Debate Magazine

If Only We Could Get Jeremy Corbyn The Adam Smith Institute to Understand About Capital

Posted on the 17 October 2017 by Markwadsworth @Mark_Wadsworth

From here, on the topic of Uber:
Because they've all been making great gaping losses as they start up, meaning that they've needed capital to exist. And that's the problem with cooperatives, the only capital, by definition, that is available to them is what the workers are bringing to the table themselves*. Uber has swallowed however many billions it is and still makes gargantuan losses.
My reply:
In principle you are correct and Corbyn is wrong anyway, but Uber is a very poor example.
Most of the money they raised was spent on advertising (the same goes for all these intermediary companies). Uber's actual app works fine but is just one of many dozen such apps which work just fine. Uber's main spend was on somehow securing a quasi monopoly position (footnote 1) by bombarding us with advertising, which is not capital at all, it is a monopoly position (or 'land' to use David Chester's classifications).
Footnote 1) Clearly, passengers want to use the app with most drivers and drivers want to use the app with most passengers, and it is far more efficient if everybody uses the same app, or marketplace. So being Number 1 gives you a huge advantage. but simply owning the marketplace and skimming off from buyers and sellers is not contributing to the overall functioning of the market, it is hindering it.

Inevitably, a Faux Libertarian wades in:
A 'quasi-monopoly' is not a monopoly at all. Its not even close to a monopoly.
All Uber's done is promote its brand - like every other business that's ever existed.
Sure, advertising is not capital - but the brand is.
1.Uber doesn't 'own the marketplace' for ride-sharing.
2.Uber developed the app - shouldn't they get a share of the wealth that people using it create?
3.Uber maintains the app - so shouldn't they get a share of the wealth that people using it create to support maintaining the app?

Clearly, Uber does own the 'marketplace'. Uber IS the marketplace.
To which I replied:
So you simply refuse to acknowledge the existence of 'agglomeration benefits'? Do you not grasp that Uber's actual capital (their clever software) is no probably better or worse than dozens of competing app's which have fallen by the wayside, simply because there is no point being number 2 or 3 in the market? It is what's called a natural monopoly. I suppose you could short circuit this and deny that any monopoly has ever existed anywhere, because they all required some modicum of business acumen or luck to get them started.
* On the facts, the original argument is weak anyway. Uber has spent $1 billion on advertising over the past few years and has signed up half a million drivers. That's a few $100 per driver per year, a trifling sum compared to what drivers spend on cars, depreciation and other running costs.
Had drivers had the nous or initiative to set up their own app and just all sign up to it, it would not have required any massive advertising campaign. By default, every passenger would use it because there wouldn't be anything else. So less 'capital' would have been expended. What Uber was really spending on was persuading drivers and passengers to sign up to something which they could have done themselves for virtually no cost (had they had the nous and initiative, which they didn't), hoping to harvest the agglomeration benefits for themselves in future.


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