A few week’s ago, facemask in hand, I decided to take my chances at Jakarta’s Ragunan Zoo as the prospect of getting away from the Jakartan urban milieu – if at least for a few hours or so – outweighed the risks of picking up the deadly bird flu virus – which will supposedly mutate to a highly contagious form in the future, killing us all anyway.
As it turned out, I was glad to gulp down the fresh air, but a bit concerned that most of the animals seemed to be pretty malnourished and unkempt (don’t they feed the lions meat?).
But walking around in the tropics is a sweaty business, so it wasn’t long before I had sat down at one of the many warungs to quench my thirst with an American drink of artificial colorings, flavorings and sugar.
There was noone else there, and the owner of the warung, a rather plump yet friendly middle-aged women, your typical Ibu in other words, soon started telling me about her incredibly tough life and how fortunate I was - in her eyes at least! – to be a rich foreigner.
Fair play to her of course – it’s the old ploy of arousing sympathy to get a decent tip – but at least it showed she had a decent understanding of how psychological factors impact on economic models of behavior. Had she read Peter Earl’s Psychological Economics, I wondered?
So I asked her how many kids she had.
10 was the answer!!!
And how many of them were getting milk, do you think?
Well actually all of them – if you consider sugary condensed milk mixed with water to be a nutritious alternative.
“Heck,” I said to her. “If I had 10 kids, I’d be living in poverty too. Why did you have so many?”
She just laughed.
Today there’s an excellent article in the Guardian by the eminent “left-wing” economist Joseph Stiglitz on China’s miraculous economic development.
Stiglitz hails China for being one of the few developing countries to actually make huge progress in reducing poverty (via free market economic policies ironically, as well as its “one child per family” family planning program).
But all in all, this is the perfect conundrum for liberals everywhere. We go on about human rights, labor rights, the freedom of the individual etc, but basically acknowledge that China is doing the right thing in using the power of the state to build a better future.
How long will it be before poverty is really reduced in Indonesia? Not for a long time I think. But at least I left that Ibu a decent tip…