DCist | Martin Austermuhle | Capital Bikeshare's Socialism is Broken, and Only More Socialism is the AnswerI don't think Austermuhle understand what "capitalism" and "socialism" mean. Capitalism is not "a system where supply and demand exist." That's all systems. Socialism is not "a system where someone gives me more of what I want." Though that's what most First World socialists often seem to think.
Last week, Washington Times columnist Charles Hurt made quite the splash by calling Capital Bikeshare "broken-down socialism." Today we admit that he might have been right.
A few Bikeshare users—including DCist's own former editor-in-chief, Aaron Morrissey—complained this morning that every bike at their closest station was gone. This isn't an isolated complaint, of course—plenty of stations see heavy use during rush hour, notably along popular commuting routes.
In a sense, the quasi-socialism of Capital Bikeshare fails in this respect. Weirdly enough, though, it fails in a very capitalistic way: the bikes operate based on supply and demand, with the most sought-after bikes going most quickly. The only response is for Bikeshare to move bikes back to the most-used locations as quickly as possible, or simply expand capacity to meet demand. In essence, we need more socialism to make the system work—not less.
There is always, always, ALWAYS supply and demand. There is no escaping desire (ie demand) and scarcity (ie supply). None. People throughout history have tried to mask them, paper over them, ignore them, and destroy people's ability to measure them — all hoping that would somehow eliminate the supply and demand themselves, but it's impossible.
The difference between capitalism and other systems is not the presence of supply and demand, but how they are balanced: through markets operating in response to price signals. Capital Bikeshare currently charges one price no matter what the state of bike supply or bike demand. If they wanted to make sure that they didn't have rush-hour shortages they could raise the price of their bikes during busy hours, or raise the price to rent a bike from stations with dwindling supply. That would be the capitalist way,* not just a top-down directive that "there shall be more bikes."
* To the extent you can even meaningfully consider a single firm to be an entire economic system categorizable by "capitalism" or "socialism" to begin with, which isn't the best assumption to make.
PS I love that Austermuhle lists two things as "the only response" to having supply run out, neither of which is prices, and one of which is "just have more stuff." The latter in particular is amusingly juvenile.