Thursday, December 13, 2007

Where are the flats?

Vice President Jusuf Kalla wonders why Indonesian real estate companies are so slow in building low-income flats. FYI, last year the VP declared a national programme to build 1,000 low-income residential highrises in 10 big cities by 2009 (yeah, right..).

The Indonesian Real Estate Association answered as such: (local) governments are not providing land, and this makes it practically impossible for the private sector to supply flats in cities for the low income. Ciputra, the real estate mogul, said that any land priced over Rp 3 million (~USD 300) per square meter is not feasible to be procured by the private sector to be sold as low income flats. Furthermore, "even if the local government wants to provide land, there are many regulations that discourage it," someone from DPR said.

I guess we won't be seeing 1,000 low-income flats in the near future..

Privatizing what's not yours

I generally don't care much about Malaysia's recent claims over cultural products (i.e. batik, angklung, the song 'Rasa Sayange') native to peoples who now live in Indonesian territories. That is, as long as such products are left in the public domain.

However, this time some Malaysian academics have gone too far. As Kompas reported, they are now roaming over Indonesian villages, 'hunting' for classic Malay manuscripts, and place them on a site which people have to pay to use.

Really, I don't care if they claim it as part of their culture. But putting proprietary rights to something that they did not invent? Please...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Community Radio Social Impact Assessment

AMARC has recently finished its global assessment of the social impacts of community radios. The conclusion is clear: The main social Impact of Community Radio is Voice for the poor and marginalized. In further detail, community radios are effective in supporting poverty reduction, ensuring proper governance, ensuring inclusion of the marginalized, and are effective in conflict resolution and disaster prevention and relief.

The single principal barrier to CR social impact is absence of a friendly legislation; the existence of media oppression and military threats are a generalized barrier to the development of community radio.

Case studies from Indonesia are included in this report, as contributed by Ade Tanesia from Combine under the heading Women as Producers of Information. Nice work!

Third Global Knowledge Conference

The 3rd Global Knowledge Conference (GK3) – one of the most important knowledge sharing and creative development conferences in the world – will be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from 11 -13 December 2007. Themed "Emerging People, Emerging Markets, Emerging Technologies," GK3 promises to be a dynamic event focused on the future. GK3 will explore concrete solutions and possibilities within the inter-play, interface and interweaving of issues related to the Knowledge for Development (K4D) and Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) in the context of our globally evolving societies, economies and technologies worldwide.

For AMARC, network activities in Kuala Lumpur will focus on how women can use knowledge sharing in their community radio programming activities to empower other women so they can play a stronger role in good governance and democracy. This is one of AMARC’s most important theme areas for development in 2007.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Pro-poor planning and budgeting

A new buzzword is floating around in the development world. Pro-poor planning and budgeting. What is it?

On the one hand it's an ADB-Bappenas technical assistance project that will "contribute to improvement of access of the poor to quality social services and infrastructure." But more than that, pro-poor planning & budgeting seems like an operational answer to questions like "how can we make sure that the government is taking MDGs seriously?" Especially given that planning documents are usually very general/thematic with no specifically measurable targets and not linked to budgeting process, etc. etc.

So what makes a plan and budget "pro-poor"? The project team said there are four indicators:
  1. it answers the root causes of poverty
  2. it will have impact on improvement of poor people's lives (as stated in MDGs or government mid-term development plans)
  3. its targets are majority poor
  4. the poor are included in the planning & budgeting process
Hopefully this will not be merely hype.

More on rural-urban migration

I still can't get enough of supporting people to move to cities. It's good that Kompas has got another FOKUS on this topic, under the heading "Fencing Jakarta from the Poor." Of course, this is quite a late post, and the features are still related to post Idul-Fitri movement of people into (back) into big cities.

Let me just take this opportunity to highlight other articles I've recently found. The first is something from the Guardian, UK, that says "migrants are a boon to UK economy."
Migrants are more skilled and often more reliable and hardworking than British workers, and are fuelling the country's economic growth to the tune of £6bn a year...
To put things into perspective is this excerpt on urbanization and migration, taken from the Address given at Commonwealth Youth Forum Opening ceremony by Dr. Anna Tibaijuka, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Migration to urban areas takes place not because of real opportunities for better wages and livelihood but due to the expectations of such opportunities... In other words, people move or migrate not because they will be better off, but because they expect to be better off.

Unchecked flows of rural poor seeking better lives have exerted an unbearable strain on Africa's capitals...

But then we know that migration has historically improved the well-being of individuals and humanity as a whole. Just think how many countries and cities around the world were founded by migrants. Or today, how many economies are driven by the energy and initiative of new-comers. Let us not forget that what we call the “New World”, namely the Americas and Australasia was populated by immigrants from Europe.
Let us not forget that without migrants, Jakarta would not be Jakarta as it is.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Piracy good for fashion industry

Open source software proponents have long argued that "relaxed or non-existent intellectual property restrictions" is good for the development of the software industry in general. Ideas get shared and exchanged quickly, and as a result we (consumers) get more frequent improvements in existing softwares as well as new software innovations in whole. Of course, on the other hand proprietary software proponents have claimed this all to be "piracy" and that it harms the software industry.

James Surowiecki recently pointed out that piracy is actually good for the fashion industry.
"There’s little evidence that knockoffs (cheap fakes - muli) are damaging the business. Fashion sales have remained more than healthy... and the high-end firms that so often see their designs copied have become stronger. More striking, a recent paper by the law professors Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman suggests that weak intellectual-property rules, far from hurting the fashion industry, have instead been integral to its success. The professors call this effect “the piracy paradox.”
Copying enables designs and styles to move quickly from early adopters to the masses. And since no one cool wants to keep wearing something after everybody else is wearing it, the copying of designs helps fuel the incessant demand for something new.

The situation is not necessarily easy on designers, who have to keep coming up with new ideas rather than being able to milk a trend for years. But it means that in the industry as a whole there is more innovation, more competition, and probably more sales than there otherwise would be."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Is anti-urban-migration growing?

