The sharing economy makes it possible for people with scarce means to earn a living in new, innovative ways. In Costa Rica, a country that stagnates at a long-term trend of 10 percent unemployment, something as simple as the swipe of a smartphone screen can help families living in poverty make ends meet. New business models disrupt entrenched special interests, though, and regulators often favor the latter. Asociación Nacional de Consumidores Libres (ACL), which translates into English as "Association of Free Consumers," challenges laws that play favorites, and thereby helps enable more efficient, inexpensive goods and services.
“Sharing economies benefit every economic group in society, permitting them to have a small entrepreneurship without the cost of creating new businesses,” said Juan Ricardo Fernández, president of ACL. “The importance of having more competition is that this directly benefits the user, forcing the different actors in the economy to lower their prices and maintain the same quality.”
The ridesharing firm Uber has been at the center of this debate. ACL recently challenged a regulation that outlaws private-vehicle driver services like Uber and Lyft, arguing that this creates a transportation monopoly. Although Costa Rica’s Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court upheld the law, ACL has generated tremendous publicity for the issue. This widespread public attention has allowed ridesharing markets to flourish despite their illegal status.
“Thousands of new drivers have been able to sign up with Uber, and hundreds of thousands of consumers are getting the benefits of lower prices and much better services,” Fernández said. Consequently, this has led to “a much more competitive market in public transportation and improved quality in regular taxi operations.”
Even local companies like NOVA have established themselves in Costa Rica as competitive ridesharing alternatives. Despite the taxi union’s de facto monopoly, the public has responded to the array of new options, compelling taxis to improve their service in order to keep pace with rapidly changing market conditions.
Ridesharing is only one of the many targets for ACL’s advocacy of consumer-friendly policies and decreased regulation. The organization filed a complaint against the Costa Rican Doctors and Surgeons Association after it set mandatory price floors for all doctors’ visits. The rice industry began to oppose a price-fixing decree after they started seeing losses, but ACL had already filed an official challenge. When the telecommunications regulatory body Sutel imposed Internet usage limits for consumers, ACL once again made the case for freedom.
ACL’s work is consistently informed by its “Declaration of Principles,” which recognizes a fundamental right to economic freedom, including the right to own property and the “right to engage in economic activities such as: producing, selling, buying, renting, lending, renting, importing, exporting, transporting, storing, exchanging, etc. Every human being should have the power to carry out these activities without any restriction other than avoiding deception and the use of force.”