Wheels Per Capita
28 August 2012
Our world is obsessed with economic and social indicators, and I am sure many of my fellow Golden Circle members are, whether we like it or not, not spared this obsession—especially in our professional lives. Everyday we face an onslaught of figures on the various manifestations of national income, inflation, currency exchange fluctuations, stock exchange indices, birth rates, weekly working hours… and the list goes on. Even humble Bhutan, a country which fares comparatively lower on these conventional indicators, has valiantly come up with its own indicator, the Gross National Happiness Index, which true to its name, has probably brought about more than its fair share of smiles the world over.
Perhaps it is an occupational hazard that I have also become obsessed with numbers like these. Every time I travel to a new place, whether for work or for pleasure, I find myself taking an interest in the numbers associated with the city or country that I visit. Income per capita, economic growth, population density and the number of working hours an average person puts in per week are some of the things which usually attract my interest. I have noticed that they usually provide a pretty good insight on the local culture and behaviour of the local population. Often, these even give an indication of how friendly and gracious the locals are likely to be.
After several years of people-watching in different places, I have come up with my own indicator, the Wheels per-capita. Every time when I am in a new place, I will observe the traffic when I am on the roads, and look derive an approximation of the ratio of wheels to people on the roads. Often, I find that the wheels per capita ratio corresponds with the work-life balance in the city. The more wheels for each person on the road, the better the work-life balance for the local population, I often notice.
I am sure there is no direct causal relationship between the two, and neither can I come up with irrefutable reasons why this is the case. I would however be happy if any economist or human resource practitioner will be able to provide me with an explanation on why things work this way. However, it always amazes me on how this theory appears to work in many of the places I have visited.
When many people are driving in their own cars around (more wheels per capita), the pace of life in the place feels more laid back, and people appear to have more time to pursue their own interests or spend time with their families outside of their professional lives. However, in some other cities, where sometimes literally a hundred people may be packed into a bus (much fewer wheels per capita), or thousands of people are squeezed into public trains, the local workforce in general usually spends most of their time in the workplace, and appear to have little time outside of work. Even when we have left the office, we are often working from home on our mobile devices.
I am under no illusion that this is a fool-proof model which works in every single city in the world, or which will be the published in an academic journal or reference book for Economics or Human Resource. It is only something that I had come up with one day when I had some time for reflection while on a trip—which I did while observing the hustle and bustle of the city from the hotel. It is something that I thought I would like to share with other Golden Circle members, and let you be your own judge on whether it has any merit.
This picture, the inspiration for my humble theory, was taken several years ago in Mandalay, long before Myanmar had begun opening up to the world like it is trying to today. In the picture, which was taken during the morning rush hour, it looks like at least thirty people are travelling on four wheels. This was a common sight in the city, together with entire families on bicycles or motorcycles. It is therefore not surprising that the working population in Myanmar, as I remembered them to be, were hardworking folks, slogging for long hours just to be able to hold on to their jobs (which were not abundant at all) and to be able to feed their families.