Regulatory puzzles

Interesting conundrum in Ben Evans’s weekly newsletter:

A German court has banned Uber for not applying with taxi regulations; conversely, AirBNB won in France: it can’t be forced to be regulated as an estate agent. The endless ‘software eats the world’ question: how far do we treat a new way of doing X in the same way as the old one? Uber is clearly a different way of doing what we previously called taxis and ‘limousines’ and should probably be subject to the same high-level policy objectives. (You might be able to achieve those objectives differently – you don’t need a physical meter to have a guaranteed fare because GPS can do that – but the objectives might not change.) On the other hand, AirBNB is not doing the same things that a conventional real estate agent (or hotel) does ‘but with an app and with GPS’ – it’s doing something different, and poses different questions (which might or might not require new regulation).

There’s no single regulatory bullet. It’s horses for courses.


70 is NOT “the new 50”

What’s weird about a relentlessly ageing society is its equally relentless determination to avoid talking about the realities of ageing and death. Suddenly it’s ‘ageist’ to refer to somebody as “old”. They’re just “older” — which is idiotic, when you think about it: everybody is, by definition, older than somebody else. And as for the slogan that “70 is the new 50″… (Which, as an interesting NYT piece puts it, is “a rosy falsehood contradicted by any serious study of the age curve for major diseases”. For people older than 85, for example, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s is 14 times higher than for those ages 65 to 69.)

And, as the piece points out, the current decline in birth rates in countries like the US means that

there will be many fewer young and middle-aged people to care for the frailest of the old, whose death rate has not increased in recent years. The population of the prime caregiving age group, from 45 to 64, is expected to increase by only 1 percent before 2030, while the population over 80 will increase by 79 percent.

Our inability to think about — let alone plan for — the future is obviously a cultural thing (and is different in non-Western societies). But I wonder how much of it is also a by-product of the way Western democracies are now driven by five-year electoral cycles. No politician nowadays seems capable of long-term thinking.

And then there is the strange fact that five of the candidates for President — Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Elizabeth Warren — are septuagenarians.

[Full disclosure: this blogger is over 70 and can testify that it is not the new 50! Nor is he running for president of anything.]