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Photo-illustration by Chris Buck for TIME

#AskTIME Subscriber Q and A: This Week's Cover Story Author Joel Stein

Jan 30, 2015

Welcome to TIME’s subscriber Q&A with TIME columnist, Joel Stein, who wrote this week’s cover story on his experience working with the “sharing economy” companies such as Uber, Airbnb, Lyft, RelayRides, Yerdle and others. He is the author of Man Made: A Stupid Quest For Masculinity. His other stories can be found here.

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deconstructive asks, Joel, thanks for your detailed story on the sharing economy. We can indeed enjoy the potential benefits of peer-to-peer deals and cutting out some of the middleman. But of course, however, there is the flip side, aka the dark side - risks of people assuming liabilities (that companies would traditionally take one) and missing out on protections under government regulation - as Uber is famous for skirting around regulations. But perhaps an even worse risk is to the job market itself as sharing companies' "creative destruction" displaces jobs - cab drivers may not always be the most pleasant people, but they have to eat too, and not all may be able to get jobs with Uber. Hotel workers too when home-sharing takes off, etc. So how do YOU think we can solve the problems of displacing jobs and liabilities so everyone (literally) can truly benefit from sharing and access - and still remain employed at a living wage?

This is indeed a big problem that everyone in the sharing economy, and the White House, and economists are thinking about as far as the freelance economy in general. There's so much disruption coming from technology and globalization, and so little safety net for workers. As Van Jones says in my cover story: "Technology is making an awful lot of consumers happy and an awful lot of the workers sad.”

I think some of the safety net will be filled by new companies, others by the government and many not at all. Maybe the Progressive Party will come back.

nflfoghorn asks, With new technologies popping up all over how can any government get ahead of the business of regulating them, if at all?

Sure. But government is inherently slow and conservative about change, which is mostly a good thing. They seem to understand, however, that they need new regulations by the fact that they're not enforcing the ones they have, for the most part, against these sharing economy companies. Also, many regulations have been subject to regulatory capture by the industries they're supposed to control. The New York Times had a good piece about this earlier this week:

yogi asks, Hey JS, how do you come up with your article ideas? You seem to be the go to guy at TIME to write about a new crazy business/technology/etc. thing that involves you doing something? Do you pitch these articles as you're turning in reimbursement receipts or are they assigned?

About half of my stories are assigned and half are my ideas. The columns are all my ideas. Because my column editor is lazy. I find I can only learn things by doing them, sadly. So even when I don't include it in the story, I often try to do the thing I'm writing about. (When I interviewed the CEO of Chipotle, I worked at a Chipotle restaurant for half a day. Though I think I actually snuck that fact in the article.) But now that I've done the immersive schtick a lot, I do get assigned it sometimes. (Performing with Cirque du Soleil was not my idea. But I did it. Because it was in Vegas. The reimbursement receipts rained freely.)

sacredh asks, The Koch brothers are going to spend about a billion dollars to elect conservatives in 2016. Can we expect them to have the same stunning success that Rove and Addleson did in 2012?

I'm glad you asked me this, since it's my area of expertise. The answer is yes, definitely, absolutely, even more than you can imagine, and even more than you can imagine after you tried to imagine it after I told you it was more than you can imagine.

PS You'll never believe this, but some people mix me up with Joe Klein.

yogi asks, JS, who you got winning the Super Bowl? Seattle, New England, or Katy Perry?

Katy Perry has no chance. She's not even competing. You know very little about the Super Bowl, and, I will hazard to guess, sports in general. The part where Katy Perry performs (the "half time show") takes place during a break in the actual game. Nothing that occurs during this "half time show" affects the score of the game. If you wagered on Katy Perry to win the Super Bowl I hope it's not too late for you to contact your bookie. But I imagine it is. Because you were suckered.

yogi asks, JS, what's your favorite SuperBowl appetizer to make?

Another great question, Yogi! I like to take something that represents both teams (for instance, clam chowder and coffee), and cover them with as much bacon as I have in my refrigerator. I shape it like a football and surround it by a football field made entirely of bacon. Also, sometimes, I make a protein shake. It depends on the year.

MrObvious asks, Do you think that there's to many candidates right now lines up to the throne and do you see it to be in GOPs interest to weed out the field a little before the first debate?

Before we talk about politics, MrObvious, we need to talk about grammar and spelling. All of the candidates on the GOP side are great models for you to follow in improving your grammar and spelling. Even Rick Perry. It really doesn't matter if you pick a few or all of the "to many candidates right now lines up to the throne." Copying any number of them will be a great help.

nflfoghorn asks, Why wouldn't Uber at least bond drivers to help prevent harm to passengers?

I'm glad you asked this, nflfoghorn, since one of the biggest frustrations I had with this piece was having my eight paragraphs on bonding cut by my editor. Without getting into complicated, state-by-state legal specifications, l'd rather just use this space to ask the big bonding questions. Why aren't we all bonded to each other? Why are the only people who take bonding seriously the ones who put up people's bail? When one atom bonds to another is it for life, like penguins, or can a hydrogen go off and bond with a different oxygen atom later or, in 36 states plus the District of Columbia, bond with another hydrogen atom if it so chooses? Why do people only write "District of Columbia" when listing it with states and "Washington DC" for everything else?

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