Be selfish, businessmen

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 January, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 January, 2005, 12:00am

There is currently a conflict going on in Hong Kong, we have been warned, that has the chance to rip apart the city politically, economically and socially. While people are taking to the streets, this is really a battle of ideas that has been brewing a while.

The trigger for the standoff was the Article 23 debates two years ago, which brought many middle-class people out to protest. Their demands were not support for mob rule through democracy but, rather, for accountable government and free speech. The liberal left has since hijacked this movement to promote unrestricted democracy and the rights of water, trees and fish over human life. Unleashed, they have already harmed our free market, including the humbling of the Hunghom developers and the postponement of the Link listing.

The Hunghom developers were forced to their knees because they ceded the moral ground to their antagonists. Indeed, many businesspeople today have caught 'mad green disease'. They blindly accept sacrifice to trees or the mob as good in theory, but reject it in the real world because it is seen as unworkable. They follow a philosophy of pragmatism, which is essentially the principle of not being principled. For them, this means trying to make money while pandering to the whims of the public - no matter how irrational. But this is an arbitrary, unprincipled standard, because once a business starts to pander to the irrational, it is heading down a slippery slope. Gradually, it cedes more and more, ending up using its opponents' ideas to guide decisions. This is what happened to the Hunghom developers. Objectively, the correct morality is one of principled, rational self-interest, and businesspeople must not cede this to anyone. The proper standard of moral value is not a tree, the state, or the mob but, rather, individual human life, with each person having the right and responsibility to sustain their own life. They have no right to the involuntary support of others. In addition, since our tool of survival is the use of reason, each individual must be free to use his or her own mind to sustain his or her own life.

One derivative moral principle is, then, that we must use our minds to reshape our environment so that we can survive in it. If we leave the land and trees alone, we cannot build houses and places to work. If we leave fish and animals alone, we restrict our food supply, limit our clothing choices and leave the vulnerable open to attack from wild beasts. Further, just as self-sacrifice is the ethical base of communism, fascism, socialism and environmentalism, the ethical basis for capitalism is rational self-interest. Capitalism is based on the ethical foundation that man (and woman) must be free to use his mind to express his thoughts and to produce things based on his own thinking. In this way, capitalism alone allows man to choose the values that he thinks will help sustain his life, to rationally create these goods or services and to keep the rewards. This is all the Hunghom developers wanted to do.

It is this system of morality that the state must protect by enshrining the right to life, liberty, property, free speech and the pursuit of happiness. There is no place for mob rule or green theory here - just limited accountable government. For companies, this morality includes protecting the rights of their shareholders above trees and animals to maximise profits.

Had the Hunghom developers accepted these ethics, they would have kept their moral right to redevelop intact. Had business supported and promoted rational self-interest, instead of donating to green groups, then the redevelopment of Hunghom and the Link listing might never have been issues. Rationality on all sides is the long-term answer to any threat to social, political or economic stability.

Simon Patkin is director of Capitalist Solutions, a free-market think-tank promoting the philosophy of rational self-interest in Hong Kong