One last minute bill in the Rhode Island General Assembly, H8324, may or may not be going anywhere, but it’s worth a look as an educational exercise.
Very simply, it would require any “hosting platform” (e.g., AirBnB) that allows people to “offer any property for tourist or transient use” to be responsible for making sure that the rentals are in compliance with state and local laws and regulations. It would also require the platform operators to take a more active role in the collection and transfer of all relevant taxes.
This little change in law, affecting a narrow portion of a single industry in the state, carries some important questions of the sort that we don’t consider thoroughly enough. What is the nature of commerce? Who works for whom? Who has responsibility for whom?
From a free-market perspective that starts with the individual as the origin of all economic activity, the property owners are responsible for the product that they are offering, and the hosting platforms work for them. Because they are the constituents of state and local government, they have a say in that government and can arguably be said to have consented to granting it some authority to regulate their activities.
The progressive perspective that has long been insinuating itself into Rhode Island government and encroaching on Rhode Islanders’ rights is very different. That view doesn’t begin with individuals as autonomous sources of responsibility and power. The Rhode Islanders seeking to rent their property don’t truly have ownership of themselves. Rather state and local government has claims on their activities, and the hosting platforms own their rental businesses. It is therefore reasonable for the government to require platforms to make sure that their workers comply with its requirements.
From a free-market perspective, a government that imposes requirements on people might create incentive for them to hire a contractor to do tasks for them — for AirBnB to provide inspections for regulatory compliance, for example, with an extra fee. But from a progressive perspective, the government has a right to tell companies that intend to draw profits from its people what conditions they must impose, or else they cannot do business here.
In other words, progressives implicitly believe that the government is renting us out to the companies.