Look D, I’ve been scooped by The Economist! Could you put The Diary Entry That Never Made It Owing To Geocities’ Malevolence onto the blog? Many thanks…
Wed, 16 Sep
The day gets off to a wonderful start when I stroll into the IFC branch of Pacific Coffee and find wild American friend Odell deep in conversation with a cheesecloth-wearing, beaded backpacker girl ostentatiously clutching a book called Teach Yourself Swahili.
“You shouldn’t call them that,” she is telling him sternly. “They’re officially known as less advantaged or developmentally challenged countries.”
“Look,” my possibly hungover ex-Mormon friend replies, “I’ll stop calling them Third World countries when they stop having stinky toilets!”
Whatever you call them, I helpfully suggest to the pair, you know one when you see it. Neither seems impressed by this wisdom, but it sticks with me as I read in the newspapers that the Cato and Fraser Institutes have announced their annual list of Freest Economies in the Solar System. And the winner is…
Even the Hong Kong Government has grown weary of trumpeting our city’s repeated success, year after year, in this index of states ranked by adherence to classical economic principles, as defined and adjudicated by the think tanks concerned. While we come top in this one, we perform miserably in dozens of other exercises that claim to gauge countries by their quality of life or social justice – usually dominated by Scandinavians and the farther-flung, less messed-up English-speaking places. Nor do we perform outstandingly by many more specific measures, like, to pluck a topic at random, construction worker safety. So we don’t make too much fuss, leaving Our Man in Washington to utter the pleasantries.
(If I were a cynic, I would be tempted to wonder whether Sunday’s deaths of six workers at International Commerce Centre played a role in the Hong Kong Government’s decision to be especially low-key this year about the Freest Economy title. Thank God I am not one – it must be terrible to go around thinking like that all the time.)
There is another reason to be discreet about our perpetual triumphs in doing as Adam Smith, channeled via modern ideologues, wants. And that is that China, our adored motherland, comes in 82nd with a score of 6.54. At best, bringing attention to this difference would be disrespectful. At worst, it would attract allegations of deviationism – if Beijing and the Communist Party are always correct, as some among us profess, the Big Lychee is exhibiting a woeful failure of governance by not achieving a rating in the 6.5-to-6.6 range.
This is compounded by the company we keep in the top 10. The two places that stick out in Cato’s list are Chile and Switzerland, because they are… well, foreign. Perhaps it is to make the table look a little less ‘British Empire’s Greatest Hits’ that the Fraser people omit their Canadian homeland in their version of the list and insert plucky little Estonia – last seen disappearing down an economic vortex of collapsing asset prices as free-markets-plus-currency-peg bites back. Whether it is cultural bias or hard-headed reality that stuffs the Top 10 with Anglo and Asian-Anglo territory, it is difficult to square with Hong Kong’s new role as patriotic and keenly engaged member of the happy, smiling Chinese family. With the 60th anniversary of the PRC fast approaching, Cato’s is the wrong flag to wave.
A glance at the exceedingly murky bottom of the list shows that the Cato methodology has definitely got something going for it.