Why Barcelona has no Uber

Mobile World Taxi

Barcelona is one of the few major European cities where Uber, the mobile phone application-based ride sharing and taxi service, does not operate. Of comparably populous cities only Hamburg is currently Uber-less. Doubly confusing as Barcelona prides itself as host of the world’s largest gathering of the mobile technology industry, the World Mobile Congress. An irony not lost on visiting journalists as they queued at the airport for insufficient taxis.

On the face of it this is classic schizophrenic Barcelona: An Olympic image marketed to the world, which becomes fundamental to the vanity of the city’s population, even when that image brings detriment to that very same population. Vanity is so deeply embedded in Barcelona’s social structure as to render a schizophrenia, not mere conflict or paradox which can at least be acknowledged and rationalised. A recurrent theme, most obvious in the inability of the Ajuntament (city government) to regulate AirBnB rentals to tourists, sold on an exported image of Barcelona, that has the consequence of forcing the actual residents of Barcelona out. The imposters from Silicon Valley are guilty of nothing more than exposing a social hypocrisy. And exploiting it ruthlessly, secure in the knowledge that the disaffected cannot turn on what they cannot acknowledge, hence only on each other. A heinous crime that cannot be fairly judged because both actions exemplify their own moral good: Silicon Valley is optimistically building a better tomorrow, its Disneyland reality disguising anything that isn’t. Much as Barcelona’s hopefulness has been wedded to becoming a global city, its schizophrenia its defense against the social threats inherent in globalisation.

Uber’s official response, which bears the same title as this article, predictably eschews all that political philosophy, opting instead to reinforce some familiar Anglo-American stereotypes about Spanish regulation, under-employment, de-emphasis on utility, and general lack of free market liberalism. Indubitable, but ostensibly fails to explain why Barcelona has no Uber when Español-centric competitor Cabify is present in the city. Which is a shame, because Uber España reveals a lot about how chaotically Spanish policymakers are managing this relatively new exposure to the external world. And for a State premised on stability, the accusation of chaos is high treason indeed. But any inquisition will have to join the queue, right behind a notoriously aggressive startup and some rather volatile Taxistas. What is it about the taxi business that fosters so much hostility?

This article describes the tech disruption of the taxi business, explores why Uber’s initial incursion into Barcelona failed, analyses the limits on VTC licensing, and finally makes time for change. Continue reading “Why Barcelona has no Uber”


Bringing Up the Rear

I positioned myself at the top of Carrer dels Tres Pins, because that’s the steepest climb on the Montjuic circuit, attracts the most passionate fans, and slows the motion down to a digestible pace. Of course that motion was still a bit of a blur. Every few minutes a different leader hons into view. You look into their eyes, sense the importance each places on not being caught by those just behind. Then they crest the corner, and accelerate away. Eight loops makes this the ideal spectating option, since the ebb and flow of the race can be read without a television. Although you’d need a television to obtain the result: On the final lap Froome had just attacked coming up the climb, but 5 minutes later it was Valverde taking the win.

It transpires that one does not spectate to see the race, as much as to see everyone else that sees the race. And the action you remember is equally personal. The small details that don’t get broadcast. I have illustrated two. Continue reading “Bringing Up the Rear”

Fluidity and Good

Calton Hill

If I am disinterested in ethics it is not because I am disinterested in humanity, rather that I make no distinction between the moral (human) and the metaphysical (divine). Syncretism, that Platonist disease. Murdoch (Sovereignty of Good) jokes that the asylums are full of people that consider all to be one. The singular idea is surely an impossible edifice for any human mind to maintain – such minds being within the very one they claim to conceive.

The idea of perfection (to borrow from Leibnitz) describes principles, not a particular construction. This distinction is essential given the arbitrary nature of any (logical) position that might be adopted (Godel in mathematics, maybe Bergson in philosophy, perhaps Kuhn or Popper for practical science). Arbitrary is not code for despair, that we should confine metaphysics to the realm of “don’t know”, or append the word belief, in the knowledge that we can’t do without. The least arbitrary is that which creates itself, that which we have as good an insight in as any.

