Reflections on Honesty, Lying, American Business – prompted by Uber (with a quote from Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos)


Age of AmbitionSo, I read the column by David Brooks, The Ambition Explosion, prompted by the new book Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos. It is a column about ambition – the importance of ambition, and how the rise of ambition is shaping the new China.

So, I read the sample pages of the book, and a quote jumped out at me:

Charles Francis Adams, Jr.
Charles Francis Adams, Jr.

As in China, the dawn of American fortune was accompanied by spectacular treachery. “Our method of doing business,” said the railway man Charles Francis Adams, Jr., a grandson and great-grandson of presidents, “is founded upon lying, cheating, and stealing.”

Sadly, I suspect that some level of treachery persists long after the dawn of American fortune. Issues of honesty and dishonesty are everywhere present.

treachery
noun
betrayal of trust; deceptive action or nature.

So, I was captivated by reading about the battle, with big stakes, in Nevada. It is between the state of Nevada vs. Uber. But, of course, it is really about the battle between traditional taxi companies and the new upstart, Uber.

Here’s where the honesty, or lack of honesty, came in. Read this paragraph carefully, from the Business Insider account:

The Delaware-based Uber maintains it is a technology company, not a transportation-services company subject to Nevada regulations that apply to taxis or commercial motor carriers. The state is trying “to compel a legal round peg into a square hole,” said Don Campbell, a Las Vegas lawyer representing Uber.

So, Uber argues that it is a technology company, not a transportation-services company.

Now, I happen to be a fan, in principle, of what Uber is doing. I understand that they represent a paradigm shift. But “a technology company, not a transportation-services company?” I don’t think so…

Truthful?  Not truthful?
Truthful? Not truthful?

I challenge you to go to their website for your city, like I did for their Dallas website, and after reading it call them a “technology company.” This is what they say themselves, about themselves:

“Uber is Dallas’s best way to request a safe, reliable, and affordable ride within minutes. Use Uber on your phone to connect to a driver in Dallas at the touch of a button.”  

Let’s be honest here. If Uber is a technology company, then so is a traditional taxi company. One can imagine “at the twirling of a rotary dial, through the modern technological marvel of a telephone, a taxi will come to your house and take you wherever you would like to go.”

The fact that Uber is using new technology instead of old technology does not make them a technology company.

In one sense, every company is a technology company these days. With Uber’s thinking, our monthly event , the First Friday Book Synopsis, would be a technology company. “With the click of your mouse, you can reserve your spot for our monthly book synopsis event.”

No… read Uber’s website, buy their “product,” and you are not buying technology. You are using technology to access, and to purchase, their product. Their product is a ride – they are in the transportation business.

Now, I think Nevada should allow Uber to operate. But I also think that Uber should tell the truth, and not try to use treachery to get around existing laws. Challenge the existing law directly, Uber.

{And, by the way, I suspect that if I took the time to read the arguments by the taxi companies in Nevada, they might be a little dishonest themselves. They will probably say they are worried about the safety of passengers. That is a legitimate concern…, but, I suspect that what they are really worried about is the safety of their own business model…}.

This kind of dishonesty, I think, hurts us all. And, even if Uber’s lawyers find a way to win the argument that Uber is not a “transportation-services company, but a technology company,” I won’t believe them. They are playing fast and loose with the truth.

And, if you think this post is just about Uber, well… let me tell you about a few other companies.

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