Aim for productive investment

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 June, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 June, 1998, 12:00am

The Hong Kong economy is in deep trouble. And the solution prescribed by the Government is to encourage speculation on real estate.

There is something fundamentally wrong about a society when even big, multinational, and healthy companies can make more money speculating on the companies' premises than using those premises to conduct business.

It is bad when small, high-technology companies typically fold after two years because that is the length of their leases and most simply cannot afford to pay the huge rent increases.

It is worse when school teachers make enough money in a few years of real estate 'investments' to retire many times over - money that they could not otherwise expect to earn in their lifetimes.

Where is the incentive for businesses to engage in wealth-creating business? Where is the incentive for teachers to put their energy into teaching? How can we ask our children to study hard and work hard in learning anything when looking at the experiences of the adults, that is, their parents and their teachers, none of that seems to matter? An economy builds wealth by being productive, by producing goods and services other people desire. In the past Hong Kong has been quite successful in doing that. What goods and services are we aiming at producing in the future that other economies may wish to buy from us? Is Hong Kong going to get wealthier while we keep on speculating against one another? Many of us 'Hong Kongers' were quite proud of the fact that several Hong Kong people were among the wealthiest in the world. But where was all that money coming from? Practically all of them made their money from real estate. So, while most Hong Kongers work hard to make money by selling to other economies, the money earned ends up with a few real estate developers. Some of that money, of course, has dribbled down to some of us, but not a lot.

No doubt these developers contributed to Hong Kong's prosperity. But can we build a prosperous future on real estate speculation? Without the continued increase in productivity, where is the new money to fuel real estate speculation going to come from? When that stops, what is Hong Kong going to do? STEPHEN CHAN Sha Tin