Jakarta's hate for new incoming migrants from rural areas seems to be spreading.

Now the government of Cilegon, an industrial city in Banten, expects new migrants to provide cash collateral to the municipality. Meanwhile, in Serang, people who don't have local ID cards are facing a fine of Rp 50 million (~USD 5,000) or six months of jail.

Can't the national government (i.e. the ministry of law and human rights) do something about this?

From wheat to web

Nature News has a good profile on M.S. Swaminathan and portrays a balanced view of the current state of India's "ICT for rural development" initiatives.

Still, what we have are anecdotes. After more than a decade of ICT for development initiatives, shouldn't we have hard data already?

Ashok Jhunjhunwala, head of the Telecom and Networks Group (TeNeT) at the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai, [...] says that the dozens of ICT projects across the country are a series of ongoing experiments, “some of which have worked”, he says, but “most of which haven't”.

“You'll hear about a village where ICTs have helped farmers get a better price for grain, or a village where someone has got better access to health care, but these are all anecdotal cases and don't represent the majority of ICT projects,” says Jhunjhunwala.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Papua Governor: environment hero

In this recent post, I applauded Papua Governor Barnabas Suebu for his commitment to preserve Papua's forests through carbon credit.

Now Mr. Suebu has been named by TIME as one of the 43 Heroes of the Environment 2007. Other heroes include Mikhail Gorbachev, Al Gore, Prince Charles (huh?), and the Toyota Design Team. Guardian's Climate Change has a quick and short recap of this year's heroes, who come from 4 categories:
  1. Leaders and visionaries,
  2. Activists,
  3. Scientists and innovators,
  4. Moguls and entrepreneurs.
However, as Climate Change pointed out: there are only 7 females among the 43 names.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Would you prefer rice or cement?

Another rice producing region will be gone soon. This time we're talking about Kecamatan Bayah, Kabupaten Lebak, Banten - an area dubbed "rice deposit" by Kompas. Next year, Bayah may be replaced by a complex of Boral cement factories.

It's interesting that the most urbanized and urbanizing area in Indonesia is Java - which is also the most fertile and productive area for rice-growing. My colleague and I once tried to find data on how much productive rice fields (sawah, not just any agriculture areas) in Java have been converted into urban areas. We didn't succeed.

On the one hand, it's ironic that we have all this fuss about the pros and cons of rice import, but we're quite calm about another productive rice field being converted into urban/industrial functions. When it comes to this, it seems that we only care about the amount of money being paid to farmers/landowners to purchase the land, not about the loss of fertile land. [My personal take is that landowners shouldn't be paid 100% in cash - but some of the payment should be in the form of stocks or bonds.]

On the other hand, should we let this happen - considering/assuming that cement has more value than rice?

Bayah seems to be growing economically. Kompas reports the increase in gold shops, electronic stores, franchise minimarkets, and hotels over the past few years. They wonder whether these may be related to Bayah's readiness to welcome PT. Boral Indonesia, the envisaged economic locomotive of South Banten.

Stop stopping them from coming to Jakarta!

Every year after the Idul Fitri holidays, the Jakarta government conducts Operasi Yustisi. That's the hunt down of "illegal" migrants coming into Jakarta from Indonesia's rural areas. This year is no different. The sad legacy, unfortunately, is kept by Jakarta's new Governor, Fauzi Bowo.

Mr. Bowo cites Jakarta Bylaw no. 4/2004 as the legal basis of this ironically named operation. He said, "Jakarta is dense enough already. Those who don't have a job and place to live will only burden the city." Illegal migrants (those who are caught without Jakarta ID card) will be fined Rp 5 million (~USD 500) or jailed for 3 months.

Of course, the policy is useless, as Supriatna argues. The poor (which is the reason they came to Jakarta in the first place) don't have that kind of money. And if they are "returned" to their original village, they are sure to come back as there is very few economic opportunity in rural areas. As bad the condition they face in the city, it is almost always much better than if they stayed back. That's called hope. And surely the hope is quite high, at least as high as the demand for low-skilled labor in big cities.

So it makes all sense to let the rural poor come into cities. So why oppose? Is it because we get sore eyes from seeing poor people in the streets? Is it because we don't want Jakarta to be more crowded and messy? Let's not forget: Most of us in Jakarta (at least our parents/ancestors) were once migrants, maybe as poor and as "kampungan" as the villagers are now. Who are we to now deny other people the opportunity that we've received in the past?

PS: This is what I wrote about this issue last year. Do I have to do this every year? Bring it on!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pedestrians as Anarchy

My friend and I talked at length the other day on anarchy. Initially were talking about squatters, and then he said, "You can't do whatever you want. That's chaos, that's anarchy!" Putting the discussion on squatting aside, I said anarchy does not necessarily mean chaos.

In case you haven't noticed, there is a lot of (created?) misunderstanding of big words here, just like communism is misunderstood as atheism. After arguing what anarchy really means (see some links on the right), I realized that I should have just quoted what James Surowiecki wrote about William Whyte in The Wisdom of Crowds. That should be easier. An example of simple anarchy in action, no chaos included.
No one has ever paid more attention to the streets and sidewalks of New York City than William H. Whyte... Whyte's work, which was eventually published in his book City, was full of fascinating ideas about architecture, urban design, and the importance to a city of keeping street life vibrant. It was also a paean to the urban pedestrian.

"The pedestrian is a social being," White wrote. "He is also a transportation unit, and a marvelously complex and efficient one." Pedestrians, Whyte showed, were able, even on crowded sidewalks, to move surprisingly fast without colliding with their neighbors. In fact, they were often at best when the crowds were at their biggest...

New Yorkers mastered arts like "the simple pass," which involved slowing ever so slightly in order to avoid a collision with an oncoming pedestrian. They platooned at crosswalks as a protection against traffic. In general, Whyte wrote, "They walk fast and they walk adroitly. They give and they take, at once aggressive and accommodating. With the subtlest of motions they signal their intentions to one another." The result was that "At eye level, the scene comes alive with movement and color - people walking quickly, walking slowly, skipping up steps, weaving in and out in crossing patterns, accelerating and retarding to match the moves of others. There is a beauty that is beguiling to watch."

