Scores of people have been hailed as the prophet of this digital age, but few have a stronger claim than the late science fiction satirist Douglas Adams. He had a thing or two to teach us about Hong Kong's economy too. In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, first broadcast as a radio play in 1978, Adams described the wanderings through space of hapless earthling Arthur Dent, assisted by a remarkable device. This was The Hitchhiker's Guide itself, which Adams described as looking like an electronic calculator (this was 1978 remember) with a screen about three inches by four. 'It's a sort of book,' explains one of Arthur's companions helpfully, 'It tells you everything you need to know about anything.' Compiled by a team of roving researchers who update entries in real time, Adams' Guide resembled nothing so much as a combination of Wikipedia, TripAdvisor and Time Out, accessed from an iPad. 'In many of the more relaxed civilisations on the outer eastern rim of the galaxy, The Hitchhiker's Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopaedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom,' Adams wrote, adding with remarkable perspicacity: 'For though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older more pedestrian work in two important respects. First it is slightly cheaper; and secondly it has the words DON'T PANIC inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover.' But Adams wasn't only a techno-visionary. He also had some trenchant views about grand infrastructure projects and the government officials who promote them. The planning officer who authorised the demolition of planet earth to make way for an un-needed hyperspatial express route, he described as 'not a pleasant sight ... his highly domed nose rose high above a small piggy forehead. His dark green rubbery skin was thick enough for him to play the game of Vogon civil service politics, and play it well'. As for civil servants as a breed, 'it was as if the forces of evolution had simply given up on them ... turned aside and written them of as an ugly and unfortunate mistake'. Later Adams tells of an attempt to revitalise the economy of the marsh planet Squornshellous Zeta by investing in 'a cyberstructured hyperbridge, hundreds of miles in length, to carry ion-buggies and freighters over the swamp'. Any resemblance to the Hong Kong government's pet Zhuhai bridge project is unfortunate, because the Squornshellous project was a disaster. At the opening ceremony 'the entire thousand-mile-long bridge spontaneously folded up its glittering spans and sank weeping into the mire, taking everybody with it', and the planet's economy too. But where Adams really has something prophetic to tell us about Hong Kong's economy is in his sad tale of Frogstar World B. This was a 'thriving happy planet ... a normal world'. Except for one thing: 'there were slightly more shoe shops than one might have thought necessary' and the number was increasing. 'It's a well known economic phenomenon, but tragic to see it in operation, for the more shoe shops there were, the more shoes they had to make, and the worse and more unwearable they became.' And as their shoes fell apart, so people had to buy even more of them, and the number of shoe shops mushroomed. Before long, it became economically impossible to do anything but make and sell shoes, as the economy passed what Adams called 'the shoe event horizon'. 'Result - collapse, ruin and famine.' By now this should be sounding eerily familiar. Think back to 1997. As property prices ballooned, so rents soared. Pretty soon, small businesses found they were unable to survive. Shops, restaurants, laundries all closed to be replaced by real estate agents, the only sort of business that could still hope to make enough profit to pay the rent. As a result, the number of people employed in the real estate sector went through the roof. From 40,000 at the beginning of the 1990s, the number shot up to 85,000 at the height of the bubble, 3.7 per cent of Hong Kong's workforce. The city had passed the real estate event horizon. The result - collapse and ruin, if not famine. But Hongkongers have short memories. As the property market has recovered in recent years, so the estate agents' offices have proliferated once again at the expense of other businesses. At the end of June this year, the government reported 119,000 employees working in the real estate sector, or 4.6 per cent of the city's workforce (see the chart). Add in another 58,600 working in the construction industry and the proportion comes to 6.8 per cent. Then factor in all the surveyors, architects, engineers and the like who service the property sector, as well as the city's mortgage bankers, and we easily have more than 10 per cent of Hong Kong's workforce employed in the property market, far more than ever before. How long this can be sustained I don't know, but it's hard to shake off the impression that Hong Kong is following the same trajectory as Adams' Frogstar World B, and that the city is once again approaching its very own real estate event horizon.