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Imagine being a public manager with the Ministry of Commerce in Beijing, tasked with regulating companies like app-based taxi firm Didi Chuxing, which are part of the rapidly expanding ‘sharing economy’. This new economic mode emerged out of an era of economic uncertainty, as it allows unemployed or underemployed individuals to make earnings by leveraging their time, expertise, or personal assets, at any time of day. Didi Chuxing, much like its Indian corollary Ola Cabs, was inspired by the success of San Francisco start-up icons Uber and Airbnb and has managed to increase its value to tens of billions of dollars even faster than they did. Uberization – denoting the process where a high-tech middleman replaces past intermediaries with little more than apps and peer feedback systems – has now entered the lexicon. Clearly, a game-changing phenomenon was evolving here and your ministry would need to stimulate such economic innovation to enable Chinese start-ups to develop and compete globally. At the same time, you and your colleagues struggle with finding the appropriate balance between regulating emerging industries and technologies and protecting existing industries, often with long-standing and deep ties to political and administrative elites. Moreover, there is somewhat of a rift between younger colleagues who are enthusiastic adopters and consumers of these new technologies, and older colleagues who hardly see the significance of them and even seem fearful of how they will affect their long-established ways of working.
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