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My Take
PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 September, 2013, 1:48am

Model societies we can learn from

Funny how when you write something naughty in Hong Kong about the US and Britain, you are automatically accused of being anti-Western. Well, there is still the small continent known as Europe, where anti-US and anti-British sentiments are not unknown.

I rather idealise Scandinavia and think those Nordic countries and the Netherlands provide the model societies which we Chinese would do well to emulate. You already know why if you read those periodic reports on human development and good governance indexes produced by the United Nations and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Their citizens are richer, happier, better educated and more egalitarian - and yes, taller - than the rest of us.

The UN World Happiness Report 2013 confirms all these, as well as the OECD Better Life Index. Other nations that come close are Australia, Canada and Switzerland: all Western, all democratic, and all worth learning from.

This is what troubles me. References to the US and UK dominate our political, economic and public discourse in Hong Kong when by virtue of their smaller population, economy and intrinsic cultural values, those north European countries are far more relevant to our situation.

"Getting to Denmark" is a problem social scientists have long fretted about when it comes to transforming poor, developing and/or failed states into developed status. With reason, it's not called getting to the US or the UK.

The Dutch might have done one better in balancing social engineering with personal freedom. They have long regulated marijuana use while Copenhagen is still fighting the rest of Denmark to make it legal. But north Europe's liberal stance is still far ahead of the US-inspired war on drugs, which has lasted decades, wasted trillions and ruined lives of millions - only to see the problem getting worse.

As one critic writes: "The Dutch invented much of the world of 2013: bicycles in cities, legal soft drugs and gay marriage. Their next scheme to go global will be legal euthanasia."

It's not all hunky dory. You just have to read Stieg Larsson's "Millennium series" to know about Sweden's dark side or remember Norway's right-wing extremist mass killer Anders Behring Breivik.

But no society is perfect.


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This article is now closed to comments

Alex Lo is without a doubt a Chinese nationalist. But he's a rational nationalist, and not the kind that smashes up sushi restaurants or cars with Japanese brand names. I see eye to eye with him, and I am sure many of our nationalist commenters like whymak would agree with Alex as well.

I favor this pragmatic view over whatever self righteous screed Audrey Eu comes up with. Who's with me?

I'd love to have a beer with Alex, or better yet some "coffee" in one of Amsterdam's famous coffee shops!
Can't agree more with your final paragraph. The structure is not enticing to capable leaders.
A retired AO who never worked a day in private sector once asked me a question that stunned me. He asked what would happen if I offered a business plan and failed. "Start typing resume." He even asked why I would take such risk. There you go.
Vision? Why would the Brits leave HK with visionaries? That's why they are called Administration Officers.
All right. Let's go along with Mr Lo and accept that these societies have something worth emulating.

The key hallmarks of these societal models however are not legalised marihuana, or gay marriage but:
- a far-reaching and inclusive welfare state,
- low income inequality achieved through highly progressive taxation,
- inclusive public facilities up to a mandatory level (as in: all go to public schools and public hospitals, not a two tier system of public vs private)
- pluriform political landscapes, with directly proportionate representation rather than a district system, nearly always leading to fragmentation, compromising coalition governments and the resulting checks and balances on power,
- an absolute respect for the separation of powers, the principle of non-discrimination and strictly no interference by the otherwise very powerful state in matters like press freedom, religion, etc

You want to get Hong Kong 'to Denmark'? Great, let's begin right away by putting in place a political system of governance that could actually support and implement such far reaching changes, if the electorate indeed desires to get 'to Denmark.' That will have to be one with full universal suffrage, an inclusive, directly proportionate representative legislative power (abolish all functional and even geographic constituencies that distort the one-man-one-vote principle), and an end of all attempts to limit freedom of press, association and more (see: Article 23).
The Anglo-Saxon democratic systems in U.K. and U.S. may not be superior to the current Hong Kong model. In U.K., the prime minister is elected by the M.P.'s not by the people directly. In U.S., the president is elected by the electoral system, not by a direct popular vote. Hence, both prime ministers and presidents could be elected by less than 50% of the voters. For instance, the first term of George W. Bush’s presidency was elected by less than 50% of the voters, which was prophesized by Dr. Louis Cha Leung-yung in 1990’s.
As long as the system serves its people well, we must accept that there is no perfect system for electing our officials, whether it is democratic or meritocratic. I think Hong Kong is now distracted by the means of electing the next C.E., and ignores the goal of electing a capable C.E. If we mix up the goal and the means, we have already failed. If there is a quality C.E. candidate proposed by the “pan-democrats”, both Hong Kong and the central government will openly accept him/her.
In my humble opinion, during the colonial time, Hong Kong civil servants were well trained to execute the government policies, but not taught to develop the long-range policies. In fact, the colonial education system did not teach us anything about the visions of Hong Kong. It might have developed many good doctors, engineers, accountants, bankers, or lawyers, but very few statesmen. Therefore, not many quality C.E. candidates are now available. (Oops! No offence.)
Look at the architecture. Look at the signage. They are all esthetically pleasing. Environment makes us what we are. It affects our attitude and mindset. A visually jarring city produces a jarring city as well. No depth and no restrains in behavior.
Actually, I like Alex too. He is pragmatic and some times to the extent that doesnt go down well with the current sentiments. Ideologically, the pan democrats are ok but they are extremely 1 sided with their arguments and seem only concerned with politics and nothing else. I think we can be both democratic and economically competitive and it doesnt have to be 1 way traffic. i have to say that i really get worried when the society gets overly loopsided 1 way or other.
Journalists I'm afraid tend to be behind the curve. Many are touting these resource rich states at a time when their high tax state welfarism are showing signs of cracks.
Would Hong Kong people be willing to pay ridiculously high income tax and GST?
I think you know the answer
'Good' trumps 'right', says Abraham Razack of property fight
Abraham Razack, the real estate moguls' man in Legco, is gearing up for a battle over the government's market cooling rules
Monday, 23 September, 2013, 4:41am
Joshua Butjoshua.but@scmp.com
Today’s article above disappeared after a short appearance. I responded to Razack’s self-defense with a comment below:
Razack says that in recent years the government has departed from the "traditional values that we were brought up with". So what were the traditional values? All good and right? In fact, don’t choose between good and right. Just listen to reason and you will take them both. It is both good and right for CY Leung and his administration to clamp down on property speculation just as all concerned governments would have done.
You can always resign from representing the property sector and concentrate on your charity work.
May God be with you always.
The article by Alex Lo was written on 18th September. I wrote "Hong Kong is in need of a REFORM. People who love and care without their selfish agenda for Hong Kong, please start brainstorming and lets contribute to make Hong Kong a fair society, no more cartels as mentioned in this article. Lets start by thinking we are living in an unique city with a Chinese touch under China (this is real), so...... ???? First get rid of this guy mentioned here!
Population size matters. Society of large population is harder than a smaller population to be run. While economy of scale may work in favor the other side of the coin is disaster of scale when things aren’t working well for the large population. It may not be as easy to emulate those Nordic Nations by China or even USA. However, Hong Kong with its 7 million plus really should do well as a society since NYC has 8.6 million and does rather well as a city.




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