US magazines find HK still leading world

Two little rays of sunshine pierce the angst-ridden gloom over the Big Lychee this morning, in the form of online magazine articles. Caveats are in order: both these American publications have fine pedigrees in their own way, but in our things-aren’t-what-they-used-to-be times, neither arguably has quite the cachet it had in the glory days of print; and neither has any particular expertise or insight where Hong Kong is concerned. But why be fussy when we could use some optimism?

First, Atlantic magazine freaks out in amazement at how wonderful our mass-transit system is. Obviously, a comparison between the late-20th-Century MTR and the Victorian-era New York subway is hardly fair. In a hundred years’ time, our descendants might be gasping in admiration at the slick, Star Trek-type teleportation system in Vientiane, Laos, while the Island, West Rail and Kwun Tong lines collapse into piles of rust. But the writer looks beyond path dependence and examines how the MTR is financed and in turn how it fits into the overall city and society.

To many of us, the MTR’s method of subsidy is silly and colonial. Rather than just pay for the infrastructure out of ordinary revenue as with the police or schools, 1970s bureaucrats decided to finance it by granting the rail system real-estate development rights around its stations. Officials could therefore pretend they weren’t spending taxpayers’ money on it, which made them feel good. It’s the same policy and logic that rejoices in ‘low taxes’ while forcing middle-class families to spend half their income on housing.

Atlantic flips our cynicism on its head. It’s not a lame quasi-subsidy – it’s value capture, a much-discussed but often somewhat theoretical way to finance transit systems. Highly suited as it is to high-density, low-car-usage Hong Kong, it suddenly looks hugely respectable. Cool, even. Why, with the MTR part-owning all these ghastly malls full of identical tacky outlets, we can even feel good about the Mainland locust-tourists, for they are inadvertently paying for our next train ride.

The positive mood continues over at Forbes, best known for its tiresome lists of ‘100 Richest Whatevers’ and for a slightly Tatler-esque Asian edition that (last time I checked) tends towards unseemly shoe-shining of regional tycoons and despots. The writer (a former Mormon missionary to the Amazon) gushes that Hong Kong will show the Mainland the way to enlightenment and world leadership. It would be easy to smile good-naturedly and move on, until we see that he is drawing on remarks by Professor Gordon Redding – whose work will probably be known to anyone who has spent time in the often-murky, sometimes-scary and hilariously unpredictable world of the Chinese family-run firm.

Redding is saying that the Mainland’s business culture of mistrust beyond established networks has to change into a more Western/Hong Kong ethos of free and fair exchange among strangers. He does not quite say that rule of man and the one-party state need to give way to independent institutions and pluralism (he was speaking at an event run by the very-establishment Business and Professionals Federation). But he does seem to suggest that China’s rise to developed status requires the adoption of concepts that do not have the phrase ‘with Chinese characteristics’ tacked onto them. And Hong Kong, he says soberly and straight-faced, provides the ideal, face-saving way to do it.

Sounds good. Well, I feel better about the MTR’s subsidy system, anyway.


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5 Responses to US magazines find HK still leading world

  1. Bela Beton says:

    Hong Kong’s transport system is unsustainable and inefficient with thousands of people standing around idly waiting for buses and trains. Journeys that should take half an hour frequently take two. The roads are gridlocked every time it rains. In a crisis, we are all dead.

    Yes, we are the greatest – but look what happened to Muhammad Ali. Parkinson’s can be treated but there is no cure for Philistinism.

    I just found a great Hong Kong tycoon is not a parasite drone and who actually invented and still produces useful things for humanity: Dr David Hon.

    Let us celebrate the final destruction of Hong Kong as the country parks are built on at last. I will see it after all in my lifetime. The rapture of capitalism. Hurrah!

    I will not cease from political in-fighting,
    Nor shall my cheque book sleep in my hand,
    Till we have built Philistinia
    In what’s left of Hong Kong’s green and pleasant land.

  2. ( . ) ( . ) says:

    I live and work on HK island and I only set foot in the NT if absolutely necessary so frankly speaking I couldn’t care less if they build in so-called country parks (basically uninhabitable mountains). And these new towns are quite nice actually. In Tin Shui Wai they have this neat little circular train system, like you see in amusement parks. The local mall has a Watson’s so the supply of condoms is guaranteed: if they breed it’s by choice. There are beautiful and spacious outlets of Giordano and Bossini so everybody looks neat, fashionable and absolutely identical.
    From a safe distance those country parks all look the same, and a bit tedious, if you ask me.

  3. PropertyDeveloper says:

    I should perhaps declare an interest: I live _in_ a country park (not in a village surrounded by the park). And Paul Chan and the Kuk’s brainwave chimes in with my experience, as (a) the boundary of the country park, both on the maps and on the ground, appears to be a state secret (b) no-one pays the slightest bit of notice to it notice to anyway, not even the police vehicles or Ag & Fish and (c) the price of land is exorbitant, implying that…

    Forbes: “it is possible China could not only lead economically but leapfrog Western nations by fully embracing human rights, rule of law, and free markets”. And it is possible pigs could fly.

    As the Atlantic article acknowledges, but then incorporates, Klein-bottle-like, into its magnificently illogical conclusion, advanced societies depend on a minimum of trust, as Karl Popper, amongst others, has convincingly shown. A country where the food is poisonous, the doctors make you worse, the judges are corrupt, and minorities, children, women and handicapped people are victimised and insulted to their faces fails miserably on this count.

    Of the nearly 200 countries, not one likes China, let alone trusts it. Chinese people themselves don’t trust each other further than they can spit — unless of course they are family or friends, in which case anything goes.

    I’ll put my hair in pigtails the day that the Chinese gain the trust of the rest of humanity.

  4. Real Scot Player says:

    These Americans are so fucking tiring. Hong Kong bloddy brilliant this… Special economic whizz that.

    Well, you Septics, first off it’s because we made it, so please be more direct and honest Hong Kong is only zippy because of British public schools

    More directly, the only reason magazines and foundations and other blether factories Stateside vote it no1 is so their managing editors can weasel a business trip here. Stay in the Conrad or Shangri La and spend the nights in lockhart doh getting their dick oiled

  5. Real Tax Payer says:

    See the huge response on the SCMP comments section to Fat fucking Lau’s latest pronouncement ! ( currently @ 44 and going strong and all universally negative to P Chan / Fat ****** g Lau etc )

    Blah – fucking / self- building / pose

    But then, that’s what he’s paid to do by the indigenous folk

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