Texans are incredibly resilient in the face of a crisis. We can beat COVID-19, and we can recover from the blow the virus has dealt to our economy. Government can help with thoughtful, carefully considered policies — which mostly involve getting out of the way.
California has shown us how not to do it. It sought to protect gig workers, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, with its now-infamous Assembly Bill 5, a 2019 measure requiring many contract workers to be treated as employees who can earn overtime and obtain health benefits. Instead, the law limited opportunities for not only those drivers, but also truck drivers, freelance writers, artists, musicians and countless others.
As Ravi S. Rajan, president of the California Institute of the Arts explains, “for many, the consequences could lead them to lose work, relocate or flee the vital artistic community at California’s beating heart.”
At a time when “social distancing” has left thousands of bartenders, wait staff and others out of a job, gig work could be a lifeline. California’s AB 5 preemptively turned it into an anchor because many of the gig jobs simply aren’t there anymore, as some companies can’t afford to turn contract workers into staff employees.
True, that’s just in California — for now. But Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden has endorsed AB 5, and we could see it become part of the Democratic Party platform.
And we’ve seen cities in Texas work to regulate the gig economy — such as when Uber and Lyft left Austin following a dispute over rules, and when Arlington effectively banned Airbnb.
In Texas, we have to ensure that opportunities exist for all, particularly now, as we face the economic fallout from the virus, paired with the drop in oil prices resulting from a dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia.
That could mean revisiting some of our regulations. Occupational licensing, for example, can be too restrictive.
Some occupational licenses make sense; we all want to be sure our physicians know what they’re doing. But not all licenses and licensing requirements make sense. For example, Texas requires cosmetologists to receive around 350 days of training, while an EMT can be certified after about 35.
And “most research does not find that licensing improves quality or public health and safety,” as the Mercatus Center points out.
We should also rethink licensing rules that exclude those with criminal records. We know that when people with a criminal record find steady employment in a field they enjoy, they are less likely to return to crime.
Within a few months, we might look back and find that this crisis has reshaped the economy by decentralizing it and encouraging more entrepreneurship. We may find that working from home works, and we don’t miss the commutes. We may learn the habits that allow us to start our own businesses.
Texans are tough. We’ll overcome the coronavirus and we’ll weather this economic storm. The key will be ensuring opportunity for all Texans.