Keep Austin Weird, Not Liberal
After all, we don’t want to wind up like San Francisco.
Austin’s been taking it on the chin lately. In lockstep with the 9–2 supermajority of the city council, Austin voters chose to restrict the supply of available drivers for Uber and Lyft through onerous regulation. Both companies promptly left the city, and the resulting outcry has been well deserved.
To add insult to injury, it now appears the Austin city council wants to spend taxpayer money to support fledgling ride-sharing alternatives who aren’t even obeying the regulations they’ve been advocating for, lending credence to the old adage of government: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.
Some of the most respected technology investors in the world have spoken out: Paul Graham, Naval Ravikant, and Marc Andreessen have thrown some doozies our way.
The sad truth for Austin? They’re all correct.
Here’s my pushback to the fallout: If Austin has downshifted into last century’s transportation modes, then what about San Francisco, which long ago shifted into the Twilight Zone?
For the past 60 years, San Francisco has decided to suspend the Law of Supply and Demand when it comes to housing. This amazing piece of amateur sleuthing is oddly the best and most accurate data we have on the negative effects of these policies, and this newly published report shows these policies are widespread across California. The result? Housing costs in San Francisco have risen 6.6% on average each year for the past 60 years, outpacing inflation fourfold.
Tell me: In what universe does it make sense to constrict the supply of housing if your aim is to lower the cost of housing? If Austin’s backwoods approach to ride sharing all of the sudden makes us inhospitable to the startup community, then what does this make San Francisco? Little Moscow?
Its not as though Austin is the outlier here — we’re simply following the same failed ideology of San Francisco, just in a different application of that ideology.
If you followed the debate over Uber and Lyft in Austin, you would have noticed it was strangely apolitical. While I’m not as familiar to the housing debate in San Francisco, I would bet its not being debated across party lines, because there are no party lines in San Francisco! Like Austin, it’s a one party town.
Later this month, the Bay Area will turn out in droves to vote for Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist. Come November, the general election won’t even be close, as San Francisco will vote 70/30 in favor for whoever becomes the Democratic nominee.
I’ve got a *NEWSFLASH* for the tech community: If Bernie Sanders were serving on Austin’s city council, he would have voted against Uber and Lyft in the 9–2 majority. If he were on San Francisco’s city council, he would have voted to restrict housing supply. I have little doubt Hilary Clinton would be any different.
It’s not as though these policies are being created in a political vacuum. They’re driven by an ideology that stands in stubborn opposition to basic economic theory and our natural instincts for personal liberty.
Why are Austin and San Francisco so attracted to the thick political molasses of a single party? In an industry that values contrarians, where is the diversity of opinion within the tech community?
While your busy pondering those questions, let me frame the argument in another way: If Austin and San Francisco were startups, most VCs wouldn’t invest in them, and most founders would be fired if they ran their companies like these councils run their cities.
Yet en masse, tech founders and investors have historically supported and elected candidates of ideologies that run completely counter to how they run their own businesses and live their personal lives.
Trust me, conservatives have plenty of our own problems. Take the Republican controlled state of Utah, which initially refused to allow Zenefits to compete against insurance incumbents because they offered their product for free!?
To counterbalance the regulatory restrictions of the Left, the Right has created crony capitalism. Both are perversions of personal liberty and common sense.
So the next time you pity us for having to ride our horses to work in Austin, ask yourself: Would I rather live in Austin without transportation, or have transportation in San Francisco while paying half my salary in rent?
The truth is that you shouldn’t have to trade one for the other.
Here’s a challenge to the startup communities in Austin and San Francisco: With the same passion and zeal you seek to disrupt incumbent businesses, work to disrupt incumbent (read: liberal) politicians in your city. To become the contrarian you aspire to be, you’ll first have to disrupt your own ideology.
And by all means, please hurry. Until you do get off your high horse, I’ll have to keep riding mine to work. ;)