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jakarta-216410_1920There are often some great articles on medium.com and I really liked this one here. Congratulations to Mr Stone for his outstanding work.

For those readers who want the summary, he used a range of variables (such as education, employment, income and car ownership) to identify the most American city in America. In other words, which city in the country is closest to the most “average” American city using around 20 statistical measures?

I’d truly love to do that in a Southeast Asian context, but there is a critical problem.

While researchers in the United States are blessed with the most comprehensive and reliable data sets in the world, the situation is very different in Southeast Asia.

Let me give you two examples.

Firstly, as a Graduate student I undertook some research exploring the link between Southeast Asian city sizes and national democracy levels. It took me sooooooo long just to find a single credible source identifying the second largest city (by population) in Cambodia, and I still doubt that anyone really knows. Quite simply, governments in Southeast Asia often have other priorities beyond getting the statistics necessary for evidence based decision making.

The second point though is that even if Southeast Asia governments did allocate more resources there are reasons to be concerned. I remember a description of how measuring inequality in Thailand involved sending out university students to knock on doors and request householders fill out forms. The students, many of whom were female and almost all of whom were middle class, quickly made some pragmatic decisions. Not wanting to venture alone into poorer and less secure neighbourhoods, they likewise knew that they were unlikely to be welcomed through the secure gates and into the mansions of the super wealthy to be given a true measure of the resident’s wealth.

As a result, these students largely avoid seeking data from the highest and lowest income households in Thailand, and the statistics dramatically underestimated, and probably still underestimate, wealth inequality in Thailand.

This potentially unreported level of inequality in Thailand is highly significant, because (if true) it would fuel the belief that economic factors are driving Thailand’s endemic political divisions.

Anyway, I would really, really, really love to work out the most Indonesian city in Indonesia. Would it be Jakarta…Medan…Malang….Palembang? Sadly I don’t think an answer will be achievable in at least the next decade.

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