Mannkal Economic Education Foundation

Mannkal Student Internship Blog

LRI

Andrew Thomson – Week 3

Andrew Thomson, 18 July 2016

It’s hard to believe that I have been here for three weeks, the time has gone ridiculously fast. This week I finished the proposal for the Public Housing Exchange Scheme, I found it to be a tricky task but learnt a lot about the most effective way to write proposals. The basic idea is too make it short and simple but retain all the necessary information. As Andrew Shuen says the key is to write it so an eleven year old can understand it. It took me eight attempts but I got it in the end. On a side note I had a very entertaining conversion with Andrew and Laurence about how Pokemon Go works, they were shocked by Nintendo’s stock increase and were wondering if it was going to come out in Hong Kong.

I was lucky enough to experience two different sides of Hong Kong this week. I was invited to a birthday party hosted by some expats I had met through friends that worked at Price Waterhouse Coopers. On another night a local friend showed me some of the local hangouts in Sham Shui Po and tried my hand at electronic darts, which my friend absolutely thrashed me at unfortunately.

The various political parties in Hong Kong have also begun their campaigns for the legislative elections in September; the general opinion at the LRI is that the people of Hong Kong are generally politically apathetic. This may be due to the impression that the Legislative and Executives councils are undermined by Beijing’s influence.

I took a day trip to Macau, a former Portuguese colony that was home to many stunning European style buildings and old churches. In my first week at the LRI I had been instructed in the historical and social development of Hong Kong, so I was very interested in learning how Macau had developed differently due to the Portuguese influence. Most exciting for me was visiting the Grand Prix Museum which showed many different Formula 1 cars and motorbikes.

It’s been a fun week and I’m looking forward to next week where the LRI will hold a Brexit Panel discussion and I will work on various ways to inform the public of our Public Housing Exchange Proposal.

Andrew Thomson – Week 2

Andrew Thomson, 10 July 2016

This week I started to get into the thick of things by being asked to take over a Lion Rock Institute proposal to introduce a flat trading scheme in order to improve public housing. At the beginning of the week I visited Mei Ho House, a heritage site that explains the history of public housing in Hong Kong. I was then asked to visit the various housing estates and take note of the differences between them, primarily how different estates have been built to cater to the needs of different generations of Hong Kong citizens. Essentially public housing in Hong Kong has involved from supplying only a small room with a roof, to building large scale estates complete with schools and other amenities.

With this new knowledge I began working on various presentations that the LRI could use to explain their policy proposal, in order to have it adopted by the Hong Kong government. I was also asked to design invitations for a LRI event where there would be a panel discussion discussing Brexit and its effect on Asian markets. Later in the the week I was lucky enough to go with Andrew Shuen to Hong Kong Radio and Television to watch his TV interview about Brexit and how it relates to Hong Kong. We also said goodbye to LRI intern Katherine who had helped me settle in the previous week and had introduced me to the work I would be doing here at the LRI.

In my spare time I was able to see some of the sights like Langham Place in Mongkok, the Dr Sun Yet Sen Museum and the Peak. At the Peak I walked the various trails but I wasn’t alone, the Peace and Democracy activists were out in force demonstrating against the mainland governments persecution of a Hong Kong bookseller. I also had the chance to go to dinner with a group of travellers I had met through a friend. We went to Mr Wong’s in Mongkok, possibly the best deal in town and the owner actually loves to have a chat with foreigners. I also had the chance to visit Lamma Island, sort of Hong Kong’s equivalent to Rottnest without all of the quokkas. Its main town is full of retired westerners, holidays homes and working class locals that give a unique feeling to the place. It’s pretty hot here in Hong Kong but I’m loving every bit of it.

Andrew Thomson – Week 1

Andrew Thomson, 2 July 2016

I had heard stories about Hong Kong but nothing could have prepared me for the reality. It’s a place bursting at the seams with absolute chaos that in its own crazy way seems to work for the people living here. There is is a constant fusion of both old tradition and new ideas.

On my first day at the Lion Rock Institute I had an introduction to the underlying principles that that the Institute promoted. One such principle that was emphasised in particular was the idea that previous policies promoting economic freedom had allowed the people of Hong Kong the opportunity to create wealth through hard work and entrepreneurship. I was then set to work assisting my fellow intern Katherine Pemberton in her proposal for improving the efficiency of the public housing sector.

In my spare time I have been able to see some of Hong Kong’s attractions such as the Star Ferry, Lantau Island and the incredible markets around the city.

Being here at the Lion Rock Institute has been an incredible learning experience and I’am beginning to understand how Hong Kong’s high degree of economic freedom has contributed to the transformation of this city into a prosperous metropolis. I think that being here has helped me see and understand this in a way I wouldn’t be able to if I had just read about it back in Australia.

