• Fri
  • Dec 26, 2014
  • Updated: 10:24pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 December, 2013, 5:18am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 December, 2013, 5:18am

Can we ever get rid of poverty?


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.

We can never eliminate poverty, says Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

The chief secretary made the statement, for which she was heavily criticised in the legislature, back in late October.

Nonsense, counters Chong Chan-yau, the social activist and president of the Hong Kong Blind Union.

Speaking at a poverty forum organised by the South China Morning Post, Chong said yesterday Lam is wrong in principle and may be using it as an excuse to avoid committing adequate public resources to tackle poverty. It is simply the wrong mindset, he said.

Logically, I agree with Lam. How can you eliminate poverty, crime or sickness in society? But Chong always has the intellectual force and facts at his command so I hesitate to disagree with him.

The way the government has now drawn the poverty line - those earning less than half of median monthly household income - is comparative. So it's almost by definition you will always have someone below it.

The new poverty line equates to HK$3,600 for a single worker and HK$11,500 for a family of three. After discounting existing benefits paid in cash, some 403,000 households, or 15.2 per cent of the population, are classified as poor.

Can Chong seriously think we can eliminate poverty in an absolute way? Is it possible to raise all 403,000 households above the poverty line? Perhaps the line itself, the product of statistics and conventions, is itself meaningless. Leo Goodstadt, the economist and a panellist at the forum, has previously argued the poverty line is useless, or worse.

It says nothing about a poverty alleviation target, to which Lam has absolutely refused to commit the government and its resources.

Perhaps what Chong means is that you need to believe it is possible to eliminate poverty. It's only in this way that people would be committed to make a difference. By declaring the battle cannot be won from the outset, the government is just being self-defeating. How can officials be committed if they assume the cause is lost from the start? Perhaps that's still too charitable.

By setting a poverty line, the administration of Leung Chun-ying gives the appearance of doing something when really nothing much has changed.


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This article is now closed to comments

"Respect is earned. If there isn’t a chance to earn it, how do you expect to get respect from you or anyone?" Perhaps the reason why there isn't a chance to earn it is because you are not competent enough. Interesting that you cited NY as an example. Just about two blocks away from Park Avenue are some of the worst slumps in the US, where the gap between rich and poor is even more stark. Are you aware of how many people in the Bronx area that depend on soup kitchens and food banks? Yet just within 15 mins on the Subway you get into the Central Park area and mid-town Manhattan where property prices could be even more expensive than HK. Those rich and famous or the financiers on Wall Street are even more prepared to flash their cash at high-end stores on the Fifth Avenue. If you have not heard the phrase "...the Greenback reigns" then you really do not know about NY. Now that is "survival for the fittest" culture. If you think you can't afford to live in a city like that, always free to move elsewhere...
To ***....
First thing first:
Where opportunity for fair competition is absent as Hong Kong has always been, it is meaningless to use competency as a means to competition success. Your reasoning that ‘why there isn't a chance to earn it [respect] is because you are not competent enough’ is mightily faulty.

Secondly history and facts:
Your vast research on NYC yields unfortunately a report presenting it as current but actually of mixed periods in NYC’s development history. There were slumps shortly after the WWI located in the Lower Eastside area. Two blocks west of Park Avenue is the Central Park which during the last Great Depression, the destitute pitched tents there. Two blocks east before the WWII were mainly carriage houses and tenements where horses and servants lived in service to the rich in pre-war buildings of Park Avenue. I am afraid centuries of economic progress had all of them transformed. I don’t know if there are soup kitchens in the Bronx, but the Bartholomew Church on Park Avenue near the Grand Central Terminal may still has one. NYC has everything one can imagine including the most expansive property (latest the GM Building by square foot) but also the most egalitarian attitude where minimum wage and negative income tax all have been instituted for decades. .
To ***....
Thirdly conclusion:
What NYC has NOT got is the mentality of the kind of “the survival of the fittest” and that one’s wealth is built upon predatory business and exploitation and creation of poverty. New Yorkers believe as the theme song says “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere” which denotes New York City is a tougher city for one to succeed. That very toughness comes in part from fair competition requirement. No honor to blow about otherwise.
I shall not pursue poverty any further with you. It is meaningless because it is fruitless to do so with false feedback information. I will reinstate though that “the survival of the fittest’ mentality is primitive and, more, impulsive which can only survive in a refugee culture.
Now it is time at last to reply to AL’s caption: I conclude that as long as Hong Kong is still squarely lodged in the 50s of the last century of its refugee culture in making and embracing poverty, Hong Kong can never get rid of its poverty. Even an official recently had gravely said so. And some would make sure the refugees still would cross the border nonstop.

The colossal misrepresentation of facts about NYC in the posting signed with an obscure alias make me mildly nervous if my postings have been unduly targeted. As in other occasions I can discern some but not all when only a Dislike of my postings that don’t even fit for Like or Dislike to respond. I only surmise that there could be an agenda by some individual or group in carrying out a mission at the SCMP comment columns. The misrepresentations of NYC are tidbits and could be the contributions from many sources. The writer(s) compiled them as a whole without truly familiar with the city to correspond with me.




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