‘Professor of Social Work’. Can any job title make a right-thinking person reach for his pistol more quickly? Paul Yip Siu-fai, holder of this position at Hong Kong University, chides the Big Lychee’s leaders for failing to adopt a Singapore-style population policy…
Both Singapore and Hong Kong share very similar population characteristics: a rapidly ageing population and very low fertility rates. Both worry about the negative impact of a shrinking workforce with an ageing society.
However, the way the two governments are responding to the challenges is very different. Singapore has been trying to divert the course of its population development to a desirable direction whereas Hong Kong’s last administration just wasted time … we have yet to develop an integrated approach to enable our population to grow stronger and better.
He then describes priority housing, paternity leave and other Singaporean measures that, he says, lead the Lion City’s women to produce two babies each rather than Hongkongettes’ rather miserable 1.6. He continues…
The Singaporean government also realises the importance of building a strong, high-quality workforce. It has pledged that, by 2030, two-thirds of Singaporean workers will hold professional, managerial, executive or technical positions, up from half at present … increase the percentage of young people [at] university … identifying potential migrants who can contribute to the economy … diversified its industry [via] biomedicine, advanced electronics and green energy…
Unlike Hong Kong, where university attendance is low, growth even in boring old financial services is slow and the tourism industry is unbalanced. The Professor admits that immigration is provoking a backlash in Singapore; he also bemoans Hongkongers’ ‘protectionist’ views on migrant labour and foreign students, and business opposition to pro-family policies.
Buried away in the article is a brief mention that GDP does not necessarily equate to happiness. And few would dispute his concerns about Hong Kong’s livability. But the bottom line here is that humans are economic inputs – production units, sort of like ants, only harder to breed. The purpose of their existence is to expand output and replicate, and if they aren’t doing it enough to be able to repeat the cycle adequately, bureaucrats need to start micromanaging tertiary education rates and the number of children families have, to rear a ‘strong, high-quality workforce’.
For the last 15 years or so, Hongkongers have been told through various subtle or blatant means that their city is losing competitiveness, that other places will ‘take over’ – that they should fear the future. Some of the scaremongering may have had an element of truth; a lot of it seems to have been spread by local elites to suit their own agendas, while more than a little of it can be traced to Beijing’s officials seeking to cow the population into tameness and obedience.
Anxiety about Singapore is a particularly inane and facile part of this phenomenon. The correct view of Singapore is: Who gives a damn about Singapore? (If you do care about the place, it should be out of concern that they have held their economy back by importing semi-skilled Third World labour to keep outdated industries going. One former civil servant down there says the Lion City should ditch its World City pretentions and accept that at best it’s on a par with – he says – Zurich, Tel Aviv or an obscure turnip-growing community in England called Boston.)
Same goes for the ‘aging population’ hype. Some people deny climate change; I can’t believe that the aging population is a problem. How can people living longer because they are healthier be a ‘problem’, unless you see the world through the perverse eyes of a social-engineering eugenicist eager to roll out his detailed plans for universal compulsory euthanasia and pining for the days when typhoid eliminated the production units before their economic utility declined?
Hong Kong does have a cohort of poor elderly born and raised – and denied much education – during the chaos of the 1930s-40s. And we have ample resources to look after them. Subsequent generations will mostly have enough earning power to provide more for themselves in old age, and good enough health to work a few years beyond traditional retirement age if necessary. Education, antibiotics, clean water, sewerage systems and ample nourishing food have not created a ‘problem’. Former Chief Executive Donald Tsang and his followers would have you believe in this bogeyman, but they wanted an excuse to hoard the people’s accumulated wealth.
Obviously, Hong Kong does have some real problems. A massively screwed-up land/housing system, a distorted economy, unbreathable air and a Communist-approved government too weak to override the silliest little interest group. If babies could solve these problems – great. And we wouldn’t need to push Hong Kong women into reluctant motherhood: just give permanent residency to all those Mainlanders and Filipinos, and we’d have all the kiddies you could possibly need.
As it happens, babies are even less likely to provide solutions than a South China Morning Post op-ed piece. (Mercifully: imagine all the whining about the shortage of milk formula if each woman had 3.2 rather than 1.6 of the things?)