What Whyte saw - and made us see - was the beauty of a well-coordinated crowd...

Anarchy is simple the absence of a ruler. And as the streets of New York shows, the absence of a ruler does not have to mean chaos. People - in many cases - can coordinate themselves beautifully.

PS: The picture above, is actually not of New York's pedestrians, but of Tokyo's. It's from UNFPA site.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The upper and lower ends of migrant working

Several articles on migrant working caught my eyes recently. Two op-eds in Kompas discussed the upper end of the issue: one in positive tone, arguing that professional and business migrants create international networks needed by the home country, the other in negative tone, arguing that 'brain drain' increases the gap between advanced and backward countries.

Interesting that Kompas presents both sides of the debate in relatively equal manner. Maybe the daily has yet to decide its own stand? Certainly migration is a sensitive topic. And the idea to let workers roam free across national borders is 'equally offensive to the left and the right' (as DeParle argues in Should We Globalize Labor Too?)

The latter statement was taken from the context of international development debate from the eyes of Lant Pritchett. He was talking about the lower end of migrant working, taking poor villagers in Nepal, like Gure Sarki, as case study:
Pritchett, a development economist and practiced iconoclast, has just left the World Bank to teach at Harvard and to help Google plan its philanthropic efforts on global poverty. In a recent trip through Chaurmuni [in Nepal], he praised the goats as community-driven development at its best: a fast, flexible way of delivering tangible aid to the poor. “But Nepal isn’t going to goat its way out of poverty,” he said. Nor does he think that as a small, landlocked country Nepal can soon prosper through trade.

To those standard solutions, trade and aid, Pritchett would add a third: a big upset-the-applecart idea, equally offensive to the left and the right. He wants a giant guest-worker program that would put millions of the world’s poorest people to work in its richest economies. Never mind the goats; if you really want to help Gure Sarki, he says, let him cut your lawn. Pritchett’s nearly religious passion is reflected in the title of his migration manifesto: “Let Their People Come.” It was published last year to little acclaim — none at all, in fact — but that is Pritchett’s point. In a world in which rock stars fight for debt relief and students shun sweatshop apparel, he is vexed to find no placards raised for the cause of labor migration. If goods and money can travel, why can’t workers follow? What’s so special about borders?

Yes, unfortunately the idea is still not popular. So how can I help, Lant?

PS: here are other articles by DeParle on border crossing: Jobs Abroad Support ‘Model’ State in India (Kerala), and A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves (Philippines).

Jakarta's blunt declaration against the poor

A new Jakarta bylaw on 'public order' will fine you up to Rp 20 million (~$ 2,000) if you give to beggars, street vendors, street performers, etc. Also, motorcycle taxis and bajajs are illegal, and bicycles and transvestites are put at a disadvantage. The reason for the Perda no.8/2007 is to 'safeguard Jakarta's image as the nation's capital'.
What crap.
The Poor People's Alliance has produced an article-by-article critique on the bylaw. UPC has issued a press release to reject it.

Fortunately, the Ministry of Home Affairs has agreed to review the bylaw, to check whether it violates public interest and any other law above it. And so has the Ministry of Law and Human Rights. We'll see what happens.

Monday, October 01, 2007

On Ecology and Economy

Feeling a bit hot lately? Well, blame it (correctly) on global warming. For me, the best thing about the global warming concept is that we're finally accepting how interconnected the world really is. You can't stop global warming only by, i.e. reducing greenhouse gases in one place. You gotta do it everywhere!

Photo source: Environmental Investigation Agency, "The Last Frontier: Illegal Logging in Papua and China's Massive Timber Theft. Quoted in

Economically unfortunate for developing countries, all this concern about global warming has only surfaced nowadays, just when they're on a roll of development/ industrialization. How could developing countries ever compete/catch-up with their developed counterparts if all this development has to be curbed now? How is it fair that developed countries could go so far ahead inter-alia through colonialism, slavery, environmental destruction (all these were 'acceptable' at the time) and now they ask third world nations to compete with them without all those evils shortcuts?

And how did the governments of Aceh, Papua, and West Papua (all forest-rich provinces in Indonesia), react to the call to protect their forests and possibly forego 'development' (read: profits from palm oil plantations)? Economically, of course! And rightly so. Learning from Costa Rica, Papua Governor Barnabas Suebu plans to preserve its forests with "carbon credits" (WSJ, subscription required):

His proposal: Have papua become an active player in the word's emerging carbon markets - a system of exchanges that let investors and companies buy and sell the right to pollute.

Mr. Suebu's plans for Papua are on a large scale. He has proposed to reserve more than half of the land targeted for development for protection. In the meantime, he has applied heavy brakes to the (palm oil) plantation companies' expansion aims, so far refusing to grant them permission to proceed with their planned developments.

"In my mind, we have to save the forests of Papua and make money from that," said Mr. Suebu, 61 years old. "I know that Indonesia doesn't care about the forest."

So suppose ecology and economy are no longer a dichotomy, and that the money actually does come in: is the problem solved? Marianne Klute of Watch Indonesia poses a good question: Who should benefit from the money?

Should it be the plantation companies, which need to forgo palm oil profits? Should it be the government budget which, under Indonesian law, owns the forest? Or the special autonomous provinces? Or should the money go to the indigenous peoples so that they can continue to live in harmony with nature and, through their way of living, sustain the forest?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

On the privatization of education

The Indonesian Government has been drafting a new law on a new legal format for state-owned universities (RUU BHP - Rencana Undang-Undang Badan Hukum Pendidikan). The new law will significantly decrease state funding for these universities, potentially driving fees upwards to be more private-like.

A group of people recently held an event to protest the draft.

I couldn't agree with them more. Education should be the last thing to be handed over completely to the private sector. Don't see it simply as public service; education should be a country/nation's most important investment. Even in the most capitalist nations education is subsidized. Even Robert Kiyosaki, the uber-capitalist "rich dad", demands that the government provide financial education/literacy to America's school children.

