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November 15 2016

Hi, I’m Ben, Your Senator and Uber Driver!

Patrice L. Onwuka

What would you do if you hired an Uber and saw your state’s senator when you opened the door?

That’s what an unsuspecting student at the University of Nebraska and some other riders experienced last Saturday when sitting U.S. Senator Ben Sasse chauffeured his constituents around before a football game. One tweeted that he got a ride from Ben Sasse and the response was positive.

Sasse, who was a professor at the University of Texas and president of Midland University in Fremont, Nebraska, chose to moonlight for a bit this weekend to draw attention to how the sharing economy is changing the workforce. He didn’t need the extra income, as some on Twitter suggested, and his earnings went to charity.

Driving Uber is just one aspect of Sasse’s workforce tour to highlight different jobs of his constituents. Think Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs, but not so dirty. Sasse has changed tires and fed livestock, apparently. The Hill talked to his staff:

“Senator Sasse does tons of Nebraska work events — from changing tires on semi-trucks to feeding cattle at 5am,” a spokesman said. “This work tour was built around the changing and disintermediated economy, a subject he talks about frequently. The Senator doesn’t receive a dollar for these work opportunities and doesn’t want to.”

Sasse is not the only senator who has moonlighted in various jobs, but he may be the first to drive for Uber.

Sasse’s embrace of ridesharing stands in stark contrast to the response of some of his colleagues and other lawmakers who have rejected it and tried to run Uber out of town. Ridesharing has faced a fierce battle Philadelphia, for example, which undoubtedly is not over. Even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced her opposition to ridesharing companies. Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York, Austin, TX are just a handful of examples.

Home sharing is facing its own fights at the federal and state level from progressive lawmakers who claim that is discriminatory and that Airbnb rentals are yanking apartments off the market and driving the affordability crisis in cities like New York and San Francisco.

The sharing economy is here to stay. Time found that 45 million American adults (some 22 percent) have participated in the sharing economy by offering some kind of good or service. Of these, about a third make more than 40 percent of their income. Stay-at-home moms drive Uber for the extra income while students drive to pay for their college tuition. Families can make significant money for saving or household expenses through home sharing. Websites like Task Rabbit expand the word of consulting to many Americans willing to do anything from grocery runs to home repairs. This is economic opportunity in a new form.

Trying to stall the sharing economy by shutting down companies or hampering their operations with strangling regulation hinders much-needed economic growth in local economies. The shift in our economy is an inevitability that can at best be delayed, but not denied.

We’re not looking for Senator Elizabeth Warren to open her Massachusetts home to Airbnb guests anytime soon. However, more lawmakers need to embrace innovation. We need common sense regulatory approaches that allow old companies and new businesses to compete fairly.

Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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