The Jakarta’s new bylaw that bans beggars, buskers, and on-street vendors and fines the givers has created controversy. The bylaw itself makes some sense. Here is why.
It is a fact that these elements of society are one of the reasons we have poor traffic jams – others include bad public transportation management and high subsidy on fuel price. They are also accused of making the city unclean -- an unfair accusation as we see even some rich people throw things out from their cars to street every day. In all fairness, the Governor should fine the latter as well.
Busking and selling stuff are supposed to be legitimate jobs. Yes, many buskers can not even sing or play guitar (or other instruments). But at least they try (clapping hands and all) and you can refuse their ‘service’ if you don’t want them. Many vendors sell trivial things. But you don’t have to buy them. The problem is, they do this on the streets (mostly in traffic light areas). It is both distracting and dangerous.
Those who help directing traffic in the absence of police officers (famously called Pak Ogah-s) for a tip are also banned. Yes, some of them ‘help’ motorists in U-turns or intersections. But some others simply pretend to help while in fact they stand in your way blocking your view to the incoming traffic. Not to mention those who threaten to scratch your car if you don’t give them money. This is an issue of poor traffic management. The solution is to fix it, not to give justification to Pak Ogahs.
And now, beggars. Beggars beg because it is their choice. Do they have alternatives? Yes. At least, they can go (back) to rural villages and live on subsistence, they can apply for jobs wherever with a small pay, or they can steal. Whatever the alternatives are, the fact that they are begging is a clear indicator that it is their best choice. The benefits of begging obviously exceed those of working far from the city. Begging can even be more attractive than working night shifts in a factory with fees and tips under minimum wage. And stealing can be very costly: prison. What the Jakarta authority seems trying to do is increase the total cost of begging so as the net benefits of begging fall below those of legal working or not-working-not-begging while still above the net benefit of stealing (and other illegal acts for that matter). This is acceptable as far as economics is concerned.
But many protest, however. You can’t just ban them. Provide them jobs. While this sounds noble, it is easier said than done. Try a simple math of what a typical beggar can earn in one day in. You would be surprised that it can be a lot higher than the minimum wage. No wonder begging is so attractive; it is for them, a job. As a consequence, if you try providing them with other jobs, they might as well refuse to switch, unless you can make those offered jobs more attractive. How long can you provide such costly service, before they decide to go back begging? So, rather than providing them with new jobs, what the government should do is to ease the rigidity in labor law. Many of those working in informal sectors (or worse, begging) are well, working in informal sectors (or worse, begging) because they simply can not enter into the formal sectors due to the extremely rigid labor law. And that includes the minimum wage standards.