This summer, a bizarre split emerged in the Hamptons, the sandy peninsula close to New York so beloved by the American elite. In one-half of the tiny spur, around Southampton, Uber drivers have been furiously ferrying hordes of people to and from barbecues, benefits and beaches.
But the other half, around East Hampton, is an Uber desert: town officials have banned the car service after local taxi firms insisted that drivers should only be allowed to ply their trade if they were properly regulated and had a bona fide East Hampton address.
Feelings are running so high that the police recently threatened to throw Uber drivers into jail if they dared to cross the leafy (near invisible) border between Southampton and East Hampton. And while no one has yet been locked up, taxi drivers and users are seething. There is now such a shortage of taxis in East Hampton that prices for even short trips are sky high.
On one level, this is merely a colourful curiosity; nobody is going to shed a tear for those Uber-deprived East Hamptonites any time soon. But on another, the split is symbolic. Uber is sparking bitter fights all over the western world, whether in London, Paris, Florida or New York. And while these disputes partly reflect the fact that Uber’s extraordinarily rapid — and ultra-aggressive — expansion has left rivals fuming over its tactics and success, they also highlight something else: our 21st-century digital revolution is now threatening to turn parts of our political economy upside down, in a manner that politicians and voters seem ill-equipped to handle.