We've got priorities all mixed up.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

(Indonesian) TV Turnoff Day: Sunday 22 July

I just found out about this from my friend Ambar. Apparently we also have a TV turnoff time in Indonesia. And it's been going on at least since 2006.

Okay, so the turnoff time is not exactly a week like that promoted by Adbusters, but a day is good enough for starters. And while the message is not exactly anti corporate capitalism /consumerism, ensuring quality time (and building media awareness) for the family - especially children - is a very good cause indeed.

Indonesia's Gerakan Hari Tanpa TV (Day Without TV Movement) will be held on Sunday 22 July 2007, just one day before the National Children's Day (23 Juli 2007). Organizers are
Yayasan Pengembangan Media Anak (YPMA - Foundation for Development of Children's Media), Yayasan Kita dan Buah Hati (YKBH), and others.

Here's the webpage containing background information, contact details, and how you can participate. Mobile Knowledge for Social Change

Cellphones are changing the world in more ways than one. ICT for Development initiatives are now increasingly highlighting the use of cellular, wireless technology rather than standard personal computers (i.e. 'telecenters'). But then again, with technological convergence going on at fast pace, who could tell the difference between a cellular phone and a personal computer anymore? As a cellphone ad says: "[cellphones] are what computers have become."

So if computers with internet connection could play a role in addressing development issues, then cellphones with GPRS/3G/4G connection should potentially play bigger roles. Cellphones are predominantly personal, so instead of fostering 'community development' (which is prone to elite capture), they do a great job in fostering something more essential: 'individual/personal development.' They're cheap(er than computers), handy, easy to use, and very contextual to the user. The rate of cellphone ownership is increasing at an exponential rate in many developing countries. In Indonesia, the number of cellphone subscribers have reached 30% of the population, and 90% of the population are covered by cellphone coverage/signal. is an online community and a wiki for sharing ideas on how to use mobile communications for social and environmental benefits. Here you can learn (and contribute) stories of how to use the cellphone for:
  • civic engagement (i.e. monitoring a presidential election and reporting child rights violations)
  • economic empowerment (i.e. mobile-banking and rural microfinance)
  • education (i.e. using mobile games to build HIV/AIDS awareness)
  • environment (i.e. mobilizing volunteers to respond to disasters)
  • health (i.e. collecting vital health data), and
  • humanitarian relief (i.e. sending donations through text message)
The idea for came from Ndidi Nwuneli, founder and CEO of LEAP Africa, a Nigerian NGO dedicated to nurturing a new generation of African leaders.

"Groups like ours would really benefit from a resource that shows us how to use mobile technology to carry out our work more effectively," said Ndidi at a Nokia stakeholder event of NGO and corporate leaders. was created in response to Ndidi’s request, with support from Nokia and Vodafone. And since a large part of its intention is to help groups like Ndidi's, also has information and practical examples for NGOs on “how to” use mobile technology in their daily work, including
* Collect field data
* Distribute information
* Manage finances
* Manage your organization
* Respond to emergencies
* Track people/products

Check it out.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Busway, oh busway

With this level of service quality, how can we expect the middle class to start using public transportation? This photo was taken at the Polda Metro pedestrian bridge, some time last month.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Environment degradation in Merapi

One year after the slow and painful eruption of Mount Merapi in Central Java, surrounding communities must continue to face danger. This time, the danger is not high-profile and does not attract media interest. However, it is no less severe in the long run.

While Merapi eruption is commonly seen as disaster by city folks, it is actually seen in a more balanced light by villagers. For one, an eruption leaves fertile soil which will is really good for the surrounding farmers later. And the business people love the top quality sand that eruptions leave, especially along rivers.

So sand mining is now hot. Jalin Merapi reports: nowadays, on a given day, loads of trucks and day laborers work to mine and transport sand. However, as day laborers may get a good deal of Rp. 50,000 ($5) per day, and the mining companies make a huge profit, the local residents are suffering.

Let's listen to the Selo people in Cepogo, Boyolali, Central Java. Where they live has now become prone to land-slides. Agricultural activities disturbed. Sources of fresh water in jeopardy.

What is to be done?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Modern woman vs outdated mentality

Let's talk about art for a change.

The EKI Dance Company is now performing their latest musical, Miss Kadaluwarsa, in Jakarta. I went to their show last night, and loved it very much. First off, the stage performance was awesome. A big salute to the cast and dancers, the musicians, and the lighting, sound and stage technicians. And of course, to the people behind the stage who made this all happen.

What's no less interesting is that this musical brings up an issue faced by probably many women in culturally transitioning countries like Indonesia: how should a single, successful career woman view the notion of marriage, and the role of a man/husband in her life? Miss Kadaluwarsa [kadaluwarsa means expired] points out, in a hilariously entertaining way, that a "modern" woman could still be trapped in an "outdated" mentality that keeps her unhappy and tied to unnecessary binds.

Miss Kadaluwarsa is playing in Gedung Kesenian Jakarta, May 23-27.
Here's the info on schedule, prices, and ticket boxes.

Update: Here are some photos from the show:

Monday, May 21, 2007

"The future is female"

British Telecom's futurologist predicts that the future will be about "the care economy." After the industrial age and the information age, the world economy will capitalize on what can not be automated or outsourced that easily: care. And who are "best suited" for this shift? Right. Women.
Machines will be able to displace people from many of today's information economy jobs, just as they already have in agriculture and manufacturing, Mr Pearson predicts... "More recently intellectual jobs have been done by software."

Consultants, male or female, are easier to automate than nurses. A consultant is tantamount to "an expert system linked to a complicated brain", he says. But nurses' skills are all about being human, by listening and making patients feel better.

"Softer interpersonal skills that cannot be replaced by a system will be better valued than the more rigid skills," speculates Cheryl Clemons, a programme manager for Broadband East Sussex.
A big question remains:
So if women have an easier time because their skills are more valued, does it mean they will also benefit financially? Not necessarily, Mr Pearson warns.
I am thus reminded of school teachers. In the 'olden days,' school teachers were mostly men, and they are highly respected and the pay is not bad. Then one day, teaching jobs were shifted to women, and gradually salary level & social perception of teachers become less and less interesting.

