In the groove
Merrill Lynch and Capgemini's recent report on high net-worth individuals found Hong Kong leading the Asia-Pacific region with a 33.3 per cent growth in the number of millionaires in the city last year. The report attributed the boom to a healthy economy and gains in the equities and property markets.
As a city that positions itself as the region's financial centre, this makes sense and is proof that its vast investment is paying off. And when the rest of the world is struggling with debt and desperately trying to fend off stagflation, being said to have 'a healthy economy' is a tremendous confidence booster. But before we give ourselves more kudos than we deserve, we should be terrified to see how much the property market is at play here.
Sky-rocketing property prices have generated tremendous wealth but they are also the main reason for social angst. It's a tide that lifts some boats and sinks the rest; we may have more millionaires but we also have more people living in cage homes and subdivided flats.
There is no quick fix to our economic structural addiction to the property market. The woes of negative-equity owners dominating news headlines isn't exactly from our distant past and its ghosts haunt our public policy corridors, and affect public discourse today. We have been high on property booms before, and it has increased social irritability, paranoia, anxiety and aggressiveness. With more millionaires and millions of others hooked on it, it's going to take as much conviction as it will creativity for the government to get us off our 'economic crystal meth'.
While millionaire numbers show we are property addicts, the Gini coefficient, which measures the income gap, dispels the myths politicians love to spread. The US' Lorenz curve, which shows income distribution, doesn't look too different from ours, so more freedom and democracy aren't going to do anything to bridge the wealth gap. Wealth disparity is a problem, and it's a global one.
What matters is opportunity and, like mojo, it's something no one seems able to quantify. But there are references, like the annual liveable cities index compiled by British lifestyle magazine Monocle, that can shed light on where we stand. Surprisingly, its latest survey put our city, for the first time, on its map, at No 17, and flatteringly described it as 'poised to play an ever greater role in the world order'.
In today's globalised world, connectivity counts for quite a lot. Despite the controversies stirred up over projects like the high-speed rail link, the bridge to Zhuhai and Macau, and the West Kowloon arts hub, they're factors considered to work in our favour, according to the Monocle index.
No matter whether we agree with the magazine, we can be pleased that we're still a city that's able to make an impact, that Hong Kong is still a hot spot that people gravitate towards - despite our property addiction, wealth disparity, political and pollution problems. Sure, we have tough habits to kick, illegal structures to tear down, and a whole list of issues to tackle, but we've got potential and enough mojo to keep us going. These are things money can't buy.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA