The ride service Uber has been in some hot water lately, both with city governments and taxi drivers over what are primarily licensing issues. Cab companies complain that Uber drivers and the company itself are not subject to the same requirements as traditional cab companies and should therefore be forced to stop operating, in many instances. Some cities have sent cease-and-desist letters.1

Photo by Kenny Louie, reproduced under a Creative Commons license.

Photo by Kenny Louie, reproduced under a Creative Commons license.

Now, I'm not for the abolition of all licensing requirements like some folks are. I think it's important that professionals like doctors be licensed by the appropriate boards, but in the case of transportation services, I don't see why there should be such an opposition to Uber in particular except that it has true potential to disrupt the market, and probably in a good way for consumers.2

At any rate, I'm not an economist, and I don't know a whole lot about the cab business. But the rumbles that I hear coming from cab drivers resemble a hilarious piece of satire called "A PETITION From the Manufacturers of Candles, Tapers, Lanterns, Sticks, Street Lamps, Snuffers, and Extinguishers, and from Producers of Tallow, Oil, Resin, Alcohol, and Generally of Everything Connected with Lighting", or in shortened form, "The Candlemaker's Petition". Written by Frédéric Bastiat in the mid-19th century, this farcical petition lampoons pleas for protectionism by way of what is, I think we can all agree, a perfectly resonable request to the French parliament:

We are suffering from the ruinous competition of a rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price; for the moment he appears, our sales cease, all the consumers turn to him, and a branch of French industry whose ramifications are innumerable is all at once reduced to complete stagnation. This rival, which is none other than the sun, is waging war on us so mercilessly we suspect he is being stirred up against us by perfidious Albion (excellent diplomacy nowadays!), particularly because he has for that haughty island a respect that he does not show for us.3

We ask you to be so good as to pass a law requiring the closing of all windows, dormers, skylights, inside and outside shutters, curtains, casements, bull's-eyes, deadlights, and blinds — in short, all openings, holes, chinks, and fissures through which the light of the sun is wont to enter houses, to the detriment of the fair industries with which, we are proud to say, we have endowed the country, a country that cannot, without betraying ingratitude, abandon us today to so unequal a combat.

I highly recommend reading through the full-text, which is short but full of other funny gems that uncover the absurdity in many such appeals for protection from competition.