'Competition in Hong Kong is clearly broken. It won't be fixed until we write the rules, pick the winners and losers, and enforce the chosen outcomes. This is the only way a modern economy can achieve a true state of competition.' Ronny Tong Ka-wah Co-chair, Civic Party 'Civic Party is a serious party whose aim is to promote democracy and socialism.' Civic Party website SO THE NEW Civic Party is not a joke after all but a serious party. It says so itself. Well, well, well, we live and learn. How odd that I should have thought it a joke. But why is this serious party trying to confirm my first impression of it? Leave aside that democracy and socialism have always been odd bedfellows, when you put a rag tag collection of barristers and academics together you are unlikely to get much understanding of how competition works. Count them, 15 members of the executive committee and the only one with any career experience of competition is tax specialist Mandy Tam Heung-man who holds the rotten borough seat for accountancy in the Legislative Council. Even her experience of it is only a very secondary one at best. Barristers, however, have never been slow to talk (and talk and talk and talk) about things on which they only briefed themselves yesterday. Mr Tong was certainly quick to do so. His remarks came in a press release in which he announced that he and a party colleague will chair a new Antitrust and Competition Policy Bureau. Quick indeed. If you have not heard any official announcement of this commission yet, you will just have to be content with Ronny's assurance that 'the government will issue its own statement on the issue later this week'. This statement, he says, is expected 'to cite the important issue of providing jobs for the underprivileged in the legal profession'. Got it. The Civic Party may tell you that it is not, emphasise not, just a barristers party. No, not at all, far from it, perish the thought. That is why you get just the usual obsession of barristers with barristers when you scratch its surface. Might it be a good idea, Ronny, to provide jobs for the underprivileged in other professions as well? Why mention only the legal one? And can lawyers not hire the underprivileged without a new commission to tell them to do so? How many have you hired in your own chambers? Let us deal with Ronny's thoughts on competition, however. Barristers, after all, are supposed to be good at argument and so perhaps I have it wrong in thinking that the proper sequence in these matters is premise, then argument and conclusion at the end. Ronny starts off with conclusion - 'Competition in Hong Kong is clearly broken'. Well, perhaps, and perhaps judges ought also to arrive at decisions without hearing evidence. Could you please tell us, Ronny, how you know this of competition in Hong Kong? Let us in on the insights you have acquired from your vast experience of business affairs. Tell us also, please, in what courtroom the prosecutor can hop on the bench, kick the judge aside and deliver his own favoured verdict or 'chosen outcomes', as you put it. If your commission is meant to investigate competition, don't you think you might want to do a little of this investigation first? Is that beneath you? And when you tell us that competition won't be fixed until we write the rules, are you aware that we already have a lot of rules on fair competition? Tell your clerks to look up the Independent Commission Against Corruption and Securities and Futures Commission, among many others. They may not cover all eventualities but what, may I ask, allows a barrister with no experience of the marketplace to be so confident of knowing where all the loopholes are and of knowing all the right ways to plug them? What, in addition, is this talk about 'pick the winners and losers'? It seems to me, Sir, that you want to write rules about competition before you have even bothered to learn what competition means. The whole point, you see, is not to pick winners and losers. You let the marketplace do that. The idea behind competition is to let everyone contend to be the winner. It is a surprisingly good way of ensuring that the fittest contender will win. I recognise, however, that this is an extremely difficult concept for a barrister to take on board, very arduous indeed. How much simpler to have 'chosen outcomes' and then be able to enforce them, as in the Civic Party's stated aim to promote socialism, you know. How much simpler also to say as baldly as you did that 'in Hong Kong, individuals do not enjoy complete freedom, why should business enjoy absolute freedom?' Business enjoys absolute freedom, hmmm ... Yes, scorn the facts, Ronny. Who needs them? Disdain them even in your own profession. There are no laws governing commerce, none at all. A barrister has spoken. May I suggest, Sir, that you indulge your absolute freedom to step into a courtroom? Then do us all a favour. Stay there.