The case against Bow-Tie

Has Hong Kong reached its tipping point as a world centre? The New York Times correspondent suggests the city is now “too crowded and expensive for its own good.”

The case for the defence would be this. One: people have been saying this sort of thing for years. Two: parts of the article are debatable. For example, the shortage of office and school places is especially pronounced in Hong Kong Island, and there are alternatives elsewhere; the ‘full-to-bursting’ airport is a result of low landing fees and thus inefficient runway usage. Third: is the article’s premise even logical? If Hong Kong is past its prime, why are the rents still zooming up? Conversely, aren’t London and New York approaching their tipping points too, as their property prices rise? Could it be that in fact all these cities are taking another step up the productivity/value-added ladder, pushing less profitable activities out to the suburbs or the Shenzhens and New Jerseys? The defence rests its case, and we note how boring and sensible it is.

The case for the prosecution would be much more fun, because it would all come down to this: it’s all Donald Tsang’s fault. Hong Kong’s last Chief Executive, it is now becoming clear, was a far bigger disaster for this city than his hapless predecessor Tung Chee-hwa ever was. Hong Kong is reaching bursting – thus maybe tipping – point because Tsang did three unforgivable things.

First, he deliberately starved the city of land supply, and made no effort to encourage developers to build in accordance with the local population’s needs. Thus we now have a serious shortage of affordable homes, eye-watering rents, blocks of empty luxury apartments and insufficient office space.

Second, he compounded this deliberate shortage by allowing a massive influx of Mainland visitors and money-launderers. This is a Beijing policy, but as Chief Executive he could (surely) have requested that the liberalization of travel permits be more gradual, given the lopsided nature of 1.3 billion people vs a 400-square-mile city. With a shortage of space, the influx simply displaced existing economic activity, further pushing rents up and concentrating the economy in fewer hands.

Third, Sir Bow-Tie lavished outrageous sums of money on pointless infrastructure projects like the Zhuhai Bridge and the high-speed rail to that suburb of Guangzhou we can never remember the name of. As well as wasting our land and money, these schemes are now putting serious strains on supplies of construction personnel and materials for worthwhile developments. With the bills now coming due, they also threaten to put the government’s budget into deficit for a while. That’s not a problem given the vast reserves, but deficit spending during an already over-heated time like this is what economists call ‘pro-cyclical’, or as the rest of us would put it, ‘stupid’.

The rights and wrongs of the New York Times article don’t really matter. We are being crushed on the sidewalks and trains, choked by rents and prices, squeezed out of schools and hospitals, and we need a scapegoat – no, a real, live perpetrator – and now we have one.

Why did Donald Tsang do it? What was his motive for committing this despicable and malicious crime of cramming Hong Kong into a pressure cooker and turning the heat right up? Who benefited from each of his sins? With land supply it was developers; with Mainlanders it was landlords (developers); with infrastructure it was construction interests (developers plus some civil engineers). Here is another question. To whose homes (I am reliably informed) did Donald Tsang in office often go late at night to play cards, being allowed to win? No prizes for guessing. (I don’t know which ones.)

The obedient masochists of the CY Leung administration refrain from pointing the finger at the instigator of their and our problems, and refuse even to defend themselves as pro-Donald tycoons, media and stooges beat them up over their latest little contrived scandal in the form of Franklin Lam. Instead, we are surely owed a Gu Xilai-style show trial.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong displays its pragmatism, realism, grit and perhaps sense of satire for all the world to see by announcing its favourite brand (and, I shouldn’t wonder, maybe one day its only one).

Great breakthroughs in illegal parking: putting your tacky little sports car not beside the double yellow line, not merely on top of the double yellow line, but between the double yellow line and the sidewalk, Hollywood Road last Friday.
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11 Responses to The case against Bow-Tie

  1. Lois Beluga says:

    It isn’t Bow Tie, it’s all administrations, including this one.

    I never heard of a final figure for Hong Kong’s population or the height of buildings.

