Bali may be Paradise Island for foreign tourists but admission to paradise is subject to large incomes and a lot of the Balinese are not admitted. This is not to say that tourism doesn’t generate wealth in Bali – it does – just that there are many Balinese who don’t benefit.
“Oh it’s so terrible,” said the pony-tailed new-aged hippy as he tucked into his organic vegetables in one of the nice little restaurants in Ubud.
“So many beggars have held our their hands to me and I’ve ignored most of them and now feel terrible. But my £1 can be worth ten or even twenty times their currency – will I still go to heaven if I give it away?”
Nice sentiments but it doesn’t really work like that. At least not most of the time.
I was reminded of this when I had to get from Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport to the port of Padangbai so I could take a ferry across to Lombok.
The problem of course is that it’s not easy to give away money without generating problems that make the process of giving money away self defeating.
So the unlicensed taxi cabs at the airport get more money from the generous tourists who are willing to pay more. But are the cab drivers any richer? Well, no they are not.
And that is because the more generous the tourists are, the more Balinese there are willing to work as unlicensed taxi cab drivers.
The guy who took us to Padangbai said that there had been so many taxis in line that day he hadn’t had a passenger in over four hours.
But, conversely of course, if the foreign tourists were less generous then they’d be less unlicensed taxi cabs and the cab drivers that still operated would get more passengers.
It’s the same thing when it comes to giving away money (like at Ramadan when some rich people think they can clear their consciences (of what I might ask?) by dishing out banknotes to society’s downtrodden.
Because the more they give away, the more incentive there is for people to stop working and instead queue for the benefits.
So the money is lost from the economy as the poor choose not to work, instead spending their time in a queue awaiting a handout (assuming they are able to stand in line that long of course, with some – particular the old – dropping like flies from exhaustion and the heat).
Yep, it’s a cruel thing market economics. And there’s no way you can cheat it (just ask the Russians).
Incidentally, the unlicensed cab driver who took us to Padangbai drove a bit too fast and wiped out a stray dog on the way. Next time I think I’m gonna take a licensed cab instead!