Productivity still a concept for the Productivity Council
with Jake van der Kamp
With a HK$10 million grant from the Innovation and Technology Fund, the Productivity Council wants to turn the city into a major producer of airplane seats. Council researchers have just reverse-engineered an economy class seat for the Airbus A340, based on local airlines' discards.
SCMP, December 6
The first thing you have to understand about the Productivity Council, a government dinosaur so old and decrepit that any zoo would consign it straight to the mortuary, is that it does not even know what productivity is.
From its website - 'Productivity is the effective use of innovation and resources to increase the value-added content of products and services.'
From the Concise Oxford Dictionary - 'Productivity n. capacity to produce; quality or state of being productive; production per unit of effort; effectiveness of productive effort, esp. in industry.'
As is perfectly apparent to the editors of the Oxford Dictionary, the essential meaning of the word lies in getting more production for the effort put into it, whether that effort is in labour or capital.
For example, sweeping a floor with a broom yields a gain in productivity over sweeping it with your fingers.
Sweeping it with a vacuum cleaner may be more productive yet, depending on how much effort went into producing and selling you that vacuum cleaner relative to the saving in effort it gives you over its lifetime.
This basic concept is obviously way over the head of the Productivity Council and has been for its entire 43 years of existence.
Listen, fellas, it is all very well that you may have increased your value-added content, but this does not make you more productive unless you did it with the same or lower production costs. Now go back to school.
Ah, no, before you do that, here is another concept you may encounter some day, one that people will expect you to have mastered before you leave the classroom, intellectual challenge though this may be.
Reverse engineering is the process of taking someone else's manufactured product completely apart, copying every bit of it and then manufacturing it yourself and calling it your own.
For a better definition of what this constitutes I once again refer you to the Oxford Dictionary. Look under 'cheat'.
Do not look under 'innovation'. The Productivity Council may have found HK$10 million for this cheat from the government's Innovation and Technology Fund but, while reverse engineering may involve technology, it decidedly does not constitute innovation.
Not, of course, that much innovation has ever come out of the Innovation and Technology Fund, or worthwhile technology for that matter, but we won't say so here as this would be mud-slinging (and too much of it would stick).
Now to another matter.
The Productivity Council's website tells us that it provides 'integrated support across the value chain of Hong Kong firms', whatever that means.
It is nonetheless a fortunate choice of words as it does not specify that these firms must be located in Hong Kong, only that they be 'Hong Kong firms'.
And, yes, you guessed it. These aircraft seats are not to be made in Hong Kong. They are to be made across the border in Dongguan by 'Hong Kong firms'.
What then is the definition of a Hong Kong firm? Does any company incorporated in Hong qualify, even subsidiaries of overseas companies that otherwise have no interests in Hong Kong? Do we include Hong Kong companies that incorporate in the Cayman Islands? Does it require a Hong Kong headquarters rating of the sort that InvestHK will give you for snapping your fingers? Could it ever mean that more than half the beneficial shareholders must be holders of permanent Hong Kong ID cards?
Scratch that last suggestion. It would amount to a restrictive definition. But I think you will agree that a Hong Kong Productivity Council that cannot even define productivity is not likely to have much more success defining Hong Kong firm.
Here is a question that will put it all in perspective. If the 'Hong Kong firms' making these aircraft seats were to propose doing so in Canada, would the Productivity Council support them? Let's rephrase that question. Why do our bureaucrats give their counterparts across the border such easy access to our public purse?
And then as to the seat itself, based on 'local airlines' discards', we are told it is designed for the Airbus A340, which is an aircraft that Airbus is phasing out and airlines now shun.
This should explain the abundance of seat discards.
The phase-out is not surprising as the A340, which mounts four engines, is fuel inefficient compared with more modern two-engine aircraft designs of the same or greater passenger capacity.
Yep, we are on to a winner here again, Hong Kong technology leading the world with the Productivity Council in the van, banners high.