Cash Burning Machine: Uber’s Logic of Planetary Expansion

tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique 17(2), 2019

Uber’s programme of planetary expansion rapidly captures users and integrates cities. Like other platforms, Uber privileges growth at all costs in order to spin up a set of self-reinforcing dynamics like virtuous cycles and network effects. However, drawing on Arrighi, Hobson, and Arendt, Uber can also be understood as a contemporary incarnation of imperialism. Platforms extend their territories in a programme of aggressive expansion rationalized by future financial gains. The article combines these self-perpetuating technical dynamics with the self-expanding logics of empire. Against the assumed brilliance of founders and the strategic innovation of start-ups, this framing highlights some of the uncontrolled forces and overarching imperatives that both invest and constrain platforms.