Ordinary Americans have a hard time organizing on their own behalf. Other than the high impact but short-lived Occupy movement, they, we, have been unable in recent years, in any significant, sustained way, to bring about change – even when there is wide agreement on what sort of change is called for. There has been, in other words, a disconnect: on the one hand a high level of popular dissatisfaction, and on the other an inability to turn this dissatisfaction into something new and different.
Occasionally this disconnect gives way. Occasionally something new and different does come to pass – as now, in two special, select cases. Two of America’s most wildly successful private sector disrupters – Uber and Airbnb – have started harnessing followers to their own purposes. Moreover both plan further to expand their already sizable armies of followers – consisting largely but not exclusively of satisfied customers – to fend off government attempts to regulate them.
Historically in America government has been supposed to protect ordinary people from the rapaciousness of big business. Now business is out to rally ordinary people against the protectiveness of big government. In both cases the idea is to provide people with what ostensibly they want. In both cases the idea is to forge people into a collective to maximize their political power. And in both cases people end up relying on others to do their organizing for them. Which begs the question: Why do Americans have difficulty acting in their own interest absent an outside agent?