Trishaw wisdom. I don’t quite understand, but I think it’s relevant.
Being middle class in Sri Lanka is expensive. I can live on like Rs. 300 a day, taking buses and eating on the corner. If, however, you want personal transport and, like, cheese you’ll spending as much or more than you would in the west. Seriously, cars and cheese are damn expensive here. You can pay like $10 for a packet of cheese slices and feel good about it. You can pay $50,000 for a used car. If you want to live comfortably poor it’s possible, but making the jump to middle class is damn hard.
The lower class shopping basket is affordable, it just ends up being a huge percentage of what a working person makes. I can buy all my vegetables and fish from carts that come by in the morning. It’s like Rs. 500 to eat for a day pretty well (vegetarian, mostly). If I eat out at local kades I find it somehow cheaper than cooking at home. If I have two awesome meals out it’s like Rs. 200.
If, however, you go to Cargills or Keells you cannot walk out without dropping Gs. I actually avoid going in at all, it feels like a casino. You go in for a plastic jug and you come out with a 5,000 Rupee bill. I honestly don’t understand what happens, I just end up at home with a few plastic bags that contain nothing awesome at all. What gets you is the processed goods, which are imported, and which cost a ton. Honey Nut Cheerios can cost like Rs. 700. I gave up on that months ago.
This is where the rupee depreciation comes in. The Sri Lankan Rupee now buys much less cheese (as an example). I honestly haven’t had cheese in a long time. Some Swiss friends brought some, but unless they smuggle on the regular, I can’t afford it. If you buy a middle class shopping basket with meat, fast moving consumer goods, etc, you’re spending more than you would at Walmart.
Running a middle class family is honestly damn expensive. You need at least a lakh (Rs. 100,000) coming in each month to keep afloat, and that’s just barely. While the lower classes spend disproportionately on food, the middle classes spend disproportionately on personal transport, which is where the petrol hike hurts. A car costs like 3x more, petrol costs more, and iPhones or iPads (those middle class totems) cost about 2x more as well.
Education is also damn expensive. My sisters were on scholarship, but their stated fees at international schools were the same as my fees for University in Canada. Any parent in the affordable schools (ie, St. Thomas or Royal) is still spending on tuition, actually any kid at any school is taking tuition. Add the stuff up and the middle class is a tough rung to cling to.
When petrol prices go up and the rupee depreciates (like now) the lower classes get hit in the stomach and the middle classes get knocked off their feet. Petrol is more expensive, imported food is more expensive, imported goods are more expensive.
I’m barely middle class and this is how it effects me: I don’t eat and I take public transit (till I get my car fixed). I, however, spend a bunch of money on the Internet – for servers, security services, backups, bits of code. I resell this stuff as services, but now my costs have gone way up. The dollar prices stay the same but now the rupees I’m buying them in buy less. The depreciation really hammers me there.
At the same time, the cascading petrol effect makes everything on my block more expensive, from bread to fish, probably meat. Anyways, this economic pain hits everybody. Contrary to popular belief, it’s safer for a government to kill its people than to fuck with their cars (ie, the energy supply). The failed Burma revolution was monks protesting over rising petrol prices. In Tunisia Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself when they took his cart and economic ability away, setting off the Arab Spring on the price hammered youth all around the region. Even the American Revolution was spurred by taxation without representation (rising prices on tea and stamps and stuff).
People talk about the economy like it’s something over there, something technical, and it’s not. Like politics and ethnicity and speech is what really matters and the economy is a secondary concern. It’s not. The economy is right here. It’s daily life, it’s relations with the wife, it’s how comfortable you are looking at your kids. If you mess with the economy it messes with peoples lives, and that’s when they get political, cause their house is fucked up. In Sri Lanka it’s not at revolution level yet and the prices will hopefully settle. Right now, however there are protests from various trade unions and groups, and a fishermen in Chilaw was recently shot (super dumb and wrong). I think what we’re seeing is different interest groups asking for an exemption and everybody else is going to eat it.