Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The evolution of slavery

Charles Darwin was an English naturalist of the 19th century, whose work on evolution formed the basis of Modern evolutionary synthesis. This is the scientific theory that explains how life on Earth began as bacteria and via a long journey of random mutation and non-random selection in small incremental steps led to the diversity of life on Earth as we know today. However, evolution explains more than merely our ancestral roots as monkeys, or how dogs descended from wolves. It can explain behaviour, like why female black widow spiders eat their male counterparts after mating, why lionesses live in groups called a pride but chase away the males once they attain sexual maturity or why people ever bothered to donate money to charities, even to the likes of NKF! In fact, evolution has a wide myriad of applications. It has been used to design pipe systems, cumbersome machines that walk like real-life creatures and vaccines.

Evolution is not only confined to the realms of biology. Other things evolve too, such as ideas and weapons. Weapons that started off as rocks, progressing sequentially to sharpened stones, sharpened stones attached to sticks, spears, all the way to the nuclear missiles we have today. However for the purpose of this blog post, we shall focus on the evolution of ideas, specifically the idea of slavery.

Slavery was only more or less only eliminated from Earth sometime during the last century, or so it seems. Back in those days, slavery was profitable stuff, well it still is today but we'll talk about that later. Slavery was basically free labour and with free labour, you earn more money. This is what drives that demand for slaves. In the past, slaves were controlled using devices such as these

and these

Nowadays, societies around the world deem slavery as inhumane and a violation of human rights. Chaining the limbs of others and whipping them is also illegal now. Do that to someone and you find yourself spending some quality time in prison. However, the demand for slaves is still there. Remember slaves = more money? More sophisticated ways of owning slaves therefore must surely evolve. Perhaps these new methods of owning slaves are already in use. What? You don't believe me? Take a look at this

LTA catches another 39 errant taxi driversBy Hoe Yeen Nie

Posted: 07 November 2007 1659 hrs

SINGAPORE : Another 39 errant taxi drivers have been caught by the Land Transport Authority (LTA). 26 were overcharging, seven were touting and the rest had refused to pick up passengers. They were caught in crackdowns conducted between 30 October and 3 November at popular nightspot areas like Sentosa, Clarke Quay, Orchard Towers and Boat Quay. If found guilty, LTA said some of the offenders may have their vocational licenses revoked. Others may face suspension of up to eight weeks, depending on the demerit points accumulated from their offences. - CNA /ls

So what has LTA cracking down on taxi drivers who were overcharging, touting and refusing to pick up passengers, presumably in hope of earning the extra booking fee from the call-a-cab service, got to do with modern day slavery? It's wrong for those taxi drivers to engage in profiteering acts like those mentioned above right? Before we judge those taxi drivers, perhaps we should think deeper: Why are taxi drivers engaging in those sort of behaviours?

The below letter published on ST forum would shed some light

Look into operating costs of taxi drivers

WITH regard to the recent outcry over taxi drivers overcharging customers or rejecting short trips, I would like to explore this issue from another angle.

However, let me state at the outset that one of my family members is a part-time taxi driver and I thus have a vested interest in this issue.

Could it be that taxi drivers have genuine difficulty making enough money to get by, driving them to such behaviour?

A possible reason could be high operating costs. The rental for a regular taxi is about $90 a day. Factor in the cost of fuel, say, about $100, assuming a daily consumption of 80 litres of diesel at $1.30 per litre, and it adds up to almost $200 a day.

Assuming the average cost of a taxi journey to be $10, which I believe is a little on the high side, a taxi driver would have to make about 19 trips just to recover his operating costs.

I am not in any way providing excuses for taxi drivers who attempt to fleece their customers. Such disgraceful behaviour smacks of situations one encounters in Third World countries, and should not have a place in our society.

There will always be greedy cabbies who try to exploit the situation and they should be punished severely. But what about the ones who are genuinely trying to earn a living to support their families?

Shouldn't the authorities or taxi companies get to the root of the problem?

Cindy Low (Miss)

If Miss Cindy Low's figures are accurate, an average taxi driver would need to make 19 trips, $10 each, just to break even. Based on the flag down rate of $2.50 and the subsequent charge of 10 cents for every 210m for the first 10km and 10 cents for every 175m thereafter, a journey that nets a driver $10 will be almost 15km long. Assuming that the average speed of a taxi ride is 50km/h (after factoring in slow traffic etc.) the journey is going to take 18 minutes. Assuming that our hypothetical taxi driver here is a lucky chap who's able to get a passenger with only 5 minutes of searching, the 19 trips required to break even will take approximately 7 hours and 20 minutes. If you have a typical 9-5 job, you would already have knocked off by the time our poor taxi driver breaks even (9-5 job = 7 hours of work excluding 1 h for lunch). And in that remaining 20 minutes, you might probably have reached home. Therefore, it is nothing surprising that taxi drivers have to resort to creative ways to generate additional income.

Now, how can someone work so hard and yet hardly earn any money? Let's take a closer look at the cost of a taxi driver renting a taxi. Assuming a taxi costs $100,000 and is depreciated over a period of 7 years, whoever leases the taxi to a driver for $90 a day would be making an investment return of 18.6% a year even after factoring in the depreciation costs. If you were to be able to achieve an investment return of 18.6% a year consistently over a long period of time, you would be in the league of Warren Buffett, George Soros and well, maybe Ms Ho Ching. Hehe! Alright to be fair, I must point out that it isn't that simple to compound this 18.6% rate since the number of taxis in Singapore can't just keep growing forever. Still, a taxi driver would be far better off if he owned his taxi. Does a taxi driver needs his employer? I don't think so. There is little benefit for a taxi driver to have an employer. The booking system for taxis isn't that complicated and certainly does not require CEO to shake his leg in his luxurious office while collecting a handsome pay package at the same time.

Now that you can see how taxi drivers are exploited to the very last drop, don't you think they are very similar to the slaves of the past? The law has replaced the whips of the past. Who needs whips when you can use the law to make your slaves submit to you? The metal chains of yesterday has evolved into the chains of economics. Who needs metals chains to trap your slaves when you can use the tools of economic theories to do the same? Speaking of chains, isn't it wonderful to be at the top of the food chain where you can apply the free market mechanisms on everyone else, but yourself?


Robert L said...

Miss Low said that she has an uncle who's a taxi driver.

I do not have any friends who are taxi drivers, yet I have heard that taxis are operating in shifts. That means the hire charges of the taxi are shared out by the number of drivers taking turns in shifts.

Having said that, my gut feeling is that if Singapore taxi fares are way below those of other cities, then there must be something not right in our fares.

I must be stupid said...

Hi robert,

Even if taxi drivers work in shifts, they will still be better off being their own bosses. The question is what value does companies such as comfort bring to the taxi industry.

peasantsgetowned said...

Hi Robert

Have you ever wondered why taxi companies NEVER help their cabbies by lowering the rental charge?

Blogter said...

To a certain extent, whole masses of Singapore are being enslaved as well, would you say?

I must be stupid said...

Well blogter, it's hard to define the difference between a free man and a slave but you'd know a slave when you see one. It's rather like how Warren Buffett knows what's an undervalued company but finds it hard to define the exact fair value of that company.

Anonymous said...

You can't own your own taxi nowdays.
You have to rent the cab from the company. Talk to your cab drivers from Comfort, Smrt and you get the whole story.
Weird bit of the whole cab system in singapore is the fact it is not considered public transportation, which it should be. ERP/road toll should not be charged and pass onto customers

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