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  • Jul 13, 2014
  • Updated: 3:57pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 November, 2013, 3:52am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 November, 2013, 4:05am

Let's hear pan-democrats on poverty

Here are some statistics presented by the economist Leo Goodstadt in a public lecture this week that I find absolutely shocking.

Hong Kong's social expenditure in 2001 was at the same level as the average of OECD members in 1960. However, since the early 1960s, the OECD average has doubled to 22 per cent of GDP. Most Hong Kong people would consider contemporary OECD spending excessive welfarism. But at 1960s or even 1970s levels, surely that can't be justified for an advanced economy like Hong Kong?

Our main welfare payment, called CSSA, took up 8.2 per cent of total government revenue in 2001. This fell to an astonishing 3.6 per cent in 2011. This is no doubt cause for celebration for free-marketeers and our government officials like John Tsang. But you can see the stark realities of those who live in poverty: expect little or no help from the government.

It's so difficult to have a rational and calm discussion on social welfare policy, just like it is on democratic reform.

It's either all or nothing, in both cases. It's actually worse with welfare. People have been arguing about democracy for at least three decades, whereas we have been pretty much against welfare across the political spectrum, from the start. But even if we don't debate it, we still have many disadvantaged people in Hong Kong, the poor, sick, elderly and severely handicapped who can't take care of themselves. And despite the Confucian imperative, many such families can't do it alone without being dragged into grinding poverty. Who's going to help them? Charities, the kindness of our property tycoons? How many Bill Gates are there in this world?

Despite all the wonderful benefits and achievements of free-market capitalism, the problems of poverty are not something it can solve; it creates them. Social welfare is not an all-or-nothing proposition. It's about how much you should provide - unless you just let the unfortunate rot and die.

For capitalism to remain legitimate and palatable - especially after the great financial crisis, which saw the greatest transfer of wealth to the wealthiest global elites - you need decent social safety nets.

I, for one, would take the pan-democrats far more seriously if they would start taking an overt anti-poverty stance.