So I'd imagine the response from women is: "so what?"
Any thoughts?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

On happiness as public policy

I knew happiness is hot. But I didn't know that it's now on some countries' policy agenda (economists, here's a new challenge for you... or is this not related to economics?). Newsweek gives a report:
Happiness is everywhere—on the best-seller lists, in the minds of policymakers, and front and center for economists—yet it remains elusive. The golden rule of economics has always been that well-being is a simple function of income. That's why nations and people alike strive for higher incomes—money gives us choice and a measure of freedom. But a growing body of studies show that wealth alone isn't necessarily what makes us happy. After a certain income cap, we simply don't get any happier.

Now policymakers are racing to figure out what makes people happy, and just how they should deliver it. Countries as diverse as Bhutan, Australia, China, Thailand and the U.K. are coming up with "happiness indexes," to be used alongside GDP as a guide to society's progress. In Britain ... the "politics of happiness" will likely figure prominently in next year's elections.
But really, can happiness be measured/figured out scientifically? The New York Times recently wrote a long piece on what is happy (Happiness 101). Whole classes on some elite universities are being conducted on happiness, or to train people to be happy(er). One class gave a "distinction between feeling good, which according to positive psychologists only creates a hunger for more pleasure — they call this syndrome the hedonic treadmill — and doing good, which can lead to lasting happiness."

Personally, I like how happiness is portrayed in the recent Will Smith movie The Pursuit of Happyness. I love how Smith pointed out how Jefferson put in life and liberty as basic rights of U.S. citizens, but not happiness in itself. You don't have a right to be happy, but you have a right to pursue it. Maybe because Jefferson knew from then on that happiness means differently for different people.

And I also like how policy makers are getting wiser by considering happiness, as opposed to simply wealth, as a nation's goal.

Technorati technorati tags:

Friday, May 04, 2007

Do we need a moratorium of private vehicles?

Last month, Indonesia's Minister of Environment, Rachmat Witoelar, suggested a moratorium (temporary suspension) of new private vehicles in some cities. Mr. Witoelar said this in anticipation of the results of air quality evaluation currently being conducted in seven cities. Here's an English version of the news. Expectedly, GAIKINDO, the Indonesian Association of Automotive Industries, rejected the idea - as mentioned in Metro TV this morning. They blame the lack of infrastructure (roads) that is causing all the traffic congestion, thus producing air pollution.

My take on this:
  1. Forget about adding more roads! This NEVER solves the traffic congestion problem because as more roads are built, people will buy more vehicles. It's only a cosmetic solution to a systemic problem.
  2. At first, I thought the moratorium idea is quite extreme. Originally I wanted to suggest that Mr. Witoelar drop his "command and control" paradigm and go for the "incentives" approach instead. This means improving public transportation so that in the end people would have a better choice and leave their private vehicles at home.
  3. However, after second thoughts - especially considering the lousy implementation of an otherwise great public transportation idea (Yes, I'm talking about the TransJakarta Busway System, or as my sister puts it: "There's the way... where's the bus?") - I think I can understand why Mr. Witoelar suggested the moratorium.
  4. So in the end: NO to GAIKINDO's idea, NO COMMENT to Mr. Witoelar's idea.

In-line with all this, The Jakarta Post just featured an interview with Enrique Penalosa, former Mayor of Bogota, Colombia, and the architect of the "busway" system - or Transmilenio as they call it in Bogota. He has a good explanation on why adding roads is never the answer, although congestion is up to the neck! He also criticized the TransJakarta Busway (in a nice diplomatic way, of course).

Here's a nice quote from Mr. Penalosa:
Solving traffic jams is not a priority. In London, Paris and New York, there are also traffic jams and nobody says that they have to build more roads. The citizens are well aware that if they don't want to be caught in traffic, they will use public transportation. It gives them faster mobility.

So just let all the people suffer in the traffic jams until they leave their cars at home and use public transportation. City administrations should focus on improving the quality of their public transportation instead of investing in new roads. If you have a democracy, roads should be allocated first for public transportation.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

TV Turnoff Week: April 23-29

It's that time of the year again. OK, so maybe we would dare turn off our TV. But what about our DVD player, video iPod, XBOX 360, laptop, or PSP? All for seven days of unplugged life?

Adbusters says:
But there’s a lot more to TV Turnoff Week than shaking up your relationship with passive entertainment. It’s all about saying no to being bombarded with unwelcome and unhealthy commercial messages. It's about saying no to unfettered corporate media concentration and to the democratic deficit that results. And it's about challenging the heavily distorted reflection of the world that we see on the screen, a reflection that is keeping us ill-informed and unaware of the very real political and environmental crises that we all currently face.
The decision is up to you. But please do reflect on the topic.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Traditional market vs. modern market

Another mall, another conflict. The Indonesian Association of Traditional Market Traders (APPSI) is protesting the plan to develop a new Koja Trade Mall (a "modern" market) in North Jakarta, right next to a still thriving Koja "traditional" market (Pasar Koja).

Sumardiyanto, the association's head, said that Pasar Koja currently acommodates some 2,000 traders, the biggest number of traders compared to other 15 traditional markets in Jakarta. The daily turnover is Rp 600,000 ($66) a day a trader, totalling to Rp 1.2 billion a day. Quite significant.

Jakarta Regulation No. 2/2002 specified that modern markets as large as 2,000 to 4,000 sqm has to locate at least 2 km away from traditional markets. Modern markets larger than 4,000 sqm at least 2.5 km away. Koja Trade Mall will be as large as 28,000 sqm.

Apparently the school community in the area is also opposed to the mall. Meanwhile, President SBY some time ago asked that traditional markets not be let to free competition with the burgeoning "hypermarkets".