Reflections

Fiona Poh, 7 April 2016

What a ride it has been. This internship has exposed me to so many new people and places that I would never have dreamt of before, and I truly felt so lucky to have been given this once in a lifetime opportunity. As I boarded the bus to get to the airport, I looked around to take in as many details as I could about the place I called home for the past 2 months. You would not be able to find another place like Hong Kong, where the mix of tradition and Asian Confucius values clash with rebellion and modernity. This unique mish mash of values and history certainly manifests itself in its surroundings, and provides an explanation for why recent events such as the Mong Kok riots and the Occupy Central movement erupted.

Yet while groundswell social and political movements gather immense media attention, it is infuriating to see that there has been very little progress achieved in personal and political freedoms in Hong Kong. Overreach by the Mainland, whether it be bundling controversial authors and booksellers into black vans or gaming Hong Kong’s electoral system by taking political franchise away from citizens, is the lot its people must deal with. However as China faces mounting economic problems at its doorstep, many Hong Kongese can only hope that its stranglehold on their country will ease.

Fiona Poh – Week 10

Fiona Poh, 22 February 2016

This week I attended a public consultation on retirement protection which involved the Labour and Welfare Bureau, the Commission on Poverty, several universities and various think tanks. The objective of the consultation was to float different views on a proposal which will see the introduction of a new tier of welfare payment to the elderly over 65 years of age. Two options are given. Option one: all elderly peoples to get a monthly payment regardless of their assets, income or need. Option two: the monthly payment be made only to those deemed eligible after an assets and income means test.

While doing some background research into this issue, I was quite surprised to find out that the Administration and some local interest groups were even considering making a blanket payment to all elderly persons. Not only would this reduce the benefits which the most needy would receive, it will only be too easy for this proposal to severely bankrupt the state in the short to medium term future. To pay for this anticipated $56.3 billion price tag in 2064, a variety of taxes were suggested. One suggestion was for Hong Kong to introduce for the first time a goods and services tax. Another was to increase company profits taxes or raise the salaries tax. Not only would these proposals hurt the competitiveness of Hong Kong’s economy, some of these taxes will increase an already high cost of living. This also means that retirees and their family members will immediately find it more difficult to afford to live in Hong Kong.

Another event I attended this week was the Lion Rock Institute’s stakeholder meeting. This conference was held in a private function room in the Ladies Recreation Club which boasted good food and even greater views. During this event, not only did I get to meet the directors and members of the LRI, I also had the pleasure of Daniel Mitchell, a senior member of the Cato Institute, speak on the inverse relationship between taxation and freedom.

Fiona Poh – Week 8 + 9

Fiona Poh, 15 February 2016

As Chinese New Year approaches us and the pace of life (briefly) slows down in anticipation of this traditional occasion, I thought it would be more convenient to amalgamate my experiences into a single entry.

It would be remiss of me not to mention one of the most newsworthy events in the past week. As day broke on February 9, 2016, the second day of Chinese New Year, locals and tourists in Mong Kok found their activities restricted by the police tape that cordoned off parts of the streets. A riot had broken out just several hours before in a reaction to Food and Environmental Hygiene Department officials preventing unlicensed street food hawkers from setting up their stalls.

Riots are rare in Hong Kong. The last riot was in 1967, when a labour dispute broke out between pro-British colonialists and pro-Chinese communists. This episode involved bombings and resulted in the death of 51 people and the wounding of many more. Even the Occupy Central movement in 2015 which lasted for 79 days was not classified a riot but a civil disobedience movement.

The snack stalls in question are an iconic part of Chinese New Year in Hong Kong and is a crucial piece of the food landscape during a time when many restaurants are closed. For many years, vendors without permits were tolerated by government authorities, and the crackdown this year came as a surprise to most who ask – why now? However a significant portion of the discourse on this event has concentrated around the hashtag used to describe it on social media, “#fishballrevolution”.

Many netizen, most of whom are local Hong Kong civilians, have taken issue with this phrase because they perceive that this tag simplifies the events that occurred. As a reaction, they have launched attacks on those who have used this term on social media. Perhaps that rage is informed by a fear that outsiders will miss the whole point behind the riot – that it is really about government bigfooting in regards to the nomination of the Chief Executive and concerning Hong Kong’s sovereignty as a whole. Sadly, many of these netizens have succeeded in scaring others into submission.

I do not agree with their opinion. On the contrary, I believe that “Fishball Revolution” is satirical, tongue in cheek and not intended to offend. However while I disagree with their comments, I believe that they have a right to express it. For a world where there is interpersonal freedom in existence, there must be a free marketplace of ideas. Social condemnation and its offspring, self-censorship, are the originators of repression in all communities throughout the ages. Political correctness only creates more layers of social repression and encourages subservience to authority, and does not lead to the resilient community that we should aspire to be.

