When you don’t have a safety net to rely on, you do what it takes to make a living. This is particularly the case in Mauritius. Unlike its previous colonial master Britain, there is little in the way of benefits to allow people to stay at home with a full belly. They go out and get what they have to.
I had a neighbour who was working in a nearby factory. Made redundant, she had to find another source of income for her family. She opened a kindergarten in the basement of her house and there was no garden or green space for the kids to run around. Yet despite this, business flourished. Parents from all around brought their kids in the morning and picked them up later at 2 or 3 in the afternoon. With the money flowing in, the kintergarden saw its name painted on the front, walls were repainted or painted for the first time, new furniture like wardrobes, beds and a washing machine were bought. Business was good. All the new teacher had to do was make the kids chant, count and learn the alphabet and days of the week.
A few years later, the government introduced compulsory registration for nurseries and kindergartens and this one registered. Had it tried to register before opening, it would probably not have been allowed because of the basement and lack of space. Now with people from all around using this service, it was hard to refuse it a license.
Let the market rule
Sometimes, red tape hampers progress. We should let market forces decide what is best rather than regulations. If that nursery was not necessary, people wouldn’t pay for it. It helped them go to work and earn money. If they found that the basement area was not good enough for their children, they would not have sent them. And if you think you could provide a better place with more green space and facilities, you would probably feel justified to charge more than this basement nursery. But maybe your fees would be too high for these parents. The market decides…
The street hawker
Another example I previously mentioned was that of the hawker selling furniture on his bicycle. Perhaps driven by the need to feed his family, the guy did what he was good at – assembling pieces of wood together to make something useful. Maybe he assembled it in his garden, loaded his bike and went around selling, all very simple.
A European comparison
Now imagine doing something like these two examples in a developed country, maybe Britain again. If Health & Safety wouldn’t first close down the nursery then a string of CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) checks for anyone close to that nursery would discourage startups. It’s no wonder that mothers here are struggling to pay nursery fees and some even have to give up their work to stay at home with their kids.
As for the street hawker, if freezing weather, ice and snow on road wouldn’t put him off, then the council probably would. Like the mafia, the council would pounce on the seller to get its shares of the profit through additional council tax the moment he starts to run a business from home. On top of that, licenses would be needed to sell on the street, shout his wares and sell food. Would he even be allowed to carry furniture on a bicycle on the road?
Perhaps the neighbour wouldn’t need to open a nursery in the first place in England, perhaps the hawker wouldn’t feel driven to provide for his family. The benefits system is well-developed there to provide a safety net to the extent that many never even have to bother working.
Education vs entrepreneurialism
Some might argue that an educated workforce is better for the economy and the country than someone who is unskilled and can only work in a factory. Of what use is a graduate if there is no job for him? Of what use is education if it can’t even feed you? Graduates do not create jobs, they look for one. Europe is churning out plenty of graduates at the moment who have little hope of getting a job in the current economic quagmire.
Entrepreneurs on the other hand, through necessity or otherwise, create jobs and a living for themselves and others. The little street hawker or the unemployed factory worker turned teacher might not see themselves as entrepreneurs but they generate more services, products and wealth than an educated but unemployed workforce.
But we are not in Europe where the unemployed can rely on state handouts, we are in Mauritius where there is no nanny state and your fate is what you make of it.