Disrupting Regulation, Regulating Disruption: The Politics of Uber in the United States
by Ruth Berins Collier, University of California, Berkeley, V.B. Dubal, University of California Hastings College of the Law and Christopher L. Carter,University of California, Berkeley
Platform companies disrupt not only the economic sectors they enter, but also the regulatory regimes that govern those sectors. We examine Uber in the United States as a case of regulating this disruption in different arenas: cities, state legislatures, and judicial venues. We find that the politics of Uber regulation does not conform to existing models of regulation. We describe instead a pattern of “disruptive regulation”, characterized by a challenger-incumbent cleavage, in two steps. First, an existing regulatory regime is not deregulated but successfully disregarded by a new entrant. Second, the politics of subsequently regulating the challenger leads to a dual regulatory regime. In the case of Uber, disruptive regulation takes the form of challenger capture, an elite-driven pattern, in which the challenger has largely prevailed. It is further characterized by the surrogate representation of dispersed actors—customers and drivers—who do not have autonomous power and who rely instead on shifting alignments with the challenger and incumbent. In its surrogate capacity in city and state regulation, Uber has frequently mobilized large numbers of customers and drivers to lobby for policy outcomes that allow it to continue to provide service on terms it finds acceptable. Because drivers have reaped less advantage from these alignments, labor issues have been taken up in judicial venues, again primarily by surrogates (usually plaintiffs’ attorneys) but to date have not been successful.