Little hope for progress without visionary politicians
As a Cantonese saying goes, rice cooked by the aunt next door is always tastier. That may be why people always think Western city-states or countries are better run than their own. Still, sometimes the aunty next door really does cook better rice. So, what are those states worth emulating?
Among social scientists, this problem is sometimes called "getting to Denmark", after a classic paper by two World Bank social scientists who pointed out Denmark has most if not all of the social, political and economic institutions a developed country can desire, making it stable, peaceful, wealthy, social-democratic, anti-discriminatory and mostly free of corruption.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the probability theorist and literary auteur, prefers Switzerland, arguing its decentralised political-social structure allows it to experiment, adapt in times of crisis and learn from past mistakes.
In Hong Kong and Shenzhen, the powers that be usually single out Singapore. There are many similarities and its "executive-led" government can only make our government salivate with envy. But there is a fundamental difference: While Singaporeans may have greater formal voting rights, Hong Kong society is thoroughly democratic. Following Singapore's example would only exacerbate the inherent conflict between our non-elected government and democratic society.
Maybe it's because my children are now completely into K-Pop and my wife has nicknamed one of our cats Gangnam Kitty. I have been studying South Korea's history and have developed great admiration for its people. It is often overlooked as one of history's great nation-building projects.
Out of the ashes of the Korean war, the South created one of the region's great economies and then fashioned one of its most vibrant democracies. My neighbour - not my aunt - will only drive Kia cars. The flat-screen in my living room is produced by LG. Samsung is starting to eat Apple for lunch in the smartphone business. Korea developed under authoritarianism, but thrives under democracy.
Out of benign British colonialism and preferential treatment by Beijing, perhaps Hong Kong too would follow that path if only we could produce a new breed of competent - dare I dream - visionary politicians.