I feel what the traditional market traders are fighting for. For me the problem is not about "traditional" or "modern", but about the number of economic actors involved in each side of the tension. Traditional markets, clearly, employ more people and acommodate more & more diverse shareholders than modern markets.

But really, is protection the more appropriate and longer term solution to this? I believe capacity building and some kind of subsidy (not simply in the form of physical improvement of the market) are better answers. For example,
  • Perhaps somone should build the capacity of traditional traders to apply better, more modern management so that traditional markets are not synonym to dirty, smelly places?
  • Or perhaps somone should facilitate some kind of capital & business consolidation among the traditional traders to increase their pecuniary advantage against the likes of Carrefour, so that traditional markets are equally able to buy at large scale and sell at lower prices?

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Flood cause in the making

Here you have it: another cause of future Jakarta floods, in the making. Bekasi (a municipality to the south east of Jakarta) citizens are rallying against Bekasi Square: a new, 4-hectare mall development in their city that has been reluctant to build a proper drainage towards the Bekasi river. Because of this, Pekayon, the area where the mall is situated, was almost flooded due to heavy rain last week.

The developer said that they have planned this drainage, but could not build it soon because they need to get Government approval since the drainage will cross a major road. Hmm.. Shouldn't this be settled before the mall was built?

Often time, we encounter a problem that will lead into a bigger problem in the future, but we just keep quiet or act ignorant. Then suddenly the big disaster happens, and we become all very talkative, all too late.

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Internet price to go down by 30%

I just found this article on the Indonesian ISP Association (APJII) website. Apparently open competition in the telecommunications industry is finally going to take place.

Based on the new Ministry of ICT's Regulation No. 3/2007, the price paid by ISPs to network operators like Telkom, Indosat, and Excelcomindo for leased lines will likely go down by 50%. As this infrastructure rent represents 50% of an ISP's operational costs, then ISPs will likely decrease internet service price by 30%.

A good thing for the development of an Indonesian information society. A true information society is a society in which a large part of the added value is created from information & knowledge (content), not rent.

FYI: I don't have the latest figures, but in 2003, the total cost of 20 hours of dial-up Internet access per month was about US$ 22/month, which corresponds to 38% of Indonesia's GNI per capita. While in high income countries, internet costs are comparable to an average of 1.7% of GNI per capita.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Murray and Homelessness

UCLA tonight is featuring a lecture by Malcolm Gladwell, author of that really cool book The Tipping Point. Gladwell will talk about a specific issue that he wrote about a year ago in the New Yorker: "Million-Dollar Murray: Why problems like homelessness may be easier to solve than to manage."

The basic lesson behind "Murray" is similar to that behind "the law of the few" in The Tipping Point: pay attention to the few people who really make a difference. Why?
In the nineteen-eighties, when homelessness first surfaced as a national issue, the assumption was that the problem fit a normal distribution: that the vast majority of the homeless were in the same state of semi-permanent distress. It was an assumption that bred despair: if there were so many homeless, with so many problems, what could be done to help them?
Then, Dennis Culhane discovered something that "profoundly changed the way homelessness is understood":
Homelessness doesn't have a normal distribution, it turned out. It has a power-law distribution. "We found that eighty per cent of the homeless were in and out really quickly," he said. "In Philadelphia, the most common length of time that someone is homeless is one day. And the second most common length is two days. And they never come back... The next ten per cent were what Culhane calls episodic users. They would come for three weeks at a time, and return periodically, particularly in the winter... It was the last ten per cent—the group at the farthest edge of the curve—that interested Culhane the most. They were the chronically homeless, who lived in the shelters, sometimes for years at a time. They were older. Many were mentally ill or physically disabled, and when we think about homelessness as a social problem—the people sleeping on the sidewalk, aggressively panhandling, lying drunk in doorways, huddled on subway grates and under bridges—it's this group that we have in mind.
This last ten per cent includes Murray Barr, a chronic homeless from Reno, Nevada, who - although a nice person - had severe drinking problem that that costed the state one million dollars in "all his hospital bills for the ten years that he had been on the streets—as well as substance-abuse-treatment costs, doctors' fees, and other expenses..."

Gladwell suggested that we (meaning Americans) should just solve the homelessness problem, rather than keep trying to manage it.
because when a problem is that concentrated you can wrap your arms around it and think about solving it.
A small portion of society is bound to need help/support from others, anyway. If we could just identify who they are, and not just lump them all together in our self-made categories, we may actually be able to solve the most important part of the problem (if not the whole problem).

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Immigrants and the city

Planetizen summarizes a Wall Street Journal article titled Save Our Cities (WSJ subscription needed, but I've copied the full text here):
While some cities are attempting to drive immigrants out, others are welcoming them with open arms. As a Wall Street Journal writer asserts, "All booming American cities are immigrant cities."

"The fate of a two-year-old war on illegal immigrants declared by the mayor of tiny Hazleton, Pa., a former coal town, is now in the hands of a federal judge. He will rule by June on Hazleton's Illegal Immigration Relief Act, which penalizes local businesses and landlords who employ or rent to illegal immigrants."

"During the nine-day trial that concluded last Friday, Mayor Lou Barletta argued that some 10,000 undocumented immigrants have ruined Hazleton's quality of life...Yet business owners and landlords argued the opposite -- that immigrants had revitalized Hazleton's moribund economy, filling once-vacant apartments and patronizing once-declining businesses."

"In other cities the verdict is already in: Immigrants have significantly improved the quality of life in many of America's most successful cities. Take Flushing, Queens."

"All booming American cities are immigrant cities. It's practically tautological. Cities that welcome immigrants -- both legal and illegal -- tend to have vital economies that expand exponentially as immigrants open new businesses, fill vacant jobs and move into declining neighborhoods."

