Saturday, September 15, 2007

Banning the beggars (and givers)

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.


johnorford said...

looks like the law is trying to go some way to banning poverty. might be well intentioned, but i wish, as u suggest that they focus on the fundamentals of poverty rather than the annoying side effects (from a wealthy persons pov).

Aco said...

Yes, John, they miss the root of the problem.

anymatters said...

i'm proud of my country. the nation is being tidied up. good. i also like to tidy up my desk by simply chucking things into the drawer which is apparently messy.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Johnorford. They should focus on poverty by cutting the budget for political elites expenditure and reducing immensely subnational legislative members facilities. They are always shouting in defense for people basic needs rights while they enjoying such luxury facilities exploited from our tax. For anymatters, it's not that simple as you think and analoguing with your desk.

anymatters said...

anonymous, i think know that. pls don't take my words explicitly. :)

based on my commenting experience, ironicism and parables are just better than sarcasm, paradox, cynicism, euphemism, obscenity and coarseness. :)

Arya Gaduh said...


I am not sure I understand what the policy is really trying to achieve. I find those beggars and street vendors to be generally courteous, always avoiding holding up traffic -- only very rarely do I find traffic stalled because of unfinished transactions. Besides, many of the street vendors do provide useful service.

So, why are they targeted? What are the externalities that the policy is supposed to tackle? If it's all about traffic, I find more externalities from vendors (and restaurants) on the trotoir without proper parking spaces than from these sellers.

My hypothesis of the policy objective would be to disallow all kinds of on-street transactions (except with a policeman/woman) and reduce general transaction costs from operating a public transportation system. This might reduce the supplier cost of providing public transport -- which is a very good thing.

But again, this is just a guess. Any ideas?

Aco said...

Arya, my guess is that their overall objective lies on the tidiness, i.e. they want Jakarta to look more like a clean metro. And banning beggars/givers is one measure in the package.

Now that you mentioned it, I realize that I somehow mixed up my personal observation and the possible policy objective of DKI. It is me who experienced more nuisance from private helpers who don't help but ask for tips otherwise. And towards beggars, I have some "principle", if you like. Others might agree or disagree with these two things, depending on whether they experience what I do or not, or to a different degree.

But back to DKI's policy. If it is true that the policy objective is to tidy up the city (as Anymatters seems to conclude), then the basic of my argument, i.e. to look at the root of the problem and deal with it, I think, still applies.

If you feel that many of street vendors actually provide useful service, then we should have let everybody pour onto the streets with any kind of services that might be useful for any motorist (to take an extreme example: massage service on the traffic light would be a good idea). But surely there is a better traffic management than that.

One wrote in Jakarta Post, if I'm not mistaken, that Pak Ogah is very useful. Alright. If so, why do we still need traffic police? For what it's worth, I guess we could as well get rid of the entire incompetent police service.

So, again back to your own guess, I think tidiness of the city might be the objective, and the disallowing of on-street transactions would be the intermediate target as one way to achieve that. And yes, it is good.


Arya Gaduh said...

Just a short comment to your question:

"If you feel that many of street vendors actually provide useful service, then we should have let everybody pour onto the streets with any kind of services that might be useful for any motorist (to take an extreme example: massage service on the traffic light would be a good idea)."

But indeed, we did -- and the equilibrium (i.e., what we observe today) isn't such a bad equilibrium. The point is I do not believe that with regards to traffic, the marginal cost of having these buskers/ beggars/ vendors has exceeded their marginal benefit -- hence, a misregulation if the objective is to improve traffic.

anymatters said...

they may just move to bodetabek area, spotting the area not belong to dki.

Aco said...

"The point is I do not believe that with regards to traffic, the marginal cost of having these buskers/ beggars/ vendors has exceeded their marginal benefit -- hence, a misregulation if the objective is to improve traffic."

Arya Well, it is indeed a research question. Because you have to talk about social MB and social MC. The fact that the City administration is now pushing that policy might reveal something like the social MB is decreasing rapidly... But again, this begs a research, I admit.

"they may just move to bodetabek area, spotting the area not belong to dki."

Anymatters, that is true. But not without cost: they come to Jakarta because of the 'metro-dream' in the first place. If they have to beg outside Jakarta they might as well go further...

Anonymous said...

Anymatters, once more you are seemed to simplify the problem. I agree that to avoid misregulation, this PERDA needs a strong research and I propose Aco to do that.

anymatters said...

anonymous, it's simple as i don't see any complications in the perda and may be in the implementation. it's so straightforward. if it's about tidy-up things, that will do.

if it's about traffic, that will do as well since the context is street economics.

if it's about your practical love and affection towards them or poverty in general, i won't say a word.

if it's about the fact that beggars/buskers/vendors earn more, is it fair for formal labours who earn less?

if it's about our country or government who doesn't know how to prepare a regulation properly, what can we do? participatory techniques haven't widely used in indonesia.

fantarara said...

Oh puh-leez, the social costs are much larger than the benefits, that's a no brainer! It's 1-2 seconds of one car buying a paper or aqua on the street and it's 1 second stalling how many thousand cars. And then there're the people laying their goods right on sidewalks, so that us pedestrians have to resort walking on the street risking being run over.

All vendors also need to be banned from public transport vehicles, i.e. busses and esp the trains!! Hell is a crowded train, standing butt to butt (if you're lucky; crotch to butt and other variants abound) and a flow of these vendors push through, sometimes rolling over people's toes. For every 50 people who have to resort clinging to a malodorous person next to them to give way for these vendors, there is one fughead whose thirst need quenching and is too lazy to get his bottle of water BEFORE boarding the train.

Would banning vendors from streets reduce their income? Depends: would people stop needing to smoke/drink/eat boiled eggs/etc? I don't think so. People will just have to learn to do it BEFORE they hit the streets/public area.

And if anybody think giving alms to the poor on the streets is alleviating poverty, they're out of their fugging mind. Poverty is not only the responsiblity of the govt. When you give alms you can't be lazy and just give to anybody with a rag on the street, and PRAY they make good use of the money. Alleviating poverty is hard work; people need to do their homework on how to give productively. Better not to give at all rather than fueling the exploitation of children on the streets.

If the rationale is people are poor than they take to the streets, well there are other places in Indonesia where poverty is more severe. But do you see the huge numbers of children begging on the streets of Papua or NTT/NTB?

In the end, I think this is just going to be another lame duck regulation (remember the no-smoking in public places ban?) no one can enforce. People in Jkt LOVE posing inconveniences on others, it's the "in" thing to do.
God I hate Jkt.

End of rant.

Anonymous said...

by the same argument, beggars provide services to the givers, otherwise nobody would give ... right? if the problem is externality, than the solutions are: (i) selling the right to beg, (ii) taxed the beggars, (iii) quota, (iv) raise awareness not to give to beggars (iv) banned altogether.