This Is How Radical Rhetoric Can Harm Productivity

Monday's lead editorial in the New York Times about the perils of the sharing economy was no different from usual.

It echoes the rhetoric we hear regularly on college campuses - to the point where students in exceptionally privileged environments like Middlebury College now physically preventoutside speakers who don't share their (progressive) views. It echoes what we hear from politicians like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on the federal level and, here in New York, local elected officials like Bill de Blasio.

And while many of these ideological attacks tend to come right after the members of the Times editorial board enjoy their daily catered lunch or Sanders and Warren are about to waltz into the Senate Dining Room behind layers of taxpayer funded largesse or the students at Middlebury are tweeting on the iPhones their parents pay for, just to make thing simple, let's stipulate that they're right.

Let's stipulate that capitalism is bad. The markets are fixed. The banks are corrupt. Private equity is treacherous. Hedge funds are worse. The sharing economy is evil. Venture capital is evil. Silicon Valley is evil. Everyone's evil.

The problem with this worldview is it offers nothing to replace the evil system.

The same people decrying capitalism regularly use radical rhetoric, they insist that the status quo cannot continue, but then only offer what amount to minor tweaks to the system - raise taxes, impose more regulations. Those aren't solutions to the problems - they're just adjustments at the margins.

Either offer a real alternative vision or acknowledge you don't have one and tone down the rhetoric.

Government is unquestionably good at some things - protecting large numbers of people, picking up the trash, installing stoplights that reliably turn from green to red. But all harms in society are not the fault of the system, nor can all harms be fixed by another government program. There are 7.5 billion people in the world. That means 7.5 billion different combinations of DNA. Government can't solve for 7.5 billion variations of anything.

And yes, the financial system needs constant monitoring, regulation and reform. But those rules have to be grounded in some version of reality.

The Times editorial attacking the sharing economy assumes that every driver, housekeeper, delivery person and dog walker wants to be a full-time employee but the workers are so naïve and so unable to think for themselves that they're instead exploited and manipulated into being independent contractors.

If the editorial board ever spent any time actually talking to more than a handful of sharing economy workers, they'd know that many in the sharing economy are retirees or full-time students or caregivers looking solely to supplement their income. Many of them don't want full-time jobs.

The Times and the progressive left would also support legislation pending in Albany and Sacramento that would clearly define what independent contractor means and allow sharing economy workers to receive benefits (even over the objections of some unions, who fear that giving independent contractors health care could eventually reduce union membership).

To put it simply, if you think our current economic system is fatally flawed, it's your obligation to propose a reasonable, achievable, realistic alternative. Don't just sit on the sidelines, nitpicking and complaining. Put on your thinking cap. Come up with genuine ideas. Work the problem.

And make sure that when you're doing this, don't forget that government programs, workers and taxes all have to be funded by someone. Wealth has to come from somewhere. It has to be created by someone. And don't forget to take human nature into account: ambition, drive, even greed. And make sure you think hard before claiming that all 7.5 billion variations of DNA can be treated interchangeably and regarded as all having the same skills, abilities and interests.

Everyone is different, for better and for worse. Everyone has a complex array of emotions, opinions, desires and needs. You need a system that accounts for that.

It's very easy to criticize. It's very hard to envision, design, articulate and create a system that can actually work in real life. Constantly attacking, complaining and demonizing without having a real solution is counterproductive.

Tweaks to the current system are always needed. But describe them for what they are - adjustments. Don't pretend to embrace radical reform when you can't even describe what that really is.

We need people on all sides of the ideological spectrum to come forward with good ideas and to have the patience and decency to compromise and work with each other. Hate, lies, and ignorance is just as unacceptable on the left as it is on the right. If seeing Republicans attack Medicaid or criminal justice reform without any real justification bothers you, then think about the impact of your broadsides against capitalism and free markets that do little other than perpetuate useless stereotypes.

Ideological purity and partisan hatred is no better on the left than it is on the right. In both cases, it makes everything toxic and makes it virtually impossible to get anything done. In other words, if you truly have new, innovative and worthwhile ideas, by all means, put them forward.

But if all you have to offer is retreads of partisan criticism, anger and empty rhetoric, we'd all be better off if you talked less and listened more.

Published in Inc.

Bradley Tusk