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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Über “Surge-Pricing”: There’s a Mobile App for Price-Gouging!

A week into 2012, The New York Times ran a piece on Ubur (as in Übermench?), a taxi and livery company founded in 2009. As Curtis Lanoue aptly describes in his essay on the company, its novelty consists of a unique mobile app that passengers, drivers and the company’s managers use to bring demand and supply into equilibrium by means of differential pricing including “surge pricing.”[1] The price of a taxi or livery depends on temporal and geographic demand and supply levels. That is to say, the pricing increases as more people request rides. Theoretically, the pricing should go back down even in situations in which the demand is high as drivers are enticed to continue driving a few more hours. Hence, the wait time for an Uber cab after a concert or sporting event should be reduced even if the first people out have to wait until the price goes down or pay more than they expected. In this essay, I suggest that such “stickiness” in even such a small-scale market mechanism as a mobile app can give rise to some formidable ethical problems.

Price-gouging primped up as a mobile app?  (Image Source: thevirge.com)

The full essay is in Cases of Unethical Business: A Malignant Mentality of Mendacity, available in print and as an ebook at Amazon.