Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Et Tu, Jekus?

That was Kate's reply five minutes after I emailed her this JK's posting in his Kompasiana blog --with a snobbish show-off note saying "sent from Blackberry" at the bottom of her reply.

And she is right. JK's writing is a terrible example on how one misunderstands market economy, and coming from JK, the current VP and next presidential candidate, the inability to comprehend basic economics and the economy is even more depressing.

In his opening paragraph, JK argues that liberalization would put farmers into danger. But does he really think that most of Indonesians are rice farmers? For a presidential candidate, ideally he should be more knowledgeable on what most Indonesians are actually doing for life, so, if elected, will pick the policy benefiting the majority of people.

But is he up to expectation?

Your barista, Aco, coauthored a forthcoming paper on the political economy of rice and fuel pricing. There you'll find that 75 percent of total households in Indonesia do not grow rice and 82 percent are net rice consumers. Even in rural area, 63 percent of rural households are not rice growers and total around 72 percent of rural households are net consumers of rice

What does it have something to do with liberalization? If importing rice means lower rice price, at least 75 percent of national households and 63 percent rural households will benefit from that free market policy.

What to do with the rest? My take is two things: first, if import led them to fell down below poverty line, they deserve to get across the boards anti-poverty transfer, like direct cash transfer scheme --not because they are rice growers, but because they are now poor. Second, and more importantly, do not block their access to move into more dynamic sectors in the economy. And getting rid the obstacles they face means removing anti market competition policy like inflexible labor regulations, corruption, and lack of infrastructure.

In the second paragraph, JK thinks that in the international trade the developing countries are victimized as price takers, while the developed countries reap most benefits as price makers. Really?

Last year, as all of you know, there was a steep increase of the world's price of (primary) commodities produced by developing countries --like food and agriculture products. It would not have been the case if the developed countries, as the major consumers, could set or make the price as JK thinks.

But maybe JK is right, the current international trade of agriculture product is not fair because the developed countries as producers, and the competitors of developing countries, deliberately distort the market by applying high subsidy and trade barriers --in other words, violating free market principles. By that, here, what we want is, well, free trade so that we can sell our products and fairly compete in their markets too.

And on his remark that the price 1 kg of cocoa is far below the price of 1 kg of Silverqueen, what should I say? You just don't make one kg Silverqueen with one kg cocoa. You need to put some milk and mix it with other ingredients. Then you want to wrap them in in a nice package, advertise and distribute them to stores.

Still, you can not write your price tag as high as you want, if you still want somebody to buy your products. You need to consider the price of Ghirardeli, Toblerone, Lindt, Cap Jago, Haribo, Trebor, licorice, etc --all are your products' direct competitors -- as well as its indirect substitutes.

If you let market to work, your price reflects only normal profit, or some temporary supernormal profit that is always subject to natural creative destruction. It is not fair if you get government protection or commit in unlawful acts against your competitor. But you can not blame market mechanism for these faults, because what is unfair is the government discriminative anti-market protection.

Bottom line: it is rather unintelligent to support the argument for fairness by comparing cocoa's price to Silverqueen's and asserting an upside-down argument blaming market mechanism for the anti-market outcome.


  1. I surely can understand your frustration when such opinion came from someone that also one candidate of Indonesian President.
    On the other hand I think, the baristas in this blog, have a huge responsibility in their shoulder to educate the people, or at least blow up the knowledge. Let the crowd discuss it. Such topic as the political economy of rice and fuel pricing surely will gain a lot of controversy, but that will be allright. We need all the information available to make a right decision. Those informations maybe very obvious for baristas, but not so for the candidate (I wonder, if any of the candidate mastering this information, off course aside from Mr. Boediono)
    economy is suppose to be an everyday discussion. We rely on those who master it.

  2. dewi, thanks for your encouragement. JK, I'm sure, should have known the information (on rice or fuel), and as the businessman himself, understood how market works. That he decide sto write such (lousy) stuff, I don't know

  3. I'm very interested in reading the paper that coauthored by barista Aco about rice and fuel pricing. If its possible. could you provide the link to the article please?