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johnyuan
Unless otherwise with the help of readers I differentiate poor from poverty. New York City has poor people but not poverty. Hong Kong has both. While poor is relative and can’t be eliminated in normal circumstance (Chairman Mao’s revolution did), but poverty can. And should. A responsible government (President Johnson’s Great Society) and a civic minded public will eliminate poverty in their country and community.
Dai Muff
"The Democratic Party holds the strong view that our government should play a more positive and pro-active role in alleviating poverty, investing in education, and promoting a green economy, all of which would promote the public good." Albert Ho
If you have not heard the pan democrats address the wealth gap, collusion between government and big business, minimum wage, fair competition law, property inflation, housing, old age pensions, the need for long term social planning in the Budgets, instead of handouts for rich and poor alike, all of which contributoe to poverty, you have not been listening very hard. Just a month or so ago you criticised Fernando Cheung for daring to criticise the CE on poverty. After every Budget, the Civic Party has raised the issue of poverty and how the Budget has failed to address it. The Democratic Party's Law Chi-kwong is a member of the Commission on Poverty and chairman of the Community Care Fund Task Force. Poverty is a major part of every July 1st, largely pan-democratic, march. And yet you fail to mention pro-government individuals like Michael Tien who prefer to pretend the government is overstating the poverty figures. You forget to mention how Goodstadt criticises the FTU for turning away from social and worker concerns and focusing more on winning elections (although he does also say Chan Yuen-han finds post 97 government leaders more intransigent than the colonial ones on such issues). Selective myopia?
alexloscmp
Please see my previous column on goodstadt & FTU. You might also mention he criticises the democratic party led by albert ho for being all talk & no action, and essentially taking a pro-business stance; and also long hair for holding up extra "fruit money" for the elderly. whatever you think about the DAB, their actual welfare and neighourhood programs are far more useful than all the nice talk from ho, long hair leung, eu etc. did ho run the numbers on poverty, education and greenie issues? Let see them.
alex lo
Decentralist
The author proves that he is very much like most other paid off opinion machines. He wants Hong Kong to be considered "advanced" or "modern" and his vanity has nothing to do with improving the situation for the poor. If he did, why would he ask for measures that have been tried over and over again? And failed with no exceptions. If relative poverty is conceived an issue, just execute or expel all individuals from undesired income brackets in the observed population. Problem solved. Absolute poverty is a tougher challenge for the self-imposed altruists, obsessed to reduce the infinitely complex reality of human interaction to subjective averages, medians and regression curves. One thing is for sure though - only voluntary agreements and cooperation between free people can fulfill desires and create wealth for all and therefore being the only way poverty can be reduced. A government is nothing but a few people using threats and violence to gain power and resources at the expense of others, especially the poor. If Alex Lo really wanted to help the poor he would ask the politicians to deviate from the communist policies on land ownership and development. This not only multiplies the cost of housing but also consumes tremendous amounts of capital that would otherwise have facilitated new productive sectors to emerge providing higher salaries than serving mainlanders.
XYZ
The concept of relative poverty is a redistributionist's dream because no matter how wealthy a given community, something like 20% will always be considered poor and deserving of richer people's largesse, even in Brunei or Monaco or Beverly Hills.
.
Absolute poverty is no joke, however, and any economic system, perhaps most especially a free-market capitalist one, should make adequate allowance for helping the needy. Hong Kong should do the same.
.
I think Mr. Lo errs slightly when he says that social welfare is about "how much you provide" to the deserving poor. Yes, that it is an important measure, but experience informs us that the manner in which such support is provided is just as important to its efficacy in alleviating long-term poverty as is the amount of resources devoted to the task, particularly if a community is to avoid creating successive generations of dependents living on the margins of society.
Decentralist
The argument and moral in my reasoning is - use of violence can never be accepted and will always make everyone but the rulers and their associated cronies worse off. The poor need help desperately but asking politicians to reduce poverty is like becoming a prostitute to regain virginity. The essence of politics is to either put a price tag, or criminalize the fulfillment of peoples desires. The more a politician talks about helping the poor the more harm he will do to them. Just look at Venezuela.
johnyuan
‘Despite all the wonderful benefits and achievements of free-market capitalism, the problems of poverty are not something it can solve; it creates them.‘
.
Hong Kong’s free-market capitalism had been during its time of economic rise till now proclaimed being a laissez-faire government (government’s role only mainly to protect property rights). For over a decade, as a result Hong Kong was rated and went after fervently (to beat Singapore) the honor as the world’s freest economy by the government.
.
In that process massive wealth that actually derived from virtue of government’s land ownership policy mostly was transferred into the hands of a few. The masses contributed through work of long hours and long week in creating and paying into that dream wealth.
.
Still for the longest time, Hong Kong masses have been kept in the belief that they too could through the laissez-faire government to be the beneficiary to become wealthy or even super wealthy. Hong Kong succeeded and has the second largest number of billionaires in the world. I suspect the very favorable laissez-faire towards property rights has created those over a million poor in Hong Kong who has paid to create those billionaires and multi-billionaires.
.
A Hong Kong get rich dream that never wants to be wakened to see poverty is actually on the rise.
Dai Muff
If there were a young Li Ka-shing around now trying to raise himself out of poverty he would be stopped ... by the likes of Li Ka-shing.
aplucky1
great post
I have always been confused by the lack of care by the government of the elderly here
it is truly shocking
I can only assume it is cause they have no voice and the powers in charge are wealthy already and do not have to worry about these trivial matters as it does not touch their lives
johnyuan
Hong Kong has a very poor track record of its political parties of any persuasion to tackle poverty. It will be more effective than any member or group to fight poverty in Hong Kong if LKS will take the lead. Yesterday in AL's I wrote the following:
.
Let LKS -- our superman in town to take the lead in solving poverty in Hong Kong. He is fully qualified to do so and not the least I urge him to think about the virtue in returning and sharing his wealth among the poor in Hong Kong.
.
It will be a new beginning I hope for life without property as an engine that drives Hong Kong's existence. Don't just roll sugar balls in sugar water?

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