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My Take
PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 December, 2012, 2:34am

Focus on helping poor, not hurting rich

While listening to a talk last week given by Leo Goodstadt, I felt I was back in the good old days when the government's Central Policy Unit was run by people who knew what they were talking about.

There was a time when the unit was a real policy think tank under Goodstadt, its first head. An economist and former journalist, he is erudite and witty. He is as well-versed in Hong Kong's banking system as he is in Thomas Aquinas' view on natural law. Now, the unit has become a power play for people like "Yum Cha" Shiu Sin-por and Sophia Kao Ching-chi.

But apologies, I have digressed. What I really want to write about is Goodstadt's topic last week, which is how Hong Kong "demonises" the poor to keep them down and ignore their plight. He is certainly right that Hong Kong has always been resistant to providing better welfare for the poor. For this, he cited the common myths that people were poor because they were lazy, and that excessive welfare would bankrupt the government.

I agree about the power the second myth has over policymakers, less so on the first. We are now politically correct enough not to - at least overtly - blame the poor for their conditions. But it is true successive administrations loathed the idea of improving our welfare system despite mounting fiscal reserves. Given his campaign pledges, it remains to be seen whether Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying will prove friendlier to the poor.

But we are as much to blame as the government. Our society has been almost shameless in glorifying the rich and silencing the poor. The social stigma attached to poverty often means those who should seek welfare refuse to do so because of shame.

Social silence on the poor and vocal celebration of the rich - this has been our dominant social discourse until recently. Alice Poon's seminal Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong and the rise of the "post-1980s" young activists have helped blow the lid on "property hegemony".

But as Goodstadt pointed out, the activists are still too fixated on middle-class issues like Article 23 security legislation and national education. The goal of a more just and fairer society demands our young activists refocus on equalitarianism and helping the poor, not just targeting the rich.


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This article is now closed to comments

How about studying the Bhutan approach?
The biggest threat facing our community is not the puerile, self-indulgent assertion of platitudinous Democracy dogmas of the middle class, but the unbridgeable wealth divide between rich and poor.
Of course a judicious social safety net ought to be in place. It pains my social conscience that ugly monstrosities like caged homes could exist with budget surplus year after year. Helping the poor must be part of a sustainable fiscal policy. Equitable wealth distribution must be the core of a long-term strategic plan.
The argument is simple. If there is one single valid quantifiable economic principle that cuts across the entire swath of economic disciplines, it has to be Ricardo principle. Briefly stated in an advocacy of an improved Gini coefficient, it would mean the rich and poor having different comparative advantages, with the former specializing in skilled professional jobs and the latter in jobs of lower menial labor. Obviously, I oversimplify a spectrum in wealth distribution into two wealth classes.
The problem at hand is that there is not enough internal exchange, or trade, between the rich and the poor, resulting in the underemployment within each class, or sometimes a higher rate of overall unemployment. Implementing long-term policy that develops individual skills through education and job training will help to elevate our standard of living as well as narrowing the gap between rich and destitute.
Well said.
thank you for your articulate statement which says nothing
Sorry to flummox you by using the language of a college freshman. Maybe you should pick up a book on Economics 101.
you are sooooo smart... you recommend education and job training as ways to deal with the rich-poor divide.... gosh darn it why didn't i think of that
If you don't understand Ricardo's comparative advantage and miss the entire conversation, I hate to hurt your feelings. Apparently, you have no relevant skill to trade with me and we cannot benefit one another.
And a ‘chicken in every pot’ so the egalitarian measure that attributed to US politic.
Clearly the Leung's government is getting Hong Kong to refocus for a more progressive value.
"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much it is whether we provide enough for those who have little." - Franklin Roosevelt


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