by Jared Meyer | Forbes
Since the rise of the internet, the world has witnessed more impressive levels of technological innovation than was ever thought possible. While this progress was quick to transform the American economy, government policy has struggled to keep pace.
Those entering the new economy are different as well. Many millennials have the desire to start their own businesses. Young voters’ respect for entrepreneurship goes far beyond near-universal reverence for the late Steve Jobs. Polls consistently find that two-thirds of millennials want to work for themselves.
While the American dream may have once been finding employment at a large company, working there for a few decades and then retiring with a defined-benefit pension, millennials’ American dream looks much different than that of their parents’ and grandparents’. Young people prioritize new opportunities to change or advance their careers. And they prefer work that is individualized and flexible, which has become the model of the future for many occupations.
This model of being able to work wherever and whenever someone wants extends far beyond popular new economy services such as Uber and Lyft . Because of the newfound ability to reach customers through internet platforms, everyone from graphic designers to plumbers can connect with customers and market their businesses more cheaply and easily than ever before. This is one reason why millennials of all political leanings overwhelmingly support the sharing economy.
By providing a platform to connect people who want a service or product with people who are offering that service or product, the sharing economy has enabled transactions that would previously have been impossible. Sure, the internet made these specific business models possible — but the desire to make products more accessible, affordable, and convenient has existed for as long as trade itself.
People have always had the desire to buy a hard-to-find product, find a place to stay, eat a home-cooked meal, get assistance on a task, or find a way to get around. But it was often too time-consuming to find someone willing to offer the desired goods or services, especially at a reasonable price. For example, it would be completely impractical to go from door to door asking home owners if they have an extra room to rent and for how much. Now travelers simply log on to Airbnb and, with a few clicks of a mouse, they can find rooms that fit their needs and budgets.
In the face of these benefits and high levels of public support, policymakers often fail to realize that this 21st century economy cannot flourish under a 20th century regulatory structure . Business owners and consumers alike are frustrated with bureaucrats’ attempts to apply decades-old laws to regulate emerging technologies and industries that could not have been imagined when these laws were written.
For example, consider consumer protection regulation. A common justification for this type of regulation is the lack of information about a product or service that consumer can access. In today’s age of Yelp, Amazon, Google Reviews, and Angie’s List, it is difficult to argue that consumers suffer from a lack of information. Because of this increased access to information, even if businesses are unwilling to police themselves, customers can vet businesses and hold them accountable. Blogs, social media, and customer reviews all allow people to instantly find information about the products or services that they use and easily share their thoughts with others.
This fundamental shift in the economy is changing attitudes towards regulation. Only 18 percent of millennials believe regulators have the public’s interest primarily in mind . Young people, influenced by the sharing economy’s success and the subsequent hostile response of some policymakers, realize that many regulations protect special interests instead of public safety. They want companies to be held liable for harming consumers, but they do not support regulations that keep out new competition or dictate how entrepreneurs must meet their customers’ needs.
Though regulatory fights over Uber and Airbnb constantly make the news, it is important to realize that the same trends that enabled these companies’ business models will transform more than vehicle transportation and short-term lodging. Technology is going to continue making the workforce and marketplace more flexible, individualized, and mobile . Americans—especially millennials—are entrepreneurial by nature and innovations that make it easier for people to work for themselves while providing more options to consumers should be welcomed by policymakers.
Jared Meyer is a senior research fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability and a senior fellow for the new economy at the Beacon Center of Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter here.