'Some people, especially those in the business sector and the professional sector, have expressed grave misgivings. They fear that swift and hasty democratisation could turn Hong Kong into a form of welfare state. We don't want to do anything that could undermine our competitiveness or scare off international investors.' Executive councillor Selina Chow on RTHK's Letter to Hong Kong I THINK WE can assume that Mrs Chow speaks for herself as well as these unnamed businessmen and professionals. I think we can also agree with her that we do not want Hong Kong turned into a form of welfare state. That would indeed be a regrettable state of affairs. Just imagine where we would be with a government that was an easy soft touch for people who stick out their hands for public assistance. Where we would be, horror of horrors, is where we are right now with government's doormat practically hidden by a forest of hands stuck out by businessmen in almost every field, not least of them Mrs Chow's of tourism promotion. In matters of handouts from the public purse, the big danger to Hong Kong is not beggars on the street or old people who cannot make ends meet but corporate beggars who have the ear of government and do their begging behind closed doors. It is all couched in terms of the public good, of course, but how interesting that the public good should so invariably be good for private gain too. Cyberport, Science Park, small and medium-sized enterprise assistance, tourism expenditure, the technology initiative, the logistics initiative and the list goes on and on, corporate welfare all of it. You may argue that it is all to good purpose and therefore justified. This is what personal welfare recipients say too when receiving their handouts but they do not make the mistake of giving those handouts the wrong name. Good or bad, it is welfare and yes, Mrs Chow, we are already well on our way to becoming a welfare state. But this should hardly be surprising. Plutocracy, which is essentially what we have at present, may profess the general public interest but inevitably sees it in secondary terms of how the general public will benefit if the wealthy remain wealthy. You know the line. If I make good money, then I can create employment and have room to raise my workers' wages. It is true and, if that secondary benefit were truly the primary purpose, then rule by the wealthy might be a worthwhile system of government. It always breaks down in practice, however. Income and wealth disparities just grow larger. Plutocrats invariably take care of themselves first and second. If Mrs Chow has evidence that the alternative, democracy, will undermine our competitiveness and scare off international investors, I would like to see it. We shall ignore for the moment that it is the pricing cartels so characteristic of a plutocracy that actually undermine competitiveness, deliberately so, and that we are hardly dependent on international investors when dollar for dollar of economic size we are ourselves probably the world's biggest international investors. The only scare I see here is a scare story. All the evidence indicates that the world's wealthiest and most competitive countries are democracies. Why is democracy so bad for us then? According to Mrs Chow, it is because we not ready for democracy yet - 'many of us are becoming politically aware and involved in politics for the first time in our lives'. It is a strange understanding of politics that does not go past procedures of government. What we are talking of here is public policy, questions of how we should constitute government, what laws should be passed to maintain the social order, how we should spend public money and what limits we should set to government authority. I have never found that Hong Kong people shy from talking about these questions, not now and not in all of my 25 years of living here. They talk about them all the time, talk about them knowledgably enough to put similar conversations in Europe and America to shame, and they talk about them with deep interest, 500,000-people of deep interest on the streets last year. If I take you aright, Mrs Chow, and you think that the people of Hong Kong, compared with people in the United States or Britain, are deficient in their understanding of their own social conditions, that they are not grown up enough, are not civilised enough, to have a direct say in their own affairs, then I would like to hear you say it in plain words. Yes, that would be a real vote-winning platform for your Liberal party. Why not attempt a sally from the safe refuge of your functional constituency seats and try it on the overall public of Hong Kong?