Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying should beware of excessive government intervention
Leung Chun-ying says laissez-faire policy is outdated and the government needs to play a guiding role in the economy.
That immediately scares a lot of people, including me. I am no neo-liberal or free-market fanatic. I assume sometimes smart officials with well-defined policies and priorities can make wise and productive decisions at least some of the time.
If intervention means better welfare, education (and I don't mean national education), health care, retirement funding and housing, I am all for it. But if it means building more white elephants like the Kai Tak cruise terminal and the underused Western Corridor to Shenzhen, then maybe not. The former will mean decisively reversing the budget cuts and neglect of our people's welfare and well-being under Leung's predecessors. The latter will mean continuing and following their folly.
So the question is how will the chief executive and his lieutenants plan their interventions? Do we have enough smart and competent people in government - or can we attract more of them - to think through and work out the full implications of Leung's agenda? So far, Leung's record has not been reassuring.
I applaud his welfare policy to help the elderly and needy by earmarking HK$50 billion and other subsidies that will increase recurrent funding. His goal of building close to half a million new flats in the next 10 years is laudable. But without sufficient land supply, the target of 480,000 new flats will remain a pipe dream.
However, his series of heavy-handed measures against property speculation and to cool an overheated market such as the imposition of extra stamp duties have proved to be pretty ineffective. His idea of a hi-tech push via a technology and innovation bureau, currently blocked by pan-democrats, is neither here nor there. It doesn't look like it will waste a lot of money, but is unlikely to turn us into a hi-tech hub.
I am all for social policies and subsidies like education to help people, especially youngsters, to get ahead. God knows we need to reverse the downward mobility that is currently a dangerous trend for many young people. But the government should not tell people and industries how to get ahead.