My Take
PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 August, 2013, 3:13am

An upside to a downside problem


Alex Lo is a senior writer at the South China Morning Post. He writes editorials and the daily “My Take” column on page 2. He also edits the weekly science and technology page in Sunday Morning Post.

Estate agents complain the government's property cooling measures are killing their business. But builders have long warned about labour shortages, especially skilled construction workers.

Just last month, the new chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, Stanley Lau Chin-ho, called for importation of foreign labour to make up for the shortfall in the supply of construction workers, among other labour sectors.

So, we have a perfect match here. Jobless agents, many of them young and in their prime, should switch careers and work in construction. They have to be less picky. The days of making easy money are over. It's gone, buddy!

Instead of being parasitic middlemen with nothing to contribute to the productivity of our economy, let's try to be useful for once and actually build something. I know this must be a novel concept: to make an honest living. But it's good for the soul.

Agents and the bosses like Shih Wing-ching have protested in the streets. They have called media conferences to air their grievances. But that's a bit rich. When times were good, they were earning fat commissions. Did they complain that absurdly high property prices were driving ordinary people out of the market? Of course not! Now they think the government and society owe them something.

Hong Kong's housing prices surged 120 per cent from 2008 and are now 34 per cent above their peak in 1997. Any responsible government would have to introduce anti-bubble measures. One agent who joined a mass protest last month, said: "When the market was good, we had no time to go out for lunch because clients kept calling to look for flats. Today, I do not dare to go out for lunch because I have no money." Oh, you poor thing!

It's in the nature of market bubbles that they cannot last. If these agents thought the gravy train would go on indefinitely, they were incredibly naïve. Several major agencies warn they could close up to a third of their offices.

Well and good! Instead of streets lined with ugly agency offices, whose windows are plastered with sales posters, we will have restaurants and shops selling useful and interesting things again.

If more agencies go under, maybe we can have our street life back again.


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An upside to a downside problem

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