Here's my favorite quote, though:
In the 1960s Flushing was a wasteland, those same storefronts boarded up and the sidewalks empty -- so derelict that the area was designated in the city's 1975 federal community development block grant application as eligible for urban renewal money. Then came the Chinese immigrants, first in small numbers, then in great waves, through the 1980s and '90s. Long-time city planning official Sandy Hornick summarizes the 1970s as "back when we were trying to figure out what to do with Flushing before Flushing figured it out for itself."
Apparently, immigration is back to being a hot topic. Maybe because we're approaching the one-year commemoration of the big rallies against Bush's proposed immigration policy. Here's something from The Guardian, a few days ago:
New York would lose around 100,000 residents a year if overseas immigrants were not filling the void, the census bureau figures for 2000 to 2006 show. Los Angeles and Boston would also shrink without immigrants, threatening their economies and property markets.
It's a pity that many Indonesian urban planners still view urban in-migration (i.e., people coming from the villages into the cities) as a liability rather than asset.

PS: "We're all Immigrants" photo from

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Community radios under pressure?

Despite my latest posts about the virtues of community radio, the government seems to be going the other way around.

Last week, some Jakarta community radios were "ordered off the airwaves"; they were claimed to be interfering with the navigation system in Halim Perdanakusuma Airport in East Jakarta.

Unfortunately, it's not clear whether this interference is true. The frequency used for aviation radio is 118.3 MHz. However, Jawis FM, a school-based community radio that uses the 107.6 FM frequency at a meager 50 watt power was also told to stop its broadcasting activities. So was the Suara Warga Jakarta (Voice of Jakartans) radio, whose power only extends to a mere 2.5 kilometers radius.

So the question is: have the government followed the necessary procedure? Do they actually have proof of which radios are interfering with aviation frequency?

Does this progress have any correlation with the closing down of some 14 radios in Sorong, West Papua, late last year? Here's what I read from a credible source: These radios were said to be "caught red-handed" committing crime and jeopardizing national stability. And the interesting part: the procedure is that before closing down a radio, the government should provide information/guidance, and then a warning letter. However, at that time, the officer only had a general letter from the Ministry of ICT about "reporting the existence" of radios.

What's going on here?

Does the government still consider community broadcasting 'scary'? Adhi Wicaksana thinks that regulations concerning community radio are, at best, still at odds with each other.

Despite all this, do consider a few more great examples of community radio role:
  • The Jakarta Community Radio, "established in 2003 as a communication tool for local residents", has "the only radio program of its kind in the capital, perhaps the entire country, dedicated to the interests and needs of the disabled community."
  • The community radio in Wiladeg, Central Java, is giving the people a media to practice democracy and good governance.
  • The Voice of Muhammadiyah Radio in Aceh provides a service for tsunami-affected communities to trace missing relatives.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Community radios reach out to West Sumatra earthquake victims

Yet another earthquake. This time, one with a power of 5.8 Richter scale hit West Sumatra some 2 weeks ago.

Combine's SaksiGempa site (in Indonesian) reports that the community radio association of West Sumatra, working together with 4 member radios, is providing a media center service for victims of the recent earthquake, the government, and aid agencies.

Radios Radila and Semarak, both in Solok, and radios Suandri and Bahana, both in Padang Pariaman, are clarifying information regarding issues of follow-up quakes with the meteorology and geophysics agency. Then they broadcast the results to reduce the panic situation caused mainly by uncertainty.

Said Hendri Ihsan, a local NGO/community radio activist,
Communication in the earthquake-affected area is down. Moreover, the mountainous geographic condition in this area makes it difficult to disseminate information. Radio is the most effective means.
Hendri's contact information is available here.

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Innovations in rural information service

Kompas (in Indonesian language) has some encouraging articles to start off the week. For one, the cost of narrowing the (urban-rural) digital divide is heading down with the new Base Transceiver Station (BTS) technology called FLASH OFDM (Fast-hopping Low-latency Access with Seamless Handover Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing).

OFDM technology operates at 450 MHz frequency, can accommodate bandwidth of up 5.3 Mbps, can reach a distance of up to 70 kilometers. Much more efficient as we'd need less BTS to connect more areas. Best of all, OFDM can be integrated with GSM networks using a mini, very portable, "nanoGSM" BTS that is of paper size and of 2.7 Kg weight. Imagine that: carrying your own BTS around that can serve both voice and data.

We don't know when this technology (currently developed by Siemens) will be available. Hopefully soon. Still, a major problem in popularizing the internet in Indonesia is the prohibitive cost of bandwidth. So all this hoopla, including the hoopla about 3G, is nonsense if bandwidth quality is still patchy and cost too high.

In another article, the daily profiled an inspiring role of community radio in helping the post-disaster (tsunami) recovery of Pangandaran coastal area, West Java. Founded to respond to the disaster aftermath last year, the radio called Suara Pangandaran Darurat Recovery Ciamis Selatan (Drecs) has been providing post-disaster information that's easily accessible by affected people. They have good contact with the meteorology and geophysics agency, and even sometimes the police and army asks them for some information.

Now the local teachers' association (PGRI) has been collaborating to provide distance education through radio waves. A show called "free talk," where community members and local leaders alike can participate, discusses local development issues, from regularization of informal traders to issues of internally displaced people.

Now, wouldn't it be cool if we can see some kind of collaboration between a technology like OFDM and community radios?

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Monday, March 12, 2007

True cost economics

A significant change happening in my thoughts for the past few years is this increase of interest in economics and finance. My dear sister, who happens to be an economist, is damn tired of me asking her all sort of dumb economic questions :) She even wrote a nice post about my new obsession, which - of all things - should be read by Greg Mankiw the economics professor himself! Yikes.

Anyways, I find it amusing that a lot of what matters, we already learned in our early childhood years. I remember how grade school taught me that economics comes from the Greek words "oikos" and "nomos", which means "household" and "science". And when you're running a household, you want your family (meaning everyone in the household) to be wealthy and happy. Thus gaining/creating wealth is as important as making sure that it gets distributed accordingly.

And so I find it interesting how The Economist views globalization (free trade across national borders). In their special report of September 2006, titled The Power of the Emerging World, the magazine pointed out (subscription required) how globalization has increased the total "wealth" created by the whole world: that profit, as percentage of total economic output, is at an all-time high; that globalization has brought better outcome to the world.

