After a turbulent 7-hour flight I arrived in Hong Kong and upon exiting the terminal, I was surprised at seeing just how organised and smoothly things seem to be running in this immense city with a population of just over 7 million. Within 15 minutes of arriving, I was on my way with an Octopus card in my pocket (an indispensable item for the Hong Kong visitor) catching the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) directly to Jordan Station which is only a minute’s walk from my self-serviced apartment in the heart of Kowloon. Having found out on the way that Hong Kong had maintained its’ spot at the top of the 2011 Index of Economic Freedom compiled by, ‘The Heritage Foundation’ in conjunction with the ‘The Wall Street Journal’ for the 17th year in a row made me all the more excited about spending time working in one of the world’s most competitive financial and business centres, for one of Hong Kong’s leading non-profit, public policy think tanks.
Honestly, my first week in the office has been challenging but it’s precisely this that has made it all the more enjoyable. After having been given a crash course on the work the Institute had been doing recently, I was put straight to work on ‘Best Practice’ which is the Institute’s own journal that aims at providing recommendations on both law and policy, and advocating free market ideas and solutions. The reason why the week has been so hectic and challenging is because of the rush to complete and review the Institute’s latest quarterly edition of ‘Best Practice’. Working on the journal has provided me with a fantastic opportunity to get acquainted with some of the most pressing policy issues and events in Hong Kong. On top of this, we have been given a deadline to complete a report on the state of land policy in Hong Kong for a leading international think tank which is due early next week. The focus of my work this week with respect to this report has centred specifically on researching the current repressive policy that is in place with respect to privately owned buildings that the government has ear-tagged as possessing ‘historical significance’. It was during this research that I found increasingly alarming recent examples of where property rights and the rule of law have been contravened quite blatantly in the government’s rather hap-hazard and retrospective approach to heritage conservation. Apart from assisting the Institute with this research for final report, I hope to complete an op-ed on the topic to hopefully be published in the next edition of the journal as well as the website to serve as an educational resource that can expose what is really occurring and being undermined in the processes that have taken place. The people at Lion Rock have been so supportive, with special mention to Nicole who has helped me settle in so fast, and has taken up so much of her own free time to take me all over the place to see all that this great city has to offer.
It is clear that Hong Kong boasts one of the world’s most prosperous economies because of it’s strong adherence to a policy of small government, low tax and light regulation which is what had been set in place by such great men as Cowperthwaite who insisted that Hong Kong employ positive non-interventionist policy which set in motion the appropriate conditions which allowed for the economic miracle that ensued and encouraged the entrepreneurial spirit in Hong Kong to develop and flourish. I am reminded of this fact every time I take in the sight of Victoria harbour and begin to imagine the transformation of this place from a port of small fishing communities and farmers, famously referred to by Queen Victoria as a ‘barren rock’, to one of the economic centres of the world. Where tea clippers once sailed, todays harbour traffic consists of international cruise liners, container ships, ferries and cargo boats – the hustle and bustle of enterprise in Hong Kong never stops. Sadly however, my week of work at Lion Rock this week has already demonstrated to me how Hong Kong does seem to be starting to turn back on it’s legacy that libertarians like Friedman found so dear. Recent events show a government that is interfering more and more in the economy by responding to populist pressures, and is thereby slowly but surely damaging the institutions that lie at the heart of a free society. Apart from the constraining land policy that I’ve begun to analyse; the introduction of a statutory minimum wage to be rolled out in may this year which will only cause greater unemployment and hit those at the bottom hardest, as well as likely passage of poorly drafted competition policy are just some of the more recent policies that do not respect Hong Kong’s legacy and really make one begin to question just how ‘free’ Hong Kong really is. I invite any readers that are interested in finding out more about the implications an introduction of a competition bill will have in Hong Kong and it’s fundamental flaws that will arguably lead to greater limitations in market participation by looking over some of the well-prepared submissions of the Institute that are available publicly on the LRI website; http://www.lionrockinstitute.org/english/index.php.
Aside from work at office, I have had the pleasure to meet up with a number of like-minded individuals and entrepreneurs at the monthly Lion Rock Happy Hour at, ‘The Globe’ which was organised so well by Nicole last Thursday. Meeting successful people from all over the world in a quaint little bar in the surrounds of Soho and having the opportunity to hear some of their personal stories that have showcased so much of what a free society can allow creative, intelligent and daring innovators to achieve is truly inspiring. I’ve also managed to catch-up with a few friends during the evenings and explore some of Hong Kong’s street markets like the Temple Street Night Markets which are awash with rows of brightly lit stalls hawking a variety of goods and services from remote-controlled helicopters to busy food stalls and fortune tellers. I’ve nearly mastered the art of bartering and bargaining in the street markets! As for food, it’s no surprise that Hong Kong is regarded as the culinary capital of Asia with it’s truly unique fusion of eastern and western styles. I really just can’t get enough of Hong Kong’s famous wonton noodles or dim sums! As for weather; there has been minimal humidity at an average temperature of around 17 degrees celsius.
I’ve begun reading the book titled, “The Anglosphere Century” which deals with a concept of the ‘anglosphere’ coined by James C. Bennet whom I was fortunate enough to meet in late October last year at the, “Sun Rises in the West’ Conference organised by Mannkal. I intend to write a review on the book for Lion Rock’s journal so keep your eyes out for the next quarterly issue!!
I greatly look forward to next week as Chinese New Year festivities begin to make way for the year of the rabbit which will hopefully bring with it some much-needed respite after the fierce year of the tiger. I hope to use the public holidays over the 4 days of celebrations to take the time off to explore the historically rich port city of Macau and will be sure to keep you guys updated.