Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on trust and to be grateful for its presence in our lives. Originally, Thanksgiving was a celebration of trust between two different peoples, the indigenous Indians and the Pilgrim settlers. Despite their different cultures and religions, they were able to trust one another enough to contribute food to a feast and sit down to dine with one another.
Today Thanksgiving is quintessentially a family celebration. At its best, it is suffused with trust because the family is a locus of trust. Because of the bonds among kin, for most of human history much commerce took place among extended families. And most of the rest of it took place between people who were known to one another. Being a repeat player who must live in a community inspires trust in others, particularly past eras when being ostracized was very costly.
But as civilization developed, communities became larger and the opportunities for gains from trade extended beyond those that could be easily satisfied by family, new institutions had to arise to police trust.
This week brought more news of a globalized world—a simultaneous strike in Paris, London and Berlin against Uber—the service that allows people to summon cars through phone apps. Uber is itself a worldwide phenomenon. It can succeed anywhere there are a substantial number of smartphones, and that is rapidly becoming everywhere. In fact, the strikes backfired by giving publicity to Uber and encouraging more people to sign up.
While taxi drivers will continue to try to strangle the service, they will lose—quickly in some jurisdictions and slowly in others, like Virginia where regulators last week banned Uber. The advantages of Uber are ultimately too great to be denied and Uber-friendly jurisdictions will serve as demonstration projects. On Thursday The New York Times described Uber’s many benefits for consumers and for society. Most obviously, the service will bring more competition to an often highly regulated and sluggish market—the taxi industry. In particular, it will help poorer and middle-class consumers who are unable to find cabs at crucial times and are not regular users of higher-priced car services. It will shrink the carbon footprint, as fewer people will need to own cars and spend time looking for parking spaces.
Uber could also help decrease inequality of consumption, as I have previously argued that information technology generally does. Only the .01 percent can afford chauffeurs at their beck and call. But how different is the experience of having a car ready to pick you up at a moment’s notice? More and more people can ride like the millionaires of old.