“America is an idea, not a geography,” says Lyft

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The ride-hailing company Lyft, apparently deciding that it needs to reinforce its progressive bona fides, is out with slick copy announcing that it plans to provide $150,000 in ride credits to 50 immigration/refugee groups around the country. Portland-based Unite Oregon  will be the Lyft credit recipient in Oregon.

“As part of our Lyft Relief Rides program, we have provided each organization with Lyft credit to help with their transportation needs, including but not limited to, getting immigrants and refugees to legal/court appointments,” Lyft announced on July 10, 2019.

The company claims it is “Taking a stand for immigrant rights,” but the tagline for the campaign,  “America is an idea, not a geography”, is sophistry that undermines the country’s legitimate efforts to enforce immigration law.

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The Democratic candidates for their party’s presidential nomination may be advocating policies that are almost the equivalent of open borders, but the fact is, America is both an idea AND a geography, and Americans want that geography protected and immigration laws enforced.

Businesses have been trying to position themselves as good corporate citizens for years in order to bring about a more favorable operating environment, but earlier efforts focused on neutral moves like raising public awareness of such things as charitable contributions, employee volunteerism and hiring veterans.

Lyft’s move is just the latest example of companies more willing to take public stands on truly controversial issues in order to raise their public profile… and sell more products.

In this case, though, it is naïve in the extreme for an American corporation to proselytize in a kind of hippy-dippy, enlightened way that borders have no place in international relations in the modern world in order to position itself as “woke.”.

All recent presidents have taken the position that protection of U.S. borders is essential.

“All Americans, not only in the states most heavily affected but in every place in this country, are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country,” which is why “our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders,” President Bill Clinton said in his 1995 State of the Union address.

“That is our direct message to the families in Central America: Do not send your children to the borders,” President Obama said in a 2014 interview with ABC News. The U.S. Border Patrol, he said, should be able to “stem the flow of illegal crossings and speed the return of those who do cross over … Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and I believe that they must be held accountable.”

It’s true that most Americans oppose deporting all the immigrants in the U.S. illegally, but, according to Gallup, about 75 percent want an increase in border patrols to stop the flow of more undocumented immigrants.

They do NOT want an immigration free-for-all based on the concept that “America is an idea, not a geography.”

The emerging 1099 economy: the new sweatshop

If your total income in 2013 put you in the top 40 percent of Americans, you’ve likely gotten richer over the past 20 years, according to the Federal Reserve. If you are anybody else, your income, after adjusting for inflation, has probably gone down.

This trend will likely continue if the independent contractor business model enabled by technology multiplies. The winners will be the educated, specialized elite with full-time jobs and benefits who file W-2 tax forms; the losers will be independent contractors who file 1099-MISC tax forms.

On-demand worker company TaskRabbit CEO Leah Busque told TechCrunch, a technology news website, that the company’s goal is to “revolutionize the world’s labor force.” It and similar companies relying on independent contractors are accomplishing that if you consider the revolution to be back to the future of sweatshops.

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Consider that under current law, independent contractors aren’t entitled to:

  • A minimum wage
  • Health benefits
  • Unemployment insurance
  • Retirement plans.
  • Workers’ compensation
  • Job protections

Uber and Lyft, both of which use independent contractors, are two of the best known 1099 companies, but others are sprouting like weeds. They include Homejoy (house cleaners), Handy (home cleaners and handymen), Postmates (couriers deliver goods locally), Spoonrocket (restaurant food delivery), Washio (laundry and dry-cleaning), DogVacay (pet sitting), Zirtual (personal assistants for entrepreneurs and professionals), Kitchensurfing (personal chefs) and TaskRabbit (personal tasks).

Washio allows customers to place laundry and dry-cleaning orders online and sends “ninjas” to pick up and deliver items. Washio doesn’t actually do any cleaning; it sends clothes to third party facilities. Independent contractors use their own vehicles, and cover their own costs, to go hither and yon picking up and dropping off clothes.

Online job source TaskRabbit asks people, “What can we take off your plate?” It offers “fully vetted Taskers to get the job done”, allowing the customer to “kick back and relax” and pay the bill online when the job is done. TaskRabbit makes its money by taking a 20% service fee off the payment.

TaskRabbit makes it clear that Taskers are independent contractors and that Taskrabbit is no more than “ a communications platform which enables the connection between Clients and Taskers.”

The company reinforces that message by saying it “…has no liability regarding the Service” and “…is not responsible for the performance of Users, nor does it have control over the quality, timing, legality, failure to provide, or any other aspect whatsoever of Tasks Clients, nor of the integrity, responsibility or any of the actions or omissions whatsoever of any Users.”

SherpaVentures, a venture capital firm, predicts that so-called “freelance marketplace” or “managed-service” labor models used by these companies are poised to transform industries like law, health care, and investment banking, and that fewer people will have traditional full-time or part-time jobs as a result.

According to Sherpa, “perpetual, hourly employment is often deeply inefficient for all parties involved, with the employer having to employ long-term workers for short-term needs and the worker missing the independence and productivity that come with freelancing and make workers happier.”

Futurist Thomas Frey, predicting 1099 nirvana, asserts that on-demand work will mean freedom. “…those who master the fine art of controlling their own destiny will rise to the inspiring new lifestyle category of “rogue commanders of the known universe,” he says.

A shift to independent contracting is more likely, however, to create a permanent underclass with meager, unreliable income, no benefits and few protections.

TaskRabbit CEO Busque says future work will be more flexible and “much more in the hands of what I like to call micro-entrepreneurs—people setting their own schedules, setting their own rates, saying what skills they have and what they’re good at.”

Valleywag, a Gawker Media tech blog, puts it a little differently: “If TaskRabbit Is the Future of Employment, the Employed Are Fucked”