• Sun
  • Jul 13, 2014
  • Updated: 10:12am
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 February, 2013, 4:17am

The Age of Greed

Michael Chugani says for all the gains of a closer relationship with the mainland, we are paying the price with a slide in moral decency

BIO

Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London. Aside from being a South China Morning Post columnist he also hosts ATV’s Newsline show, a radio show and writes for two Chinese-language publications. He has published a number of books on politics which contain English and Chinese versions.
 

Every society has its share of greed, but it seems like ours is consumed by it. As a developed city and financial centre, I can understand Hong Kong having the big-scale greed we see in Wall Street. But greed permeates our society. The extent of it came into sharp focus with two unrelated events over the past few weeks.

Petty greed drove travel agencies to fleece mainlanders who ended up sleeping in seedy guest houses and even a tourist bus. Greed on a mega scale drove property giant Cheung Kong to sell flats disguised as hotel rooms so buyers could avoid the government's market-cooling measures. It didn't bother Cheung Kong that by exploiting loopholes to line its pocket, it had undercut government efforts to stabilise the market.

It seems to me the more we integrate with the mainland, the more it exacerbates our greed. Aside from crooked travel agents, we now also have crooked taxi drivers who drive off with the belongings of mainland visitors, profiteering shopkeepers who hoard and raise the price of daily necessities, such as baby milk power, to feed the mainland's hunger for quality goods, infant formula suppliers who force retailers to buy bundled products, and the mega greed of landlords who double shop rents in prime locations catering to mainlanders.

Aren't big companies such as Cheung Kong, owned by Li Ka-shing, the world's ninth-richest man, supposed to have corporate social responsibility? Its exploiting of loopholes to sell 360 units of its Apex Horizon Hotel in Kwai Chung was anything but socially responsible. It fuelled a lunatic market that has already made homes unaffordable to most Hongkongers. Why would Cheung Kong, which is worth tens of billions of dollars, soil its name for a mere HK$1.4 billion more?

What are ordinary Hongkongers, aspiring homeowners and subdivided-flat dwellers to think when Cheung Kong gives the government the finger this way? My immediate reaction was that people would see it as further proof of the so-called property hegemony of our tycoons. Where are we heading as a society when supermarkets fake sales, greedy landlords drive families into subdivided flats and small-shop owners out of business, parallel goods traders disrupt daily life, and property developers feed the speculative frenzy by selling parking spaces for preposterous prices? It seems both honesty and moral decency have been sucked out of the city. Everyone is out to make a quick buck.

The price we're paying was written on the face of an elderly worker mopping the floor at closing time at an outlet of a local fast-food chain where I was having dinner recently. Looking miserable and tired, she could hardly bend down to pick up her bucket of water. She and others like her, who survive on a measly minimum wage of around HK$6,000 a month, are at the last link of our chain of greed. At the other end are the property developers, the greedy landlords, the business lobby, which ferociously oppose better wages, the profiteering supermarkets, and the fast-food chains, which make fat profits but pay the minimum wage.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host. mickchug@gmail.com

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Byebye
Hi! aplucky1, absolutlely agreed with your points. Gordon Gekko was a fiction character. Here in HK, such greedy people are real and prevalent. Do the Authorities dare to assert their authority over such powerful individuals who practically have control over the daily life of HK people?
jj
The kind of so-called market economy is the root of our trouble and yet more trouble to come. There is a saying that "What do you give to people who have already got all the money?" Answer - "More money!".
aplucky1
this is the absolute role of government to intervene or what is the point of even having government if not to regulate the nasty individuals who twist the SPIRIT of the law for their own gain
the government could absolutely prosecute them and fine them a billion or so, and then erect further rules to stop this behavior
and dont start quoting gorden gekko, who by the way in REAL LIFE did do a lot of time
if you want greed to run rampant then you will have baby powder made of carcinogenic's then see buildings and bridges collapse
greed is not good
John Adams
Michael : I agree with you
Of course greed has a certain role in evolutionary survival. That doesn't justify greed, but it does partly explain it.
But what I cannot explain - still less understand - is the pure undiluted greed of companies like Cheung Kong and billionaires like LKS when they behave this way as at Apex Horizen .
This is not "greed for the sake of survival". It's "greed just for its own sake"
Disgusting and shameful I call call it.
chaz_hen
Corporate "social responsibility" is nothing but some pretty baubles dangled out during photo-op events for the benefit of the tyGoon class to fool slavish, celebrity worshipping media into thinking "the company cares about things and gives back".
Don't be naive and think a corporation doesn't exist for anything but profit first, last and always.
zreal
It takes two to tango. Greed is one trait of the human species. However, to have the degree of greed observed in Hong Kong and elsewhere, it takes an immense amount of (excessive) money to make it happen. In the past couple of decades, global liquidity has outgrown global productivity, especially in the past 5 years via a range of quantitative easing.
the sun also rises
greed had enveloped our beloved Hong Kong which is dominated by bunches of super-rich and over-greedy property developers led by Superman,Li Ka-shing, the richest Chinese all over the world and the richest in Asia yet his Cheung Kong Holdings still too eager to grab HK$1.4 billions by selling the hotel suites to ignorant/childish buyers/speculators to be used as lodgings/commodities.How greedy these property developers are ! Li family's act came at a time when the government is trying its utmost to cool down the over-heat housing market and there is an actue shortage of our hotel rooms that some Mainland visitors had to sleep in their coach ! Does this super-rich old guy bear any social responsibilites ? I wonder. Over-greed and dishonesty will ruin our society as a whole.Moral decline in the society will cost us deeply and greatly harm our next generation as well !
HK_eh!
But it is not only HK, you can say the same for New York and other cities. It is accentuated in HK because we are only 1 city of 8M people, while NY is one city in USA (where other cities are less "greedy").
A laissez faire govt policy doesn't work anymore in HK, it has to be active to curb excess greed via regulations.
I don't like it, but nor do I expect the corporate citizens a la Cheung Kong to do the right thing for HK, lip service but ultimately not their mandate which is to make more money.
Bring it on!
anson
Is it possible for some journalists to simply avoid the easy and not accurate target of blaming people from outside of the city for our own problems, e.g. 'It seems to me the more we integrate with the mainland, the more it exacerbates our greed.'
Michael, you are only right in stating that it is 'our greed'.
Byebye
A movie starred Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko came to life in Hong Kong. Quotes:
~ "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A.”
~ "What's worth doing is worth doing for money"!!!!!
 
 
 
 
 

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