If you think of money as the lubricant in civil society, hoarding it is the equivalent of seizing up an engine. When cash is allowed to pile up, the lubricant- payments for goods and services that allow people, in turn, to pay for more goods and services (plus provisions for those who cannot work)- ceases to flow. And one of the most dedicated hoarders in Hong Kong is the government, which boasts a fiscal surplus of HK$71 billion and reserves of about HK$600 billion.
Less of a boast is the number of people in the city who go hungry. According to Oxfam's World Wealth Report 2011, 45.9 per cent of the 144,400 low-income households in Hong Kong with children aged 15 or under have experienced 'food insecurity'- being uncertain of having enough food and occasionally being unable to meet basic needs.
It would be the height of stupidity for the government to have no savings at all, but when does prudent wealth management turn into hoarding? The government does recognise it has an embarrassment of riches; hence the HK$6,000 it is trying to give to the city's six million adult permanent residents.
We could all, of course, give that HK$6,000 to the Heart of Hong Kong relief fund (see page 92), organised by the South China Morning Post. The proceeds will go to a pair of NGOs operating food banks in the city: St James' Settlement and the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals. But wouldn't it have been easier if the government had seen the need and done the deed?
Would anyone have even noticed if Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah had given us just HK$5,000 and used the other HK$1,000 to feed the hungry? The resulting HK$6 billion- plus would have dwarfed the HK$100 million the government set aside in 2008 to fund food banks.
Having said that, HK$6 billion would also pay for an awful lot of concrete... Perhaps you were right to give us the full HK$6,000, after all, Mr Tsang.