How to escape from the ‘Tacitus trap’

We have a winner. Tacitus did write something vaguely along the lines that no-one cares whether policies are any good if the government is unpopular; he was referring to the Emperor Galba, of whom Wikipedia says:

…’In sexual matters he was more inclined to males, and then none but the hard bodied and those past their prime’ … was notoriously cruel throughout the Empire … levied massive taxes against areas that were slow to receive him as Emperor … sentenced many to death without trial … further disgusted the populace by his meanness … was entirely in the hands of favourites … was indolent and apathetic … put on a linen corset … around 120 people claimed the credit for killing [him]…

No mention of any illegal structures, but I have to say the physical resemblance is startling.

The origins of the ‘Tacitus trap’ are still unclear. I would guess Chinese propagandists picked up on it because, being ancient, it appeals as a sound, almost scientific, principle, yet is comfortably distant culturally, as if to say ‘obviously the well-established fact that people still hate an unpopular government even if the policies are good doesn’t apply to socialism with Chinese characteristics and the much-loved Communist Party, but it’s worth bearing in mind’.

Legislative Council President Tsang Yok-sing sees the Hong Kong government’s own ‘Tacitus trap’ arising from Paul Chan: people should like plans for more homes, yet they are absorbed with baiting the Development Secretary for his wife’s tiresome land holding. So we would expect Chan to be resigning around now. But no, Franklin Lam, non-executive member of the Executive Council is standing down instead. Like Chan/Chan’s wife, he executed a property transaction at an awkward time, leading to loud but unfounded charges of conflict of interest from Chief Executive CY Leung’s opponents, detractors and the usual range of useful idiots.

As noted a couple of years ago, Lam is unusual in that he has original ideas (nothing amazing, but in a universe of ex-bureaucrats and yes-men he shone). That said, several other thinking individuals have passed through Hong Kong’s prime policymaking body over the years, and how many clever initiatives have come out? One guy, Arthur Li, dreamed up kindergarten vouchers; that’s about as near to freakish genius it’s ever been.  

Which is why, to those of us who value substance over style, the thesis of the ‘Tacitus trap’ remains unproven. CY is plainly an amateur by the standards of the Emperor Galba, and maybe his administration could yet be saved if it came out with some decent policy. By ‘decent’ I mean ‘popular because it benefits the community as a whole and – as glorious icing on the cake – causes intense pain to people we all hate’. Intelligent populism.

There is not enough bandwidth to list all the possible ideas, many of which are far from new, but to grab a few out of the air… Convert golf courses and Disneyland into housing and parks. Slap a big sales tax on luxuries to divert Mainland shoppers elsewhere. Freeze all civil service pay for a decade or two until private-sector remuneration catches up. Use 10 or 20 percent of the reserves to sort out the worst health/poverty/environment horrors. Force these tedious-sounding ‘elite’ schools to take 50% of their kids from public housing estates. Pedestrianize Central and Tsimshatsui during daytime. Abandon the Zhuhai bridge half-built and declare it the Donald Tsang Pink Dolphin Viewing Platform. Repeal all legal and administrative privileges for ‘indigenous’ New Territories residents. Bring Edward Snowden back and make him Police Commissioner; Ai Weiwei to run West Kowloon Themed Cultural Concept Hub Zone. Introduce a special anti-noise pollution law aimed at Rita Fan and Priscilla Leung. Require Vitasoy to reintroduce Mint-Choc flavour. Rename Shatin ‘City of the Lizard People’. Declare weekends open an hour earlier than usual…


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10 Responses to How to escape from the ‘Tacitus trap’

  1. All your suggestions are interesting and provocative but you can’t reform capitalism. You have to destroy it. Fortunately, it usually destroys itself – with a little help from others. I give it another fifty years.

    Tacitus and Gaiba don’t look like Bela Lugosi. No one can.

    Being an amateur is no criticism in Hong Kong. You forget – this is a Conspiracy Of Amateurs.

    Hopefully, we will all have a weekend free of digital slavery.

  2. NENT Tax Payer says:

    The Tacitus Trap, or How to Justify your Worst Paranoid Fears that no-one Loves you.

    So CY is hanging on, and hoping that sacrificing The Man Who Had an Idea in his Life will keep the ship afloat a couple more weeks.

    If those that govern us take ideas wholesale from Up North and use the educational elite — well a secondary headmaster — to put a foreign gloss on them, is all their genuflecting reciprocated? Does the tail wag the dog? Is there any sign the Pekingeses learn from the mistakes of the southern bumpkins?

  3. Funboy3 says:

    Mint Choc Vitasoy?
    How do we make this happen?

  4. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    A quick search of Linkedin shows there are no Tacitus Fongs, Wongs, Hos, Chans, Chens, Leungs or Yaps. I am disappointed

  5. Cerebos says:

    Sometimes our Taiwanese brethren really get it right. “Dogs go. Pigs come.”

  6. Bigot says:

    Brilliant ideas, and feasible too!
    Hemlock for CE?

  7. Local LandOwner says:

    News just in. CY’s “Development” Minister’s overpaid asistant’s “family” also own NENT land:

  8. Big Al says:

    Not in Hong Kong at the moment (in fact, in the land of Chinggis Khan) but managing to catch up with what’s going on at home via the Big Lychee – it’s all I really need! A quick question – are you sure the bust is of Emperor Galba? I ask because he looks EXACTLY like the emperor of Apple, none other than Tim Cook, who shares a number of Galba’s predilictions as I understand … perhaps a side-by-side visual comparison would be in order?

  9. Gumshoe says:

    I’d be happy if they just used the money to enforce traffic laws.

  10. They do enforce traffic laws – just not against dangerous drivers or expensive cars. Bur park an old cheap car in the most out-of-the-way place where it’s causing no obstruction whatsoever, and there’s bound to be a ticket on the windscreen when you get back to it.

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