, on the business side, of the hype used to try to justify stratospheric valuations for dot-coms during the Internet bubble early on. For a long time Internet enthusiasts felt it was OK to “share” copyrighted music and films online widely, since it was somehow different than old school piracy. And if you think Tesla shouldn’t be forced to sell their cars through third-party dealers, arguing that it’s a tech company that shouldn’t be subject to the old rules is far easier than seeking to take on the anachronistic and anti-consumer laws hurting all car companies. Better to create a loophole or carve-out for the new players than to bother modernizing the entire system.

For years, online retailers like Amazon benefited from the dubious notion that taxing online sales would stifle the development of the Internet, and that online retailers, because they are primarily tech companies, shouldn’t be subject to those pesky burdens imposed on brick-and-mortar retailers.  I am a huge fan of Amazon, but it is unfair to its competitors in the physical world (not to mention to state revenues) for my purchase of shoes on the site to be treated as some mystical high-tech event that is not, contrary to all appearances, a retail transaction.

The “sharing economy” moniker, as applied to the likes of Uber and Airbnb, is itself a brilliant but disingenuous fiction. What exactly am I “sharing” in an Uber transaction?  As far as I can tell, the company owners are “sharing” with me a driver it has hired so long as I pay a certain amount of money to get from Point A to Point B.  The service is good and prompt, but I am not sure what is being “shared” that my community’s yellow cab service doesn’t also “share” with me. Similarly, calling Airbnb part of the “sharing economy” seduces us into thinking it’s so different from everything that has come before it. But isn’t the underlying transaction involved – me paying you $100 to rent a room for the night – basically the same one I engage in if I book a hotel room on Expedia?

So let’s get real. The transformation of numerous industries by nimble players leveraging formidable information technologies on behalf of consumers is to be celebrated, but not to the point of pretending that things that are aren’t, or that aren’t are.  There’s plenty of that already taking place in our traditional politics.

Andrés Martinez is editorial director of Zocalo Public Square, for which he writes the Trade Winds column.

Brands like Yelp, Amazon and Uber make lousy lovers


What brand doesn’t belong on this list?  Amazon, Uber, Yelp, Hillary.

It’s a trick question. They all belong. In recent days, they’ve all been making it harder for their fans to love them.

I loved Amazon at first sight. Later, when it killed Borders, I forgave it, and called it creative destruction. I vowed to patronize independent bookstores more. I said I’d be glad to pay a premium for knowledgeable staff. Here’s how that worked out: I’d call to see if they had something, and almost always they didn’t, but said it sounds like a terrific book, they’d be more than happy to order it, shouldn’t take much more than a week. And, meanwhile, there, on my screen, calling to me, was Amazon, one click and one day away. Almost always, I did click. It felt like a secret vice.  

What’s hurting my relationship with Amazon’s brand now is its ” target=”_blank”>reports about Uber’s competition with Lyft have dampened my ardor.  Lyft’s systems have been gummed up by thousands of car requests from Uber minions who either don’t show up or who ride for just a few blocks and try to recruit the Lyft driver to Uber for a $500-a-head bounty. So much for the romance of ” target=”_blank”>threw out a case against Yelp alleging economic extortion. When I heard one of the plaintiffs ” target=”_blank”>But in her ruling, Judge Marsha S. Berzon said the plaintiffs hadn’t proven economic extortion.  Here’s the killer in the ruling: Even if owners who refused to buy ads had actually proven that Yelp withheld positive reviews, it wouldn’t matter, because Yelp “has no obligation” to publish them. “It is ” target=”_blank”>review of Henry Kissinger’s new book, “World Order.”  In it she calls him “a friend,” vouches for his “astute observations” and notes that they share “a belief in the indispensability of continued American leadership in service of a just and liberal order.” 

I have been her fan since she was the first lady of Arkansas. This tribute to Kissinger won’t be the only test of my fidelity, but I’m not ready to write this one off as a one-off.  Actually, I can think of a few different words to describe him than she did.  Gasbag, narcissist and war criminal come to mind.  

We ” target=”_blank”>leaked to Richard Nixon that a truce was imminent.  This enabled Nixon to torpedo the treaty, telling the Thieu government of South Vietnam that Nixon would give him a better deal than Johnson. Thieu pulled out of the talks, and Nixon, running as the peace candidate, arguably won the 1968 presidential election because of Kissinger’s sabotage. Before the war would end, 20,000 more American troops would die, 100,000 would be wounded, and more than a million Vietnamese would be killed. We also now know that the “just and liberal order” that Clinton and Kissinger agree on didn’t prevent him from backing the military coup that overthrew the democratically elected but inconveniently socialist president of Chile, or from making common cause with murderous despots from Argentina to East Timor. 

I get why she calls him a friend. They were both secretaries of state. Members of that club don’t blow the whistle on one another. I also get that the book review is meant to burnish her hawk credentials. It does. Unfortunately, what it also does is remind us that she is, after all, a politician.  

By now we should know better than to believe any politician is driven more by ideals than by interests. Even so, there are plenty of competing interests for a candidate to pick from. I’d like to believe that if Clinton becomes a candidate for president, when she weighs plutocrats’ interests against the human costs of their wealth, the exigencies of fundraising won’t have a thumb on that scale, just as I’d like to believe that her valentine to Kissinger is just an effort to pre-empt whining from John McCain and Lindsay Graham. But if recent years have taught us anything, it’s that loving any brand is a losing proposition, in politics no less than in commerce. Unfortunately, the business that brands are in is persuading us to confuse their power with our love.


Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear chair at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Uber picks political insider David Plouffe to wage its regulatory battles


Uber wants your vote of support. And it has hired a campaign manager to win you over.

Uber, the fast-growing private car start-up, announced on Tuesday it had hired the political strategist David Plouffe to be its senior vice president of policy and strategy. The move further signaled the grand aspirations of companies like Uber, which are challenging entrenched industries and running into resistance from some local governments.

Mr. Plouffe, who ran President Obama’s 2008 campaign, said he planned to run Uber’s communication efforts much like a political race, pushing to woo consumers and regulators alike in the company’s fast-paced expansion across the world.

Read more on nytimes.com.