The liberal economist is cited in the “Uber Files” affair. He is targeted for having been paid by the company to help restore its image by producing studies and laudatory speeches. What is his defense?
This is a new tidal wave signed by the ICIJ, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. 124,000 documents dated from 2013 to 2017 were sent to the consortium and its partner media, including Le Monde. We discover behind the scenes of the Uber application: in the 2010s, the start-up did everything to establish itself in large cities, despite the often unfavorable regulatory and legislative context (the group thus often operated illegally). In France in particular, the fight to impose itself against traditional taxis was laborious, but the company was able to count on the support of politicians as well as private companies… And experts? In any case, this is what the study published over the weekend suggests. Some French economists, who have the double hat of expert and intellectual, would have been paid to carry out “tailor-made studies” and “to defend” Uber in the media. Sometimes, by presenting it in the media as a “technological company” in the legality and symbol of modernity, sometimes by producing figures and economic analyzes on the virtuous circle that the integration of the company into the French economy would represent … But always concealing the lobbying maneuvers of the VTC company.
In 2014, when Uber did not have the best reception and integration in Europe, in particular because of accusations relating to its practices which ultimately created a new category of underpaid and underprotected jobs, the platform has the idea of appealing to academics. “What we are sorely lacking in France currently is precisely scientific or academic evidence supporting our arguments”, even wrote an Uber executive in an email exchange intercepted and verified by Le Monde. This academic backing should therefore serve to ward off the threat of regulation, or even banishment from the application. Uber wanted, through the voice of experts, to present itself as a source of economic dynamism and as an essential job creator. Among the names of the experts who have become “spokespersons” for the company (always according to Le Monde), several stand out: that of the economist Nicolas Bouzou notably stands out. What is he accused of? What is his line of defense? Has he provided concrete proof of his innocence? We take stock.
Nicolas Bouzou is cited, along with other academics such as economics professor Augustin Landier. According to Le Monde, he “established a partnership with Uber in the spring of 2015”, via cooperation around a study he wrote on behalf of his consulting firm. In its service offering to the platform, this study is described as “a synthetic note that would demonstrate Uber’s contribution to the French economy”. Published in 2016, it deals with the deployment of Uber in France, presenting it as an opportunity for the French market: we read that its arrival should “create more than 10,000 jobs. Charged for “10,000 euros excluding tax”, this study was “combined with an after-sales service for the press and parliamentarians” in the contract. And in fact, Nicolas Bouzou did not hesitate to play one-upmanship in the media by extolling the merits of Uber, pleading for “freedom of enterprise”, “free trade” and risk-taking in the sector. public. Le Monde quotes in particular a “breakfast with Swiss parliamentarians in Geneva”. Without ever mentioning anything about the illegal actions of the start-up or the limits on the use of data provided by the company, he contributed to the notoriety of Uber.
The case is making too much noise for him to wallow in silence. The economist ended up picking up calls from Le Monde, immediately denying the accusations. First, he disputed having been paid to promote the company, believing that he had always worked independently. “Publish the name of the funder, be transparent about the method, source all the figures”, he quotes pellmell to defend his methodology. “I would have held the same pro-competition liberal discourse if Asterès [son cabinet, NDLR] had not worked for Uber”, he even added. Faced with the media impact of the ICIJ revelations, he spoke on social networks by posting a press release on his Twitter account.
He first justifies the suspicions of funding, recalling that his firm Asterès is “financed by the private sector” and that it does not “receive a public subsidy”. He presents his mission for Uber as a commercial service and says nothing about the importance of the remuneration he has received. He insists on his “ethics”: “Always publish the name of the funder, be transparent about the method, source all the figures, use a maximum of public sources and make our work available to opponents”. He also specifies that specifications were respected during the realization of the study for Uber. The company would have “signed the ethical charter” of its firm, which would give the assurance of “total independence”. Finally, we can see in his sentence “Personally, I am delighted with the entry of VTCs into the French urban transport market” an allusion to his media statements which were all to the advantage of Uber. If the press release is, in the eyes of many Internet users, only a means of avoiding having to give concrete proof of its relationship with the start-up, the economist assures for his part that he will always defend ” competition, freedom of enterprise and innovation” which, in his view, are “engines of economic and social progress.”