But hold on. Who is "the world"? I am reminded of the recent corny Pertamina (Indonesian state-owned oil company) TV ad that says "if you buy Pertamina lubricants, you gain and the nation gains". The question is, "who do you mean by 'the nation'?" It's quite common knowledge that profits of big state-owned companies is kept or even misappropriated by a few people. So does the nation really gain? Theoretically, yes - because Pertamina is a state-owned company. In reality, not if you consider the majority of the people who have very little to gain from it (if at all).

Which brings back to the question of globalization. OK, so globalization has brought more profit at the world scale over time. And if you divide this increasing profit by the number of the population, it seems that the world is getting better off, on average. But that's not how profit is distributed. You don't just give it out evenly to everybody. What's happening now is that although the cake is getting bigger, more and more of it is being eaten by less and less people. The Economist admitted that
workers' share of the cake in rich countries is now the smallest it has been for at least three decades (see chart 5). In many countries average real wages are flat or even falling.…
In other words, we have increasing inequality, and this this can be better seen through the median, or the Gini Coefficient.

It's funny how economists are taught all these quantitative tools, but when it comes to free trade, they seem to only use the average. Thus I am reminded of a quote from my sister's professor: "Ideologies are for people who are too lazy to think."

So far we've just been talking about the paradox behind the internal workings of economics when applied to free trade. What about the impact of free trade on the environment and on communities? What about leisure time, unpaid housework, family breakdown, increase of crime? What about ecological footprints? Are they reflected in the GDP? Economists have often dismissed these as "externalities." But if we're trying to view/study economics in all its completeness and in real world application, these should be seriously factored in.

Alright, I'll stop here. I'm not even an economist. But I am thrilled that Adbusters is co-leading the campaign to demand better economics education, based on a more realistic science. They call it "True Cost Economics":
This is our most urgent campaign: a fight to revolutionize economics before our planet is destroyed. We need a new economic paradigm - one that is open, holistic, and human scale [...] The economic revolution begins with jamming Economics departments. It ends with an entirely new way to measure progress.
Here's another interesting quote:
[E.F. Schumacher] coined the term “Buddhist economics” to describe the opposite of the Western economic model, one that didn’t allow for unlimited growth and consumption and emphasized renewable resources. For those who questioned what Buddhism had to do with economics, Schumacher replied, “Economics without Buddhism, i.e., without spiritual, human and ecological values, is like sex without love.”
Don't get me wrong. I think economics is important, and livelihood (earning money) is a big factor of what makes the world tick. However, isn't it time that economics be freed from economists who are blinded by their own ideology, be it left or right?

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Coming soon: the $100 (or so) laptop

So the poor kids' gadget to bridge the digital divide will be available in developing countries this month! Newsweek has a cool interview with Negroponte about it recently, calling it "the people's laptop". OK, so the price is still $150 - but the MIT guru said he'll work it down to $100.

But what's maybe cooler is the (less than) "$100 Un-PC" produced by Chennai-based company Novatium. It looks a lot more familiar to the people - just like a PC, but stripped down to the very basic parts (it only uses cell-phone processors).

The main difference between the two products is the drive behind them: Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child machine "is dependent on the kindness of wealthy partners." Whereas Novatium's Nova NetPC was about making profit, and "making the computer affordable was only part of the equation."

This reminds me of the clash of ideas between William Easterly in "The White Man's Burden" and Jeffrey Sach's "The End of Poverty".

Who will prevail?

Image from:

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Jakarta flood and urbanization failure

One big reason for the Jakarta flooding is our failure to urbanize properly. As Lefebvre said, everything is now essentially "urban": from the Thamrin-Sudirman corridor, to the mountains of Puncak in West Java, even to the forests of Papua - meaning they are under the power of urban capital interests.

So why shouldn't the old natural flood plains of Jakarta (now places called Pantai Indah Kapuk and Kelapa Gading) fall into urban interests, as every place has? Why - specifically in Jakarta - do such interests manifest in extreme forms: building settlements where there should be none, thus risking their lives and the lives of others? Quite simple: no choice.

People need to live in the city, and they couldn't. I mean, if apartments cost Rp 10 million per square meter (and renting is far from cheap, too), then how many people can afford to live in the city? Naturally, sprawl happens. Destruction of nature is not only due to rich people wanting to have grand villas in Puncak, but also our failure to urbanize Jakarta properly.

But this may about to change. Remember Jusuf Kalla's wild idea (i.e. here and here) to build 20-storey public low income flats (rumah susun) all over big cities in Indonesia? Well, that may soon materialize (although hopefully the Government will not take his words literally!). Last week, the President just approved the exemption of value added tax (PPN) of rumah susun development by developers. The BTN bank apparently is quite excited. They've allocated Rp 1 trillion for financing this. The Director said,
If the Government can provide interest rate subsidy of 3%, then that will bring the interest rate down from currently 14% to 11%.
Hey, 11% is quite close to the 10% that Ciputra wanted. Last year, the big real estate mogul said that if he gets 10% rate, he is "willing to invest whatever it takes to build low-income flats in Jakarta."

Are we about to see a better urbanization of Jakarta?

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

On Network

Interesting that I should read Dewi's post that mentions informal community networks in Jakarta and Bangkok, and not long afterwards I stumble on Kazys Varnelis' "The Rise of Network Culture," through his blog post.

Being a fan of Manuel Castells, I read the latter quite excitedly, and found it to be a good further exploration on the importance of networks. It's quite a heavy and philosophical read (not sure I understood all of it), stating how "network culture" is the next big thing after modernism and postmodernism. I quote my favorite part:
Today, network culture succeeds postmodernism. It does so in a more subtle way. It does not figure itself as an “ism” that would lay claim to the familiar territory of manifestos, symposia, definitive museum exhibits and so on, but rather servers as a more emergent phenomenon.
A question remains in my head: how does this entirely "new cultural condition" link to the lives of the poor? Surely, they have networks too; in fact, many aspects of their livelihoods depend on networks. Would networks mean more to them now, as more people in rural areas have access to cell-phones, than before?

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