Reducing time zones in Indonesia to improve business opportunities and unite ethnic groups

Indonesia is currently discussing reducing the country’s time zones from three to one:

The government has been promoting since May a plan that aims to put all parts of the sprawling archipelago nation into the same time zone as many other Asian countries. Under the plan, all of Indonesia—which stretches 6,400 kilometers between India and Australia—would be eight hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, meaning the country’s capital city would shift one hour ahead of its current time.

The government says the move is expected to boost business transactions between Indonesia and the regional financial hubs such as Singapore, China, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Airlines could also profit through simpler flight schedules, increasing their productivity, it says…

While the time-zone idea isn’t seen as critical by many investors, it is popular among some who would find it easier to do business in the country. Russia in March reduced its time zones to nine from 11, while Brazil is considering cutting to one from three.

And it isn’t only monetary gains that Jakarta has in mind by abolishing the clock divisions—it also hopes to foster closer ties among the country’s more than 1,128 ethnic groups. With the country split into three zones, the thinking goes, it’s easier for groups to view themselves as part of different regions than as Indonesians first…

The business argument makes more sense to me. (Still: in an era of fast globalization, does a one or two hour time difference really matter?) However, I’m skeptical of the ethnic/cultural argument. Being on the same time zone really brings people together in a meaningful way? Perhaps fixing the time zones is an easier “fix” than other possible measures…

I remember going through a time zone while living in northern Indiana. At the time, our part of the state was on Eastern time half of the year and on Central time the other half of the year. This was somewhat confusing but I think the bigger issue was that a good portion of the northwestern part of the state wanted to be on the same time zone as Chicago for business purposes. But, I don’t recall any debate over whether these people in a different time zone were any less Hoosiers for this choice. (However, I could imagine something similar goes on in Indiana as it does in Illinois: people near Chicago think that is where all the action is…and isn’t downstate all about corn and farming?)

Another note: the 24 time zones match up with the rotation of the earth. So what does it mean when we put multiple time zones together for political, business, and cultural purposes? Is this a prime example of humanity running roughshod over nature?

Defining the poverty line in Indonesia

One statistic that tends to generate discussion, including in the United States, is where to draw the poverty line (see a quick overview here). The issue is also drawing attention in Indonesia:

According to the Central Statistics Agency (BPS), based on the one-dollar-a-day poverty line, there are about a million fewer poor Indonesians this year. The new BPS statistics released on Friday showed that the poor now constitute 12.5 percent of Indonesia’s population, down from 13.3 percent last year. BPS says this translates to 30.02 million poor Indonesians, as opposed to the 31.02 million in March last year. ..

BPS head Rusman Heriawan said this drop was recorded even though the government raised the poverty line to Rp 233,740 ($27.35) per capita per month from Rp 211,726 last year.

Despite the raised figure, the definition of poverty still worried experts. “The poverty line indicator is the minimum income for people to survive,” said Bambang Shergi Laksmono, dean of the University of Indonesia’s Social and Political Science Faculty.

Statistics are rarely just statistics: they are numbers politicians and others want to use to shed light on a particular issue. Here, the government wants to suggest that poverty has been reduced. On the other side, academics suggest there are plenty of people living in difficult situations and the poverty threshold doesn’t really doesn’t measure anything. Who is right, or at least perceived as right, will be adjudicated in the court of public opinion.

While it appears that the number in people living in critical poverty has been reduced, this is also a reminder that one needs to look behind claims of progress to see what exactly is being measured and whether the measurements have simply changed.