Monday, September 30, 2013

finally, rights on paper!

The Street Vendors Bill that passed the Lok Sabha (India's lower house of parliament) in early September, is a major step in the ongoing battle for dignity and recognition of the validity of informal workers. Sharit Bhowmik, who has studied the plight of the vendors, who are routinely abused by authorities and in the press, terms it "a landmark piece of legislation for the urban poor." Novelist Chandrahas Choudhury salutes street vendors as "the stars of India's vast informal economy -- those without contracts, social security or employer benefits -- inhabited by more than 80 percent of the country's 450 million workforce."

As with all grand policy frameworks, though, what's important is how the Street Vendors Bill will be implemented. For instance, the law suggests that street hawkers will need to register with the Town Vending Committee before they start selling, and apply for a vending certificate "that will be issued based on various criteria." Of course, it's easy to imagine how local politicians could use these rules and criteria to make life more difficult for vendors.

Let's all keep on this and follow the local implementation of this groundbreaking bill.

Friday, September 27, 2013

challenge v. opportunity

Ah, the informal sector. This article from Zimbabwe's Financial Gazette terms it "the major challenge." But the difference between a challenge and an opportunity is the difference between who is doing the describing.

To the merchants of Mupedzanhamo -- Harare's largest street market whose name, loosely translated, means 'poverty reliever' -- selling on the street is their only opportunity for survival. To the political elite in many countries, the fact that people are increasingly embracing that opportunity is a challenge.

The writer calls Harare's streets "a typical example of the dangers of an unbridled informal sector." But the dangers he points to are not created by the street vendors, and, indeed, are hardly dangers at all:
  • the market "thrives on chaotic governance."
  • "members of the police force have taken advantage of the situation to also protect vendors at a fee."
  • business is so brisk at the market called Siyaso, that everyone in the city knows a basic commerical truth: "if in Harare and you cannot find anything, head for Siyaso and you will get it."
These informal markets need change from the "regulatory, planning, moral, as well as human relations perspectives," an urban planner quoted in the article says. "In other words," the reporter suggests, "Zimbabwe’s formal sector must simply dominate and drive the country’s economy."

But the formal sector, the article notes, only employs 10 percent of the people. The bulk of the population works informally, and their labors produce a prodigious amount of wealth: US$4,2 billion. And that's a thirteen-year-old estimate.

It's time for Zimbabwe's government -- and governments all over the world -- to start looking at things from underneath. It's only from analyzing their economies from the bottom-up that they can recognize the opportunities at the root of what today they see as dangers and challenges. The street economy is the economy of the people--which makes it the most important economy on earth.