Many years ago my Economics Professor at Edinburgh University unveiled a wonderful fact which no-one seems understand or work towards at virtually any level in society even till today!

The fact: that “welfare” and “economic welfare” are not the same thing. Sounds confusing, doesn’t it? But it’s not.

  • “Welfare”, on a personal level, means the absolute quality of life.
  • "Economic welfare”, of course, means exactly that: what are you earning? How much money do you have?

Both of these apply at a community and even national level as well.

But surely people who earn more have a better quality of life? Sadly, that is just not even a tiny bit true, especially here in Jakarta. You can give someone an extra Rp. 5 million a month but ask them to work in a distant, not well organized area, and their whole quality of life diminishes: an extra 3 hours per day in traffic, nowhere to eat at lunchtime, no after work “happy hour” venues. No quality at all. Not worth the money. Even for an extra Rp. 10,000,000 do you want to lose valuable things which are irreplaceable: family time, green spaces, peaceful surroundings?

So how can we resolve this horrible conundrum? Why should making more money not be the exact way to increase the quality of life? Well, unfortunately this comes back to the government, almost every aspect of the quality of life is in their hands.

The elements that go into the “liveability index” for cities include: safety, crime, international connectivity, quality of architecture, public transport, tolerance, the physical environment, urban design and planning, access to nature and medical care. Of course the weather while important is not able to be controlled by the government, but every other aspect is. And they simply are not on top of these challenges.

So to me the unending desperation to industrialize Indonesia is a serious mistake – unless it is matched by an equal desperation to improve planning – spatial planning, the preservation of nature, the addition of top level infrastructure etc. to support the factories, the offices, the housing estates, that are so quickly created by the private sector, and which quickly get out of control.

If this doesn’t happen, our bank accounts are meaningless, our money will be spent on trips to Singapore to enjoy their well-planned city, to Japan to see how welfare is really well managed, to New Zealand where air and water are still pure, and the roads a delight to drive on.

So let’s really try to make Jakarta really liveable, and improve everyone’s quality of life – not just focus on money but on what it can deliver to our lives.

That’s life. Enjoy it! 

Alistair G. Speirs

Alistair Speirs

Alistair Speirs

Alistair has been in the publishing, advertising and PR business for 25 years. He started NOW! Magazines as the region’s preferred community magazine.