Cambodian motorbike protectionism

by on May 7, 2012 at 2:06 pm in Law | Permalink

The [motorcycle taxi] drivers want a blanket ban on motorbike rentals for foreign tourists.

“We don’t want [tourists] to rent motorbikes, because foreign tourists don’t know Khmer habits when driving; they don’t comply with the law, and some drive by keeping on the left side, so that causes traffic accidents,” Heng Sam Om said.

The story is hereWill Koenig writes to me:

As someone who lived and worked in Cambodia for years, I find this hilarious. Traffic laws in Cambodia are rarely enforced, and “motordopes,” or motorcycle taxi drivers, are stereotyped as the worst drivers — including driving on the wrong side of the road. But they have formed a union and want to protect their market.

1 Doc Merlin May 7, 2012 at 2:14 pm

“But they have formed a union and want to protect their market.”
This is oen of the three things that politics is for.
The protection of insiders at the expense of outsiders.

2 jimi May 7, 2012 at 3:16 pm

the other two being………..?

3 Doc Merlin May 7, 2012 at 4:43 pm

2) Allow people to accomplish large projects that competition would render undoable, because the project harms the doer in absence of a monopoly.

Genocide is a good example of this. Individuals sans-government cannot successfully commit genocide, because the costs of genocide are so high that it harms the genocider.

War is another example: competition makes war unprofitable, but if you can collect rents the way a government can, you can fund war.

3) To collect economic rents.

A minor example of this is the outsized returns that congressmen and senators receive on their investments.

4 david May 7, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Are you sure individuals sans government cannot commit genocide or war profitably? Human history contains a lot of examples where some set of steppe people displaced some other set of steppe people by slow migratory conquest, and you can’t plausibly claim that these are conducted by governments. They might not even have permanent settlements. The history of central Asia save for brief periods of distant empire, from the dawn of man to the communist era: individual extended families drift in, fight over grazing land, and someone loses; as late as World War II there were tribal exchanges in this way.

Insofar as arable land, not capital accumulation, is the key to wealth, it seems that conquest and genocide is very profitable indeed. Curiously, in history there doesn’t seem to be any instances of substantial capital accumulation without a government arising around it. You could draw the causal arrow either way there, I think.

5 Philemonloy May 7, 2012 at 10:20 pm

The slower and less violent the “slow migratory conquest” is, the less like genocide it is. Granted–governments with all its bells and whistles are not exactly needed for genocide-lite. But as the scale increases in size, more often than not, governments and government like structures are involved. The central Asian tribes are involved in mutual conflict for the longest time. Mass genocide needs a great Khan capable of uniting many tribes under one banner, i.e., government of some sort.

6 Doc Merlin May 8, 2012 at 11:25 am

What Philemonloy said.

7 anonymous... May 7, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Explain Rwanda then. Various highly-placed officials had a role in stirring up hatred, but the actual genocide was carried out so quickly precisely because it was a decentralized distributed crowdsourced low-tech do-it-yourself kill-your-neighbor-with-a-machete affair. The Rwandan genocide was the Wikipedia to Nazi Germany’s Britannica, so to speak: amateurish in some ways, but with unparalleled coverage and thoroughness.

War is another poorly chosen example, because if your theory was correct, peace would have broken out in failed states like Somalia precisely because there is no government anymore.

8 Cliff May 7, 2012 at 11:00 pm

Well, to quote Wikipedia:

“This genocide had been planned by members of the Hutu power group known as the Akazu, many of whom occupied positions at top levels of the national government; the genocide was supported and coordinated by the national government as well as by local military and civil officials and mass media. Alongside the military, primary responsibility for the killings themselves rests with two Hutu militias that had been organized for this purpose by political parties: the Interahamwe and the Impuzamugambi, although once the genocide was underway a great number of Hutu civilians took part in the murders.”

9 Andrew' May 8, 2012 at 6:26 am

Would you rather be a Jew in Somalia or a Jew in Germany circa 1940? I don’t actually know, but can imagine.

A stayed hand of government helps people in war and a genocide to do what they want with impunity.

10 Jonathan M.F. Catalán May 7, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Maybe Cambodian taxi drivers are learning from their American counterparts in New York City.

11 Ed May 7, 2012 at 4:30 pm

“Traffic laws in Cambodia are rarely enforced, and “motordopes,” or motorcycle taxi drivers, are stereotyped as the worst drivers — including driving on the wrong side of the road.”

This doesn’t contradict the claim at all that tourists don’t know Khmer habits when driving.

