The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Sunday, January 06, 2013


Who’d want to marry an economist?

Breakfast conversation would be a diet of fiscal responsibility, lunch the balance of trade and supper a downturn in the marginal rate.

You’d ask for pie and get a pie chart.  Every analysis would be based on aged and elastic figures.  Particularly those with PhDs.

Better to live with a soothsayer.  You get to eat the goat so there’s a skull for the rituals and all those candles come in handy when there’s another PLN blackout.

Former President Megawati Soekarnoputri once revealed that she didn’t trust the statistics served up by her ministers.  So why should we ordinary folk believe the boosters now claiming Indonesia is booming and that more investors than surfers are heading for the archipelago?

Better to have faith in what we see. We may not know how to roll over a bill on maturity (unless the ageing spouse is called William) but we know when things are looking up in our suburb, and not just because the sidewalk potholes have been sealed.

The becak driver who used to park his pedicab under the mango tree at the intersection waiting for residents to clap for service now sits with his mates, a block away in a fancy shelter.

If you want him you need to know his mobile number or Blackberry PIN.

It’s the same with the baker and milkman.  Once breakfast might have been put off an hour or more, deliveries delayed by gossiping and indecisive customers.  Now we just jump the queue by phoning for a loaf or a liter.

How can homeowners enhance their status in society when even drab folk carry smart phones? How to distinguish between the refined rice and the husks? The new way to show off is to have the house tarted up.

Traditionally this happened only in early August ahead of Independence Day celebrations.  Then street-facing walls were given a wash and maybe even a tickle with the paintbrush.
Now the renovations are 7 / 31 as neighbors try to keep up with the Johannes. Even casual laborers shovelling out the rubble after knocking down last year’s feature wall  arrive on motorbikes.  For lunch they expect chocolate pastries from the new bakery rather than instant noodles.
Builders’ supplies, blokes’ sheds where nails are bought by the kilo and you have to know the difference between a centimetre and a centipede to shout an order, are yielding to airy home improvement stores.
Here knowledgeable staff don’t sneer at your ignorance (well, not to your face) just as long as they can polish your plastic.
Many stock quality goods from Europe and the US, competing against lower price but shoddy materials from China.
Consumer protection laws may be a joke, but customers who have seen how responsible retailing works overseas are starting to set the pace in demanding accountability
Want a hot water system?  Your choice, Italian or German, three-year guarantee.  If this goes on the refreshing routine of splashing buckets of cold water scooped from a concrete tank will soon be a pastime of the past.
I’ve even seen costly Australian solar panels on the roofs of homes where the owners wear khaki and drive red-plated cars.  Maybe they work in ‘wet’ departments like the police, immigration or taxation.  They’d need hot water to wash the stickiness off their fingers.
No cash, no worries. Interest rates have tumbled and the banks hustle to lend.  Price tags seldom promote the real cost, only the monthly payments. 
If the 6.3 per cent growth rate does a U turn it could be 1998 all over again.  But this is Sunday morning, so let’s be positive
Economists could explain it all in historical terms, blame Keynes or the rise in the rimbali,  and fit the spending into a graph.  Not having their dexterity with data we’ll just report that things seem to be looking good where we live, and to search for an appropriate metaphor.
A car wash has just been installed.  So a bubble perhaps?

(First published in The Sunday Post 6 January 2012)

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