Rich spin on injustice

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 October, 2010, 12:00am

Suddenly, there's a lot of spin out there. We're now being told the people don't hate the rich after all. We're told people admire them inside. They are our role models.

Do you hate the rich? Or do you admire them? When a property developer tries to sell you a flat with 275 sq ft of living space for HK$6 million do you want to throttle him? Or do you say to yourself: I want to be just like him so I, too, can make mountains of money suckering people? Morals or money - tough call, isn't it?

New Territories kingpin Lau Wong-fat has lots of money, but an angry public thinks he has no morals. He didn't disclose all his property dealings, which he's required to do as an executive councillor. He had a simple explanation for the public outrage this caused: people hate him for being rich. No spin there.

Compare Lau's bluntness to former Liberal Party chairman James Tien Pei-chun's flip-flop. Just weeks ago he was warning about the rising anti-rich sentiment, blaming it on the government for not spending enough of its huge reserves on the poor. Now he's telling anyone who'll listen that people in fact admire the entrepreneurship of the rich rather than hate them.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen takes the spin a step further. He says people don't hate the rich, they just hate injustice. Go ahead - scratch your head in wondering what that means. Who exactly is responsible for all this injustice?

Is it the property developer who demands HK$6 million for a 400 sq ft flat that is actually just 275 sq ft? Or is it the buyer who cries foul?

Is the injustice caused by 62-year-old Mrs Lau who works as a Cafe de Coral cleaner nine hours a day, six days a week for HK$5,000 a month? Or is it caused by the highly profitable fast-food chain that has not given her a pay rise in 17 years?

Social injustice doesn't just happen. It is caused. You can argue that Hong Kong has no social injustices worth worrying about, but if you concede that we do have them, as Tsang has done, then you must pinpoint the cause.

Tsang has not done that. All he has said is that we do have social injustices, which he wants to fix, but that people don't hate the rich. Does he mean the rich didn't cause the injustices or that the people don't hate the rich even though they caused them?

Hong Kong people, of course, don't hate each and every rich person. This 'hate the rich' term that everyone uses nowadays simply expresses a general sentiment fuelled by the behaviour of certain sectors of the wealthy class and the government.

Lau Wong-fat got it wrong. People don't hate him just because he's a rich property boss. They despise his behaviour as a rich property boss. Even though he's a top government adviser, his companies speculated to make quick profits and he ignored his duty to disclose hundreds of property deals. People don't hate Amina Mariam Bokhary because she comes from a privileged family. They just hate the thought that she got off lightly for drink-driving and slapping a policeman because she's rich - just like they hate it that Lau faced no consequences for his behaviour.

Homebuyers hate developers dishonestly inflating the size of flats. Workers hate having to work long hours for dismally low wages and no overtime pay. Hard-pressed families hate seeing the rich get richer while they sink deeper into poverty. They feel the government only looks after the interests of the privileged class. They feel helpless. Anger wells up inside them.

Spin it anyway you want - hate the rich, hate the business sector, or hate injustice. But people know why they're angry. They know who's causing the injustices that Tsang talks about. And they're smart enough to know injustice doesn't just pop out of thin air.

You can't spin away what they know.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and broadcaster