The thing of itself echoes Husserl, the contemporary, anthropological auto-genesis. Modern accounts are prone to emphasise action – the very language of creation is tainted by perception. Irony: We can only but hope to apply such methods to our understanding while time marches ever forward. Continue reading “Fluidity and Good”

Chemicals (The Ballad of Emma and Tom)

I wake with you, but you do not see me. I lurk in the dark, my very beating heart neutralised by the Swiss Chorus above. Hot, heavy, steady, only occasionally reaching a crescendo of Camelus proportion. Each to his own tempo, a body temporally devoid of commonality, still dealing with the night before. You might have told me that alcohol causes the throat muscles to relax.

A tangle of legs and duvets on a bed for one that twenty eight hours earlier you had laid, alone, talking. This is serious. As the pluck of lip on skin preludes a deeper penetration you trust to my realm. And all the while you focus on the other, ever more intimate, shielding heart from me, rendering only in my mind a painful exclusion. Continue reading “Chemicals (The Ballad of Emma and Tom)”

On the Creation of Reality

“At some point we must content ourselves with ‘and so on’.” – Russell [Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy]

Every one who speaks washes up against the same beach [c1]. Some as pebble, some as wave, some as the very swirling sea. That they do not hear this same is witnessed by how few attend all. A function of the contemporary structure of knowing, our protection from lunacy, that the attraction of the cosmos exceed that of one another. Yet the relation is more fluid, dynamic, temporal than we are inclined to comprehend [c2].

In the semi-autobiographical “VALIS” [c3], Dick explores the existential crisis through the prism of Gnosticism. This journey from the surface eventually encounters with the Lamptons, who are communing with Sophia [c4] through their toddler, symbolically aided by audio equipment that ultimately kills her. The realisation that, “the Lamptons are nuts,” is, for Dick’s neurosis, the much needed recognition of a boundary to his reality. Albeit one that is still far broader than most, just narrower than some, of those he shares his world with. A pluralism – multiplicity – that should remain unresolved, because the act of resolution would be to flatten its very reality [c5].

The core of this text maps, to use modern terminology, complexity. The relation of apparently quite different perspectives in a pattern of commonality. The aim of this exercise is not uniformity. Indeed, the notion of a singular conclusion is to misread the map as static. This beguiling reality is one we struggle to inhabit: Constrained by time, we can never quite master it. That, “time may change me; but I can’t trace time” [David Bowie, Changes].

This text should not necessarily be read as the logical conjecture of its presentation [c6]: Language here tends towards the poetic the moment it is not held in absolute. Such tension in the midst of communication is revealing of the topic itself. The scattered character of the paragraphs, each upon a different topic, is intended to communicate a pattern – a pattern that could be formed in many different ways [c7]. Continue reading “On the Creation of Reality”

Paying for Better

It would be simplistic to attribute the Scottish Enlightenment to the Act of Union. It is not uncommon in history for people under the stress of intense change to stabilise themselves in thought of a socio-economic nature. What’s remarkable is the enduring application of that thought. One might consider that Scotland was the first place where what would become the Anglo-American tradition was tested, but it would be more accurate to say the likes of Hume and Smith were instrumental in the formation of the Anglo-American tradition as we now know it.

It is most revealing to characterise the Scottish Enlightenment as practical Calvinism. Calvin took a relatively spiritual position, abandoning the majority of sacraments and denying Papal hierarchy, yet simultaneously provided the rigorous structure and organisation required to maintain a coherent human collective. The result was to move Platonic dualism from the sphere of religion to what we now call politics, to such effect that much the same doctrine fostered both the socialism of central Europe and the individualism of North America. Calvin’s lingering cultural dominance in modern Scotland goes some way to explain why Socialist Nationalism isn’t regarded as an inherent contradiction in the country. Continue reading “Paying for Better”