Monday, 7 August 2017

The Rise of the Machines...

When autonomous vehicles become the norm, drivers will lose their jobs.

Taxi drivers.

Truck/lorry drivers.

There are about 26,000 taxis in SG. Assuming each taxi has a main driver and a full-time relief driver (as opposed to part-time reserve drivers who has another job), that's 50,000 drivers who will be severely affected by the loss of their (only) job.

Assuming there are an equal number of full-time lorry/truck drivers, we may have 100,000 drivers out of a job.

How will Singapore deal with the MASS unemployment of tens of thousands of low-skilled (or limited skills) workers?

Hawkers and hawking.

The hawker phenomenon occurred in Singapore because of a "unique convergence" of circumstances.
The social and economic circumstances that brought about the hawker culture in Singapore was a unique convergence in history. The very success of Singapore has move our circumstances beyond the economic need for hawkers to ply their trade.
What "unique convergence" of factors?

Thousand of people unemployed, needing a job and turning to hawking as a last resort, flooding SG with an abundance of hawker food, cheaply offered, and competing on taste and value for money. In the past.

Would the mass unemployment of tens of thousands of drivers lead to a repeat of that "unique convergence in history"?

Maybe we will see the Second Golden Age of Hawker Food in SG

Or maybe a Silver Age.

---- End of "Short & Sweet" segment ----

[Here onwards, I get pessimistic. Or realistic. You have been warned.]

So are we going to get a Silver Age of Hawkers?


But here are some potential problems.

Firstly, not every former driver will be able to be a hawker. Sitting in a taxi for 8 or more hours a day is not easy. But being a hawker can be as hard if not harder. Or a different kind of "hard".

Secondly, of those who CAN do the work (physically), they may lack the skills, temperament, and ability to do so. There is very little about driving that prepares one to be a hawker. Different skillset. Different talents.

Thirdly, the regulatory environment today is different from 50 to 80 years ago. Or earlier. 

Where in the past, you could get away with illegal hawking, and make a decent living, today, you would likely be caught rather quickly.

Fourthly, challenge from machines. As the robot drivers take away their  original jobs, the robo-chefs and vending machines are threatening to take away their replacement jobs. BUT, they may have a fighting chance against the robo-chef. Driving is mostly a technical skill, but cooking has more variables. I believe that an average cook will almost always be better than a robo-chef.

And an above-average cook will definitely produce better food than a robo-chef or a vending machine.

Which means that the new hawkers will have a fighting chance of "beating" robo-chefs and vending machines.

Fifthly, the work of a hawker is demanding. It is not as easy as driving a taxi, nor as comfortable. Hawkers tend to "slave" over a hot stove or two. And they work long hours. And there are lots of preparatory work. And logistics planning. It is a whole different skill set and temperament.

The good thing is the numbers are on our side.

If there are 100,000 drivers that will need a new job, let's assume that half of them are not inclined to even try hawkering because of various reasons - health, physical condition, temperament, lack of talent etc.

So 50,000 try hawkering.

And say half of this are just average to terrible at hawkering or cooking food.

That leaves 25,000 who are passable to excellent.

Over time, the number of good to excellent hawkers who survive are reduced to about 10,000 hawkers.

These would be the new "Silver Age" hawkers.

I hope.

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