Sorting out the looming babies-and-old-folks nightmare menace horror

The Hong Kong government will today launch a public consultation exercise on population policy. We had such a debate a few years ago, under Chief Executive Donald Tsang. It was one of several lame attempts to convince everyone that we faced demographic and fiscal doom unless we spent more of our own money on things, and – should we fail to be convinced – the idea would be… put to one side. Which it was (not just ‘population policy’, but sales tax, and health care financing as well).

This time round, it looks a bit more serious. There is talk of specific policy initiatives, like financial assistance to parents and higher retirement ages. But the document will almost certainly reflect confusion in and beyond government about what it is we are trying to achieve.

Do we want to do whatever it takes (more babies, more immigration, longer working lives) to maintain long-term growth in the size of the Big Lychee’s economy simply in absolute terms? If so, why? (Does the population exist to serve and support an economy – or should it be the other way round?)

Is the daily flow of poorly educated women into the city on one-way permits a good long-term thing because they will later have educated kids? Or do we need to compensate for the supposedly poor quality of our work force by attracting brainy U-grads and Nobel Prize winners? Why talk about attracting new people when we can’t house the ones already here? Why go on about quality when we divide existing kids into three bands of school, and then teach all three identical (and brain-numbing) curricula that the bulk of students can’t handle or benefit from?

Then there are things the consultation document will avoid mentioning out of taste or politeness. Is Hong Kong culturally/ethnically a Chinese city? Or is it a ‘world city’? (Note: you can tick one only.) A few years ago there was much excited chatter about Filipino domestic helpers getting right of abode and bringing their kids over. Pro-Beijing labour activists got especially panicky; these people speak better English than our members, the union leader said, and they’ll take our jobs. So: we don’t want brown-skinned people because they are too skilled and their kids will be a burden, but we want Mainlanders who aren’t skilled enough because their kids will be assets. Got it.

Bloomberg’s interesting item du jour takes us to Indonesian Restaurant 1968 to investigate how the difficulties of getting good staff are affecting the business, and perhaps even the service. It so happens I ate there a year or so back. Let’s say the establishment’s personnel problems could, now you mention it, be among the reasons I haven’t returned (there are three equal or better, if less fancily furnished, Malay places within a 200-yard radius of that Queens Road spot). There’s a shortage of people, but we actually have a youth unemployment problem and a 17.5% poverty rate for 15-24-year-olds.

One interesting approach to population policy would be, essentially, to stop worrying. Who says people are a problem in the first place? We don’t have enough of them? So long as we have a bloated public sector out-bidding the private sector for manpower, and loads of cleaners and security guards lounging around doing little, it’s hard to see a real labour shortage. And if some of us can’t save enough to support ourselves for the extra 10 years in retirement from 60 years of age to 90, then they’ll just have to start retirement at 70 instead. There is no problem. (Fewer kids running round, screaming? How sad.)

China Daily swallows the official line: an aging population hurts development. People are living longer nowadays because they are healthier; this hurts development and is a Bad Thing. Obvious solution: make people less healthy, so they die sooner; development stops getting hurt and we have a Good Thing again. Got it.

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6 Responses to Sorting out the looming babies-and-old-folks nightmare menace horror

  1. Pornstar Wong says:

    Walking through SoHo the other day, I noticed more than the usual number of staff wanted notices. Of course if the Fed is printing 85 billion US dollars per month, and the government fails to adjust the rate on this mad peg idea to compensate, then we are going to have an inflation problem — which is great for a greedy landlord such as myself. Debt reduced, rents up, property price up.

  2. gweiloeye says:

    “La Creperie, …., is offering a salary of as much as HK$12,000 ($1,548) a month for wait staff and cooks to work nine hours a day, six days a week including weekends, according to Perreau. ”

    “as much as HKD12000” you mean thats the maximum for a 54 hour week.

    And you wonder why you can’t get staff?? What a fuckwit!

  3. Cerebos says:

    Just finished a bit of a global hub point-to-point business tour and sure, plenty of countries have problems and pressures, but it struck me that ours have started to reach quite epic levels for a so called advanced economy. Once we move beyond the “ease of doing business because we have eff-all regulation” rankings it’s clear to me we’ve become a bunch of covetous parochial navel-gazers on the whole. Quality of life statistics actually declining year on year. Rising levels of racism aimed both at the brown elven-folk as well as ah chaan yahn (to call a spade a spade boom boom). A complete lack of anywhere pleasant to relax unless you head for the hills. Once we lose the wet markets and what remains of the older neighbours we’ll ace the world’s gaudiest turd of a city prize every year.

    We get the politicians we deserve as the old maxim goes.

  4. Pornstar Wong says:

    And a Starbucks double-espresso is over 11pc more expensive than a few months ago. Now paying 20 dollars instead of 18. People are spending like sailors. Better slap a couple of thousand on the rent.

  5. PropertyDeveloper says:

    Is it just me, or does the girl in the photo look below the age of consent?

    You’ll get into trouble, suggesting that a few Hongkongers are, or might conceivably under certain circumstances be, brown-skinned — or indeed by hinting that growth is not the be-all and end-all of existence.

  6. Jason90 says:

    From the Government’s Press Release:
    “The public engagement exercise will be conducted in three phases to facilitate focused discussion in society. A thematic topic has been set for each phase:
    (a) Phase 1 (October 24 to early December 2013): Making best use of the existing population.”
    I shall now go and make best use of myself.
    BTW, How many children do the members of the SCPP have? About one each, I’ll bet, for an average of about 0.9…?

