Monday, November 13, 2006

In defense of rural-urban migration

Kompas this weekend featured a special report on rural-urban migration. Two main arguments were presented in favor of this: the "no-alternative" argument, and the "rights-based" argument.

The "no-alternative" argument basically says that life in the villages sucks. Due to failure of rural livelihoods, some of the younger females had to become commercial sex workers, older males day laborers.

Marco Kusumawijaya, as proponent of the "rights-based" argument, said,
Wartiyah, like all migrants, including the Governor, came to Jakarta to look for a better life...
The job of cities is to respect this right, help them go through the process of becoming good urban dwellers, and as far as possible serve them as citizens who give governments a reason for being.
However, two city governments (in Bandung and Makassar) complain about rural-urban migration. They say,
For those who come and work, it's no problem. But for those who can't find work and become homeless, they becomes a heavy burden for the government.
What? You mean if they're unemployed in the village, it's not your burden? You're lucky Indonesia doesn't have to pay a stiped for the unemployed (like in some welfare states), and you're complaining that the people are taking care of their own lives, whereas the government has failed to do so?

To give more weight to the migration proponents, let me propose a third argument: that "urbanization is good" and should be prepared for with optimism. More labor in cities enable cheaper cost of everything, i.e. construction, food, domestic help, factory-based production. Low-income rural migrants keep cities competitive.

Imagine if you have to pay double for your food and triple for your babysitter (because it's so hard to find cheap labor). Then you'd probably demand more wage from your employer. If so, then the employer might think that your city is not competitive anymore, and they'll move their business to another city. What do you say now?

Why do we keep blaming the negative effects rural-urban migration to the low capacity of our migrants? Why don't we blame the entrepreneurs who are not ready to absorb such opportunity? Why don't we blame our education system that failed to prepare its citizens to become able workers? Why don't we thank the positive effects of having rural migrants in the city, such as the cheap food and services that we consume, and maybe our job too?

Technorati technorati tags: , ,


  1. btw, sorry if use the wrong terminology since I'm not familiar with urban planning.

    I do believe that cheap labors create a net positive effect despite all the arising traffic jam and security problems. I even dare to say that current crowdedness of Indonesia cities is a prerequisite of modern economy (service based economy, knowledge economy, etc.).


    Because there is no shortcut (that I know of) from agragrian based economy jumping to modern economy. Here are my reasons:
    1. Modern economy requires knowledge worker. I don't think it's possible to attract enough investors willing to commit so much money to invest in human resource and patiently wait until the humans are knowledgeable enough. That waiting is at least 12 years (if you go to trade school).
    2. Modern economy requires heavy capital investment. I don't know any group of investor insane enough to comprehensively invest from raw material extraction facilities to sales outlets. It's too risky.

    So, instead of suddenly becoming a modern economy, Indonesia should slowly gain a little bit in capital investment, which induced a little bit willingness for people to educate themselves since more oppportunity exists, which in turn induced another bit of "higher" investment in more complicated machinery or technology, which in another turn may induce others to invest on better education or school, and so on. The risk is more manageable.

    To start the cycle above, there should be a competitive advantage to attract that first initial investment. That first and easiest competitive advantage is cheap low skilled labors.

  2. i think freedom of movement is necessary to keep a certain amount of equality (i'd actually go as far as saying that it should be a human right that people can live /wherever/ they want in the world).

    if you think about it further, the wealthy have their own private schools, colleges, hospitals, secured residential areas -- they don't /need/ to care about society at large.

    i reckon indonesia (and on a world level) would be a better place if there was less segregation, /everyone/ would be forced to improve society as a whole rather than just looking after there own interests.

  3. Hi Amitz,

    That's an interesting point you've shown. I'm no expert, but I guess this is what has happened with China, right? Their cheap labor finally turned things around, with the bulk of world products now "made in China," Even other countries' souvenirs! (Of course, China has had more experience in industrialization than Indonesia). But like you said, this is a big driver of the initial investment.

    Hi John,

    I can't agree with you more. One of my professors told me that despite the hype about globalization today, we're actually much less globalized than centuries ago, that is if we consider people's freedom to move across nations/countries/empires (or whatever you'd call them back then).

  4. urbanization is inevitable, as are its problems. the question of how to best manage the problems is what most cities are trying to deal with. while i agree that everyone should have the freedom and right to live wherever they choose, i would not consider having “no choice but” as a choice. as such, in the case of jakarta, i am more of a proponent of the “no-alternative” argument.

    the specific problem in jakarta i think has to do with lack of choices: if other cities in indonesia is as well developed as jakarta, there will be many magnets for all kinds of workers (knowledge-base and skill-base). they will make both cities and workers compete against one another and induce demand for improved conditions of the cities and skills of the workers. if migrant workers have wider skills, they will have more choices in terms of the types of work they could do, where they could work, etc., and private sectors would be more than willing to absorb them (imagine having a housekeeper who can cook, babysit, and drive!)

