On the eastern edge of the Indian Ocean, there is an island that the world must visit and understand. The people that inhabit this paradise believe that what goes around, comes around in the next life, and they will go to great lengths to ensure that their interactions with others are of the highest integrity. They smile freely and genuinely, and will welcome you into their home and their hearts without reservation.
It is here on the tropical island of Bali, in the island archipelago of Indonesia, that my wife and I spent three amazing weeks dialing down our Western operational tempo and absorbing a lifestyle worth living. We practiced yoga and meditation, ate remarkable cuisine in moderation, and acclimated ourselves to living with the understanding that life’s two most precious commodities are health and time. With enough of both, one can do anything.
In Bali, the people are dependent upon the two basic economic drivers common to developing countries: agriculture and tourism. While the former has remained relatively consistent for thousands of years, evidenced by the terraced hillsides sprouting rice stalks at various stages of their lifecycle, the latter is a much more recent phenomenon and subject to an enormous array of different influences. In conjunction with exchange rate fluctuations and macroeconomic shifts that affect tourism flows from Australia, its largest source of foreign exchange, Bali has the unfortunate challenge of being on the front lines of the Global War on Terror.
Following the nightclub attacks in 2002 that claimed the lives of 202 people, the river of tourism revenue into Bali slowed to a trickle, leaving many who had built their livelihoods catering to surf, sun, and culture enthusiasts without a job. It occurred again in 2005, just as a recovery was beginning to take shape. However, in 2006, Elisabeth Gilbert published her best-selling memoirs titled, ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ which reignited an interest in Bali. In the years following the publication, culminating in Hollywood’s rendition in 2010, the number of arrivals in Bali to view elements of Ms. Gilbert’s book increased steadily, with a 12% increase in annual visitors in 2010 alone. Visitors in 2011 are expected to be even larger than the 2.5 million visitors in 2010.
This dramatic improvement in economic fortunes for the island has had the unintended effect of pulling more people from neighboring islands to Bali in search of opportunity. The challenges endemic to the Harris-Todaro model of rural-to-urban migration are on full display in Bali, where expected, rather than actual, income gains are the primary motivation for migration to urban areas, resulting in a surplus of unskilled labor. The result is a taxi driver offering his services every few feet along the sidewalk for a pittance of a fee.
My very first recommendation for the Balinese government would be to slow the rush of agricultural workers into urban areas by centralizing the control of taxi services into a handful of companies. By regulating how many taxis are on the road, how many drivers are behind the wheel, and where a taxi can be hired, not only will the experience for the tourist be more pleasant by minimizing aggressive taxi drivers selling their services, but it will also lower the urban unemployment rate by discouraging rural workers from moving to urban areas based on expected income gains by driving a taxi.
The need to write about the issue became apparent after a walk back to our hotel in the cultural city of Ubud, where after declining offers from seven taxi drivers in our .5 mile walk, the 8th pleaded with me as I walked away by saying in the most desperate and heart-wrenching plea, “Please Sir! Give me a job!” Bali’s first and foremost job-creator is tourism. Ensuring that tourists have a pleasant stay and will return is essential to getting that man a job, and it probably won’t be driving a cab.