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  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 1:27pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 July, 2013, 5:28am

Democracy is not a panacea

In an underdeveloped democracy, wrote Emily Lau Wai-hing in the International Herald Tribune yesterday, taking to the streets is one of the few ways that the people can be heard. The lawmaker and chairwoman of the Democratic Party was, of course, referring to the massive protest turnout yesterday despite the typhoon.

Interestingly, Thomas Friedman, the famous columnist, was posting, on the opposite page, a related question by quoting a former CIA analyst: "Why are we seeing so many popular street revolts in democracies?"

In the past few months, we have seen mass protests in Turkey, Brazil, Egypt, Israel, Chile, Greece, Indonesia and Bulgaria. During the most acute phases of the global financial crisis, there were demonstrations in Spain, Britain, and the United States as well. Mass protests, like politics, are local, so each has its own causes. But this does not mean they don't have similarities or even common underlying causes and themes.

We are in a summer of global, not just local, discontent. The world may be at one of those inflection points of historical change, and our city is part of that. But in Hong Kong, it's difficult to arrive at an accurate diagnosis of our social and political ills when so many people, in their zest for full democracy, tie those problems to our lack of it. As much as I support their goal, I don't share their optimism about democracy. I will address the widespread belief that full democracy will soften deep social divisions in Hong Kong in tomorrow's column.

Let's take the wealth/poverty gap debate as an example. Icarus Wong Ho-yin, an organiser of yesterday's march, blamed Chief Executive Leung Chin-ying for it. "C.Y. has not delivered what he has promised," he said. "The lives of Hongkongers have been getting worse, with an obvious example being the wide poverty gap." Actually, it's far from obvious. The widening wealth gap is an intricate, almost universal, phenomenon, found in developed and emerging markets, in democracies as much as under authoritarian regimes. Wong's accusation may be a good rallying point, but it's no explanation.

Yes, fight for democracy because it embodies human values worth fighting for. But it is not a panacea and may even cause more trouble.

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Dai Muff
"Democracy is not a panacea." Nobody says it is. Next.
captam
Alex, thank you for expressing it so eloquently.
It's such a shame that Hong Kong's pan-democrats do not have the intelligence to see this. They have been brain-washed to an even greater extent than Marxist communists during the Mainland's Maoist era. China's 'Big Brother' emigrated years ago and is now living happily in Washington among USA's ruling elite.
whymak
Some people have extremely low mental capacity. They demand nothing less than a yes/no answer for everything. This is their worldview: China=evil, Western democracy=good.
From arguments put forward by some readers, I conclude that they can only handle one unit of information, logarithm of 2 (number of states) to the base 2.
Alex Lo's insinuation of Democracy failures offends their sensibilities. He is better off playing music to a cow, 對牛彈琴.
Indeed, Emily Lau is music to their ears. What endears her to the mindless mob is her level of charlatanism. No matter. The press never made an issue of her total ignorance in Exchange Fund's balance sheet when she confronted Joseph Yam, former CE of HKMA. For the media, undefined “True Democracy” is by far the best topic, where every moron could indulge in the fantasy of power sharing – getting nominated or elected.
I say Hong Kong is not ready for self-government. How could Ms. Lau not knowledgeable in the ABC of accounting become chairman of Legco's Finance Committee?
Some assume a leader elected by universal suffrage will distribute wealth more equitably. What if Anson Chan, who is just as illiterate in economics, gets elected? What if she runs the economy into the ground and your flat’s value becomes halved? What’s left to distribute?
I am talking about scenario planning, not fear mongering. And I am sure this is not something anti-establishment airheads could understand.
honkiepanky
Democracy is not a panacea; it is a mechanism for resolving conflict and conferring legitimacy on government actions. To be against democracy is to be for HK's current cycle of protest and civil strife, resulting from the perception (if not reality) that the government serves the interests of tycoons and Beijing rather than that of the people.
bolshoi
Haha, my thoughts exactly, very good and very funny indeed - I couldn't have put it better myself! Alex is obviously a very intelligent person but I am afraid few in Hong Kong are even willing to listen to his point of view. Critical and independent thinking is what the citizens of this tiny city really need. If you believe whatever Apple Daily tells you, you might as well start reading People's Daily.
johnyuan
WSJ described recently that we are seeing the uprising in dissatisfaction of governments mainly from the middle-class everywhere. I guess the middle-class is much left to fend themselves against injustices that they are experiencing. They are squeezed between the rich and poor economically – income becomes stale or escaping and payout to social benefits is in the rise. Most industrial societies in fact can’t be described as industrial anymore. They don’t make many things. They are now more a financial entities which unfortunately a self-serving activity that making a buck is possible without producing or serving anything or anyone. Not many people are good at that. Money is being funneled into the hands of a few making them like the 19 th century barons awash with cash. The balance between the gatherer (in stock etc) and producer is destroyed. The colossal of the retiring group who has stopped producing makes the imbalance even a larger problem. When technology displaces human work, the employments for youths are also affected. Exporting job is only good to those who do the exporting but not for long. The imports of goods and services they become for the home market will dry up for lack of income and employment. So march in the streets and air your anger. By and large Hong Kong has begun such transformation earlier than many others: few barons with many dissatisfying middle-class. Politic in Hong Kong is and will not necessary to be very helpful.
mcheung
"Icarus Wong Ho-yin, an organiser of yesterday's march, blamed Chief Executive Leung Chin-ying for it. "C.Y. has not delivered what he has promised," he said. "The lives of Hongkongers have been getting worse, with an obvious example being the wide poverty gap.".........The wide poverty gap does not happen overnight, it was caused by years of government mismanagement and collusion with big business. I am no fan of CY, but at least he is willing to tackle this problem, and to be fair, don't expect the problem to be gone overnight or in the near future. I agree with Alex, that democracy does not cure it all, in fact, sometimes it takes an authoritarian with a determination to address the grass roots' issues, employing drastic measures to get the job done.
I think Thomas Jefferson has said something like "Democracy is pleasing the 51% while antagonizing the other 49% of population"
sudouest
Since when the concept of choosing your head every N years is going to solve problems that need solution that is occurring now or in N-2 year ? What is needed is a competent and a responsible government, and an outlet for them to be held accountable for their actions and responsibility given to them. It's that simple.
Democracy is simply one of many solution, but not the ultimate best one. We should develop our own system.
chaz_hen
And if I may add to that: "Why are we seeing so many popular street revolts in democracies?"
Because THEY CAN, unlike places like North Korea or China that crush any crowd gathering that gives leadership fear due to their insecurities.
Today Alex wins the award for highlighting the obvious...
Byebye
The wealth and poverty gap in Hong Kong is obvious, the life of Hong Kong's "have not" is getting unbearable. Therefore, what is the next step? What were the factors that led China to become a communist country? Is Hong Kong going through the same things happened to China prior to communism? Agreed with Mr Alex Lo, demoncracy may not be the panacea for Hong Kong at this moment; action to narrow the poverty/wealth gap is crucial.

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