    in a focus group discussion i attended with migrant workers and urban poor communities in jakarta, one of them mentioned that he got evicted from being a hawker. when asked what he would wish for, i thought he would talk about the specificity of improving the hawkers’ conditions. instead, he said that when he came to jakarta, he didn’t want to be a hawker: nobody dreams to be a hawker. but he didn’t have any other choices. his wish was to be provided with choices of work.

    i think indonesian government, the society, and its systems are to blame for the creation of this vicious cycle in relation to how education is managed, perceived, and subsequently developed. china, and india, become what they are today partly because their governments, some decades back, decided to invest in education. what about indonesia?

    education has been perceived by chinese society as one of the most important values in life: being scholars have always been sought after by the members of the society. i don’t know about indian society, but if we look at the emerging indian scholars at some of the most prestigious universities around the world, i’m pretty sure it didn’t happen by chance.

    on contrary, being scholars even in today’s indonesia can be considered as being out of one’s mind. and would education be on the top of the list for investments? you could turn on the television to find out the answer. i got exasperated when my housekeeper recently told me that her daughter has asked her to invest in a satellite-dish antennae, while i obviously think that she should rather invest in her daughter’s children’s education.

    how could a vicious cycle be broken?

  5. Hi Dewi,

    Vicious cycles can be broken by appropriate intervention. Just a little, enough to turn the cycle around. A good book on this is Gunnar Myrdal's "Rich Lands and Poor." Proponents of free market have claimed that it's interventionist, but I think otherwise vicious cycles may go on forever.

    I have some good friends who are Indian, and yes, they say education is a long-time tradition well kept by their people. Belief in the importance of education does not come by easily. Only great peoples/nations have this. And in the case of China and India, they've been great nations since way back. See The Economist's special report "the power of the emerging world".

    If Indonesia wants to embrace education, her people have to think that they're great people, that we're a great nation. Sometimes to be able to reach this stage, a nation must face some difficulties, or hold some "grudges" to prove oneself, such as - maybe - in the case of South Korea, or Indonesia during its independence.

    Still in today's world, education doesn't guarantee that we'll be ahead. What matters is competition. In the Guardian recently, an economist wrote his frustration of how free market is taking priviledges away from the developed world.

    "For all those sermons from well-heeled politicians about the need for "life-time education and re-training", Summers points out that there is a limit to what education can do for workers in their 40s and beyond. Nor can education be a complete answer when skilled computer programmers in India are paid less than $2,000 (£1,051) a month."

  6. thanks for the leads. to think of herself as a great nation – maybe that’s the key. how? – that is the riddle :) i’m not talking about education as means to being ahead in the game. we’re not at that level where we can talk about ‘education alone is not enough’, ‘life-time education’, and ‘re-training’. we haven’t even reached the level of ‘basic good education’ yet :(

    at least those skilled computer programmers in india have skills, and $2000 a month may not be bad income in india. most people in indonesia wouldn’t mind getting such a ‘bad income’! :)

  7. Dewi> "i think indonesian government, the society, and its systems are to blame for the creation of this vicious cycle in relation to how education is managed"

    and for good reason, i might be a bit cynical -- but I don't think it has /ever/ been in the interests of Indonesia's elite through the ages to educate the people.

  8. Good point, John.

    In the "old world," where what matters is brute strength (i.e. of slave labor), rather than brains, elites don't have an interest to educate its people.

    But in the "new world", where the bulk of profits are increasingly gained from knowledge economy, than even elites have an interest to educate.

    Too bad many elites haven't realized this. They're already satisfied with profits made from basic trading (buy/sell) rather than the bigger profit they may make from developing a creative industry.

  9. "But in the "new world", where the bulk of profits are increasingly gained from knowledge economy, than even elites have an interest to educate."

    i am pretty sure one of RI's main exports will remain raw materials - mining, forestry (that's a euphemism!), palm oil, etc... - for the foreseeable future. a lack of education probably /helps/ such industries...

  10. This question goes to Muli. I'm REALLY curious..Does Jakarta have an urban plan?? What's the official urbanization rate that's built into that plan?

  11. Hi Nia,

    Yes, Jakarta should have an urban plan. I don't have access to it at the moment, but there's some related documents that you can access through links in Check especially links to Bapeda (see RTRW and Repetada), Dinas Kependudukan, Dinas Perumahan, and maybe Dinas Tata Kota.

    The Repetada appendices/ lampiran has data on Jakarta's macro economics, social, and population growth 2000-2007 (some prediction).

    Indonesia also has a "National Urban Development Policies and Strategies". Can't find links to it, but I have a soft copy in my computer.

  12. Even living in village weren't suck, still, city has it own magnets. People will keep coming to the city. Just complaining and then make "operasi yustisi" to kick migrant out of city won't solve the problems.
    Yupe, city must be prepared.

    Well, about education, I think govt should give more attention to vocational school. Finishin SMU (not SMK) without attending college, I called it "nanggung" ;p From some people I known, SMK graduate, with their special skill is more competitive than SMU graduate.