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Blue State Blues: Millennials Learn–Sharing is Caring, Taxing is Taking

The California Labor Commission ruled this week that an Uber driver was an employee, not an independent contractor. If the ruling stands, and applies across Uber’s whole fleet, it could force the ride-sharing service to pay a whole array of taxes and subject it to new legal responsibilities and liabilities.

Essentially, as Breitbart News’ Chriss Street argued, it could put Uber out of business. Likewise with new state and local regulations against Airbnb, the independent short-term rental site.

The entire “sharing” economy, which is at the heart of the new tech boom, is in danger. “Millennials” in their 20s and 30s, who rely on the new social networks to fulfill their basic needs–or to pay the rent–are suddenly realizing that government is something other than “the name we give to the things we choose to do together,” as former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank said.

On the contrary, government is often the name we give to what one group of people does to another group by force of law.

In this case, the groups with their hands on the levers of power are special interests–especially unions–to which, ironically, millennials are aligned through their common support for the Democratic Party.

Now, tech-savvy voters are rubbing their eyes and wondering how it is that the party that promised to reinvent government is, in fact, using government in the most old-fashioned of ways, destroying innovation and competition to protect the politically-connected donors who run things.

Millennials are caught in difficult contradictions between their cultural preferences and their economic reality.

On the one hand, they want to live and shop in “authentic” neighborhoods, safe from gentrification. On the other, rent will remain too high for most to afford without massive new high-rise development, and necessities will be too expensive without the box stores, food trucks, or online retailers that put the mom-and-pop shops and quaint neighborhood diners out of business.

It is trendy to be all-in for immigration reform–but what if the new rules simply allow company bosses to replace their IT departments with low-wage pluggers, fresh off the boat? It is cool to advocate for Net Neutrality, and the ideal of equal access to bandwidth, until that means the federal government starts running the Internet under ancient regulations that were designed for telephone monopolies. Millennials thought they would reinvent politics, but politics is reinventing them.

For too long, the left has conflated social life, in the most general sense, with the state, eclipsing civil society or what used to be called the “community.” The dominance of the sixties generation, still at its zenith of influence in higher education, means that many millennials have been brought up to believe that progressive taxation is more important than charity, that democracy exists to create political change, that utopia is possible if the powerful corporate interests can be beaten.

At the same time, they have been taught to distrust government–both by instruction (when the government is Republican) and by experience (when the government is Democratic).

So millennials have resorted to a new philosophy, which is really just a mode of behavior: “disrupt.”

Disrupt existing businesses, disrupt old institutions, disrupt traditional values. Some of that disruption is overdue. But some disruption is bound to be resisted–and, in fact, some things are worth preserving.

The crisis of the sharing economy has created a unique window of opportunity for conservative leaders to reach out to the millennial generation, which doesn’t know whom it can trust anymore.

Does California have those leaders among its diminished Republican ranks? Are there presidential candidates who can explain how the best of what is new can be reconciled with the best of what is old? And are there enough millennials yet ready to listen–to “disrupt” themselves?

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