    The reason for that is that no one cares.

    Hong Kong is a society of fast buck makers, lemmings and I’m All Right Jacks.

    And they don’t deserve better. Let them stew!


  2. Maugrim says:

    What’s the difference between a supermarket trolley and a politician? You can get more food and drink into a politician. Sir Bow Tie failed HK miserably both in what he did and in what he failed to do.

  3. PropertyDeveloper says:

    If you start with a false premise… The global trend is for the peasants to crush into the cities, with of course difficult choices about building density, traffic management or pollution levels. But HK doesn’t have a hinterland or immigration problem — or at least it didn’t until the border opened. In other words it was doing just fine doing whatever it does best.

    Tipping point is just a mediatised, dumbed-down version of catastrophe theory, whcih predicates more than one variable causing sudden change. In any case these “models” are mostly useful for explaining things after the event, not for understanding ongoing changes. I haven’t noticed any mass emigration from HK — or to NY for that matter.

  4. Walter De Havilland says:

    The downfall of Hong Kong??? We have heard it all before. Remember the French bloke during the handover and his book ” The end of Hong Kong” or something similar. Then it was SARS … same prediction. We are still here.

  5. Stephen says:

    Ah Donald – despite the pious Catholic act he had rampant ego, enjoyed his pats on the head from Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabo and pointing to is grand infrastructure projects and say I did that , that and that. Of course the 4 developer families went along with it gorging on the cash and with Henry the Horse waiting in the wings it was all set to continue.

    There is a chance that a few juicy titbits about Sir Bowtie might come out of the upcoming trial of Raphael Hui and the The Kwoks. But in the end China played him and cooked his goose leaving his reputation in the gutter and for someone of his ego this must be purgatory. Heck he’s not even been elevated to one of their committees.

  6. PropertyDeveloper says:

    Stephen, Your surname wouldn’t start with a V would it?

  7. pcrghllll says:

    I’m sure you could get Superbrands to issue a press release announcing you as “HK’s most preferred blogger”. You’d probably just have to buy 100 or so copies of the lavish Superbrands coffee-table book you appear in. (Ideal as corporate gifts, etc…)

  8. Real Tax Payer says:

    Is that THE Sir Donald-I-will-get-things-done-Tsang you are referring to?

    What a wanker he was

  9. pat says:

    Remember Tsang came in soon after the SARS crisis-he needed to restore property prices and confidence quick or face a middle class revolt like Tung-he over reached but actually returned HK to prosperity. I lived it and felt it. People are too harsh.

  10. Joe Blow says:

    I thought L’il Donald did a great job during the Asian Financial Crisis of ’98.

    But policy-wise and on a personal level there was something extremely annoying and abrasive about the guy. Pompous (personal style), arrogant (HK civil servant attitude) and complacent (facilitating the property cartel) are some adjectives that come to mind.

  11. Failed Alchemist says:

    Let´s not forget to thank him for the great MPF system, handing the Link to the fund managers and cooperate guys thereby ensuring the last Mohicans die a natural death, not challenging rights of abode for all babies born here, also thereby replenishing our aging society especially if kind propagates kind – pushing the new migrants into hell holes where they cannot dig their way out. Nice answer to filling the low wage working class in the future, again benifiting the rich. Giving generously to our education especially to the old boys club like Harrows. We have forgotten all the countless projects under the auspicious & generous Eva Cheng.. but thanks Bowtie. At least we have our jobs cut out for us in the next few years.

    My Storm in the Tea Cup seems to blame the current admistration as the worst seen. Really? Again, thank you Mr. Bowtie for the long tradition of civil servants especially this current batch, which is a carry over if not, blantant blokes that boil over from your time.

    Shall we go on? No wonder the old flag is being dusted off.

    Joe Blow, Bowtie helped us in the 97′ crisis? Better read Jake Vander Kemp & Tom Holland… it was some expat bloke’s idea that was bounced off and finally dropping it Bowtie’s lap. Again, no credit where its due… so typical.

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