On a lighter note, as people went to family events on Chinese New Year, I took advantage of the low human traffic to go hiking! One of the most memorable and slightly creepy places I went to was in the Plover Cove Reservoir region which boasted abandoned Hakka villages and a waterfall which was rumoured to have claimed the life of a woman on the way to her wedding.

Fiona Poh – Week 7

Fiona Poh, 2 February 2016

This week Hong Kong experienced its coldest day in 59 years and I feel sick. I’m continuing to build a mountain of wet tissues on my table as I begin to write this post.

On Monday I had the pleasure of meeting Peter Wong, Chairman of the LRI at his bookstore. He talked to me about the origins of banks and of government, and I would then skim read books on the shelf before discussing their saleability with him. Over the week (and before I fell sick) I read a variety of interesting books, one of which discussed a somewhat taboo subject of how democracy as a form of socialism; both concepts sharing a common ground in utilitarianism and serving the majority at the expense of the individual. Present conviction in the supremacy of representative democracies as the ultimate political solution is the hidden constraint on individual freedoms, and every day that democracy continues to exist is a day that we step closer to socialism. Thus the solution proposed was for governments to become smaller and regionally based, and for citizens of each state to “vote” with their feet. If citizens are able to freely move between various countries as and when the policies of that country fail to suit them, governments will be incentivised to devise the best laws and regulations.

Fiona Poh – Week 6

Fiona Poh, 25 January 2016

I am writing this blog with a cup of tea whilst it is pouring outside. It seems that I’ve forgotten what cold feels like after being spoilt with uncharacteristically warm winter weather just a few weeks back. I could only assume that Aussies back home were wishing they could trade places with me!

This week I researched into the implications of President Xi’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) policy for Hong Kong. This OBOR policy would see China fund infrastructure and business development roughly along the lines of the old maritime Silk Road and extending into Europe and Africa, and aims to boost investment in China’s rural and western provinces. Supporters of the OBOR, a merry band in which CY Leung, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, is a part of, hail it as something akin to the next leap forward. Critics however, are suspicious as to China’s intentions and wonder if it is a well-concealed way to sidestep a massive credit problem.

As someone who has unfortunately had some legal training, I cannot help but refuse to say yes or no to the OBOR policy for one glaring reason. Nobody really knows that it entails. Information on the nuts and bolts of this program, or more broadly put, how much the Chinese government will interfere or influence projects and investment, is severely lacking. Plausibly, I might just have not looked far enough. But realistically, it is doubtful if any such information would exist in the public domain. One thing is for sure though, I hope that CY Leung had more information about what OBOR entailed, sound financial principles in mind and the independence of the Hong Kong people at heart before he strongly backed China’s plan.

Fiona Poh – Wk 5

Fiona Poh, 18 January 2016

This week, plunging oil prices and China’s lacklustre stock market figures were all the rage. Starting the year with such low confidence does not bode well, and many financial observers have cautioned against risk-taking in this bear market. The weak figures coming from China should surely cause Hong Kong to sit up and take note.

Needless to say, this week, I looked into the strength of Hong Kong’s banking system and the extent of its resistance to bad China figures. Over the past decade, Hong Kong has increased its cross-boarder loan appetite.China’s broaching credit crisis and projected slowdown in growth is sure to affect the credit health of Mainland borrowers and potentially runs the risk of loan default despite credit standards imposed by Hong Kong Authorised Institutions. This will strain and inflict severe damage on the Hong Kong banking and financial sector, leaving it vulnerable to adverse parties with ulterior motives.

Off for some famous Kau Kee beef brisket noodles!

Fiona Poh – Week 4

Fiona Poh, 11 January 2016

The highlight this week was having a sit down with Bill Stacey, ex-Chairman of the LRI, and talking about his experiences in Hong Kong and around the world. Being from Perth himself (back in the good old days), it was also eye opening to hear about how he met Ron Manners (they started contacting each other through letter writing) and how he became the first ‘scholar’ sent overseas even before the formal Mannkal foundation was born. Although it was raining like mad on that day, the bad weather did not dampen our lunch at all, and I was lucky to be able to take some snaps of the beautiful greenery in Aberdeen.

Finding the location for our lunch was quite an adventure. As the public train system was yet to be constructed in this area, buildings and lifestyle on the Aberdeen side of Hong Kong Island is quite different to the rest of Hong Kong. However construction of a new train station meant that renovations and refurbishments of ancient buildings are all the rage.

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