Sophie’s choice: a daddy with a factory

The Hon Sophie Leung GBS JP, the 64-year-old but exquisitely airbrushed representative of the textiles industry in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, generously shares her thoughts on the issue of social mobility:

I am saying all this today to the youngsters of Hong Kong … to move upward, they should take the first step on their own and cannot wait forever for someone else to lift them upwards … It’s up to whether you are willing to work hard on your own … learn to be enthusiastic and optimistic, follow your hearts, fill your hearts with positive thinking. Learn to hold on to opportunity, and live happily and in harmony with the society!

As a result of filling her own heart with positive thinking at an early age, Leung found herself with a father who owned a clothing factory. This sector was, shall we say, stitched up by a group of mainly Shanghainese industrialists who arrived in Hong Kong after the communist revolution in China.

Partly as a reward for not being Cantonese (a rather undependable bunch, old chap), the British colonial authorities awarded these people the Big Lychee’s textiles quotas. These entitled their holders to a given amount of low- or non-tariff access to American and European markets under agreements negotiated to cap imports of cheap apparel into rich countries. These immensely valuable licences were handed out free of charge to the existing main players, rather than auctioned. It was estimated that in the mid-1970s some 15-25% of the value of textiles exports was pure windfall profits for these lucky firms.

The families of Chief Secretary Henry Tang and tycoon-politicians James and Michael Tien made their fortunes this way (all are connected with the Liberal Party, though Sophie left to co-found the crypto-reactionary Economic Synergy group). Like the heirs to today’s property giants, these people never encountered any business success other than the sort handed over on a plate. Competition, level playing fields and the creation of value through innovation are as alien to them as the fact that non-middle-class people who grow up in public housing (even if they gain degree-level qualifications) and/or were born from 1976-1989 are statistically less likely than average to become middle class.

Although it has been declining since the days when leaving a Tang or Tien knitwear sweatshop to sell noodles on the street was a step up, social mobility is no worse in Hong Kong than in many other societies. The real problem is inequality.

As Executive Council member CY Leung never tires of pointing out in his hunger for the post of Chief Executive, real per-capita GDP in Hong Kong grew by 34% from 1997-2006, yet pay for workers on HK$5,000-7,200 went up by less than 4%.* Social mobility and inequality are not strictly the same thing, so it is hard to say whether Sophie’s remedies are applicable. But in her Legco motion last week (Item 17: Adding impetus for promoting upward social mobility) she seems to take a fairly holistic approach to addressing social ills in general. “Promote in … various sectors,” she urges, “the development of a ‘from the heart’ attitude of doing things.” Policymakers around the world kick themselves for not thinking of that first. So maybe those people on HK$5,000 a month should try it. Learn to hold on to opportunity, and live happily and in harmony with the society – or be poor. It’s up to them.

* Or actually declined 12% if they worked in… textiles!

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9 Responses to Sophie’s choice: a daddy with a factory

  1. Harry Barry Gary Larry says:

    As a male, the great thing about getting older is that the age-range of the women you’d bonk keeps on growing larger. To this end, I publicly declare that I’d be up for a bit of Ms Leung. She’s nice and trim, just like HSBC’s bus-pass-holder dancing champion Ms Mimi Monica Wong, whom I also fancied.

  2. Tim Jim Kim Vim says:

    Must be like rogering a roast chicken. And all that face powder and hair lacquer on the pillow afterwards.

  3. PETE says:

    Looks like you’re going to have to close the comments, Hemlock. Most commentators seem to be older white people talking about their desires to have sex with any random HK woman personality (from Miriam to Bobo). Not a good look!

  4. gweipo says:

    Yup, there is a certain amount of “let them eat cake” going on with the powers that be in this country.
    And we all know how that lady ended up.

  5. Herr Torquewrench says:

    Yup – I vaguely remember a period around 1978 (at the height of the denim garment boom) when the quota for a pair of jeans cost more than the cost of making them. Nice work if you could get it (and as our self-proclaimed ‘meritocracy’ did!)

  6. Ferrari-owning-richboy says:

    Haha, talk about hypocrisy here. Don’t you think it’s a bit rich for a lady with a silver spoon to talk about seizing “opportunities” when she got rich through connections rather then her own effort? This is just another example of the elite’s indifference and disdain they have for the common men on the street.

  7. Chanboy says:

    Ms. Leung’s attitude typifies what many in government and the establishment hold. They all see the youth today as lazy ingrates who want to earn something from nothing. They do not understand the economic and social plight facing many of these young people and write them off as vermins. They do not understand the lack of opportunities and frustrations, the despair and fury when doors are repeatedly shut in their face. You can even say the establishment has a hatred against the youth. This serves to wash their hands of their responsiblities and continue to protect their existing little monopolies.

  8. Sam says:

    In previous decades, the elite controlled the property market but many other avenues for small-scale entrepreneurial success remained open.

    Now the tycoons dominate many other sectors and have established a much higher degree of vertical integration in those sectors, reducing entrepreneurial opportunities for the small fish.

    They also use their property holdings to freeze out competitors or give themselves unfair advantage, and the government strangles the rest with costly and time-consuming licensing requirements, regulation, and form-filling.

  9. Freddy Teddy says:

    She’s a better looking Norman Tebbit

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