Last weekend, 700 elderly people marched through Central demanding the government shell out HK$3,000 a month to everyone aged 70 or over. The demonstration was proof that sagacity does not necessarily come with age. Where do these oldies imagine this money is coming from? Most have never paid a cent in income tax and would throw up their hands in horror at suggestions public pensions be linked to personal contributions. So where do they get the idea that the rest of society should pay them HK$36,000 a year, added to the costly subsidised housing, and medical and social welfare benefits already available? The proportion of elderly people in the population is rising fast. Twenty years ago, there were 187,600 people aged 70 or over. Today, there are 618,300. By contrast, in 1985 there were 103,400 people aged 25; today there are just 93,600 25-year-olds. What these figures illustrate vividly is that prosperity and better health services have more people living longer, while demographic trends towards having smaller families mean there are fewer young taxpayers to support the elderly. Paying the 70-somethings HK$3,000 a month would cost roughly HK$22.3 billion a year. Of course, such simple arithmetic means nothing to the Joint Alliance for Universal Retirement Protection, the dreamers who organised the demonstration and who waved a petition they claim was signed by 44,000 people. So what? How about if all taxpayers sign a petition that they no longer want to pay income tax. Is Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen about to say: 'Okay, you don't want to pay tax so we'll just forget about it.'? I don't think so. But the alliance organisers seem to feel the government will listen seriously to their demands; what planet do they inhabit? They want to raise business taxes to fund the handouts. Can you think of any better way to torpedo our economy? The demand for generous pensions is the latest example of the growing climate of entitlement. We've largely abandoned the old can-do Hong Kong spirit and the philosophy of hard toil. Now we have a handout attitude. Instead of looking to ourselves and our families to improve our lot in life, we are now expecting government and society to bail ourselves out of trouble, to house and feed and pamper us. Much of the fault rests squarely on the shoulders of populist politicians who cowardly support the most unrealistic of expectations. These vote-scrabblers do not have the moral courage to stand up and say squarely to such people as the elderly marchers that what they demand is beyond the capacity of the community to pay. Hong Kong's moral outlook is changing and in some ways not for the better. Four decades ago, we were a poorer society. Everybody worked. Our ability to toil raised Hong Kong by the straps of its plastic sandals to prosperity. In two short decades we were the wonder of the world. We moved from squatter huts into public housing into sumptuous estates. Our children went to university. Everyone toiled to improve their lives and as everyone did better, the entire economic platform rose for all. Today, it seems the opposite is the case. There are 523,163 people getting some form of benefit under Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA.) They get about HK$17.7 billion a year. In the 2004-05 financial year, 1,239,755 people paid salaries tax, digging deep to give the taxman HK$37.7 billion. We now suffer from a culture of entitlement. Everyone believes they have the absolute right to free education, heavily subsidised health care and housing, free social security and a host of other benefits and packages that people seem to feel are financed out of thin air. Someone has to pay for these things. But from the attitude and public statements of many of our so-called political leaders, you could think all these benefits are being produced by some wizard pulling them from a hat. We've got constant calls for reduced public transport fares and for rent cuts in the already very inexpensive public housing estates. These calls are supported blindly by populist give-it-away politicians who will lower themselves into the gutter to scrape up votes. We need someone to bluntly explain the fiscal facts of life. Of course, society must protect and care for the vulnerable. Of course, the aged need special attention and benefits. But our community simply cannot afford to pay HK$3,000 a month in old-age benefits to all. And the old folks who marched last week must be made to realise this basic economic fact of life.