12 GiT May 7, 2012 at 7:55 pm


13 dt May 9, 2012 at 1:47 pm

this says that there are no khmer habits when driving for tourists to know about

14 Sigivald May 7, 2012 at 4:31 pm

On the other hand, how suicidally insane would you have to be to want to rent a motorcycle anywhere in Southeast Asia, given the traffic?

I get twitchy just thinking about it.

15 RentAMoto May 8, 2012 at 5:14 am

I’ve rented motos (they’re really motor scooters not motorbikes) all over south-east asia; Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam.
Suicidal? Presumably less risky than smoking – or catching a ferry in the Mediterranean.
“given the traffic” – Saigon aside, the traffic is lighter, and moves much slower, than most western cities. Sure, it’s different and you have be alert to “Khmer habits” such as no right-of-way or it being OK to pull out from the kerb without looking. Live a little.

16 Andrew' May 8, 2012 at 6:15 am

Live a little is right.

And don’t think we didn’t notice your name is “RentAMoto” mr. scooter rental store manager.

17 AFF May 7, 2012 at 9:42 pm

I spent 10 weeks in Phnom Penh and started renting a moped after two weeks. It was $3 a day to rent a 100 cc moped and I felt as safe on that as I did on the back of a moped taxi. Plus at a $1 a moto taxi ride it was cheaper than paying some crazy taxi driver. Those guys are crazy. I value my life differently than they do. Besides, half the time you get someone that just saw a white face and slowed down, so they don’t know English and don’t know where ever it is you indicated you wanted to go. Usually, they just take you to a brothel or the Tuol Seng… Anyway the city is a grid, it’s easy enough to figure out where you need to go.

The real question is why is it so cheap to rent one of those bikes? $3 a day? Awesome!

To rent a bigger bike was $10 for a Honda XR 250 for a day in 2010. By comparison an XR 250 was $8 an hour in Ecuador in 2003-4… how does that work? Is Cambodia 5 times cheaper, or just that much closer to China with no enforceable import laws?

Hypothesis: In Cambodia, the rental place takes your passport and can enforce the contract against you by holding your passport. In contrast, if you’re greviously injured by the rental place’s negligence, you cannot enforce the contract against the rental place as the entire judiciary is corrupt and biased against foreigners. (I interned at a legal aid NGO)

18 zbicyclist May 7, 2012 at 10:14 pm

“It was $3 a day to rent a 100 cc moped and I felt as safe on that as I did on the back of a moped taxi.”
That’s a pretty low criterion!

When I flew into Siam Reap, Cambodia and took a taxi into the town, it took me quite some time to figure out whether they were supposed to drive on the right or left. For one thing, many of the cars have the steering wheel on the right — a taxi driver said “those were the cars stolen from Thailand” (probably kidding the tourist). The motorcyclists seemed to be using bicyclist rules of the road than automobile rules of the road.

19 dead serious May 8, 2012 at 9:40 am

Handing over your passport for the day might not be the best idea in the world.

20 Rahul May 7, 2012 at 11:09 pm

Reminds me of the US truckers screaming what a safety disaster it’d be to let Mexicans drive their rigs into the US.

21 Narfishman May 8, 2012 at 3:12 am

An interesting point is that there are practically no barriers to entry to becoming a moto-taxi driver other than owning a motorbike (and many of these guys rent their bikes). there is major excess supply of moto drivers in Cambodia, with idle moto drivers sleeping in the shade around street corners in every city and town, waiting for customers. The men who come to Phnom Penh and other cities in the hopes of banking a few dollars a day driving a moto are typically poor and poorly educated (illiterate). And yet, despite being unregulated and lacking much educational capacity, these dudes are banding together to extract some rents! I have way more respect for my grizzled, dusty, betel-chewing moto driver now.

22 Rahul May 8, 2012 at 5:02 am

Has education been a pre-condition of unionization? I doubt it. Look at unskilled Indian labor.

23 Andrew' May 8, 2012 at 6:14 am

Well damn. That was top ten on my bucket list, to rent a motorbike in Cambodia. It was probably a better idea to do it last anyway.

24 allan May 8, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Cambodians!!! Trust us, we are renown American economists. We have trained for years at Harvard, Yale, Stanford and the University of Chicago. We know all about economics. We may have made a few mistakes in the past years, such as being completely clueless about deregulation and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, or helping meat packing companies evade regulation and feed our children pink slime, or maybe helping petroleum companies destroy the planet by de-regulation. But who’s counting??

Still, we can absolutely assure you, Cambodians, that we know what is best for your motorcycle taxi businesses. Guess what? De-regulation!!! Call 1-800-USIDIOTS for a quote on an economic theory presentation. If you like how we destroyed your country with B-52s in 1973, wait till you see what we can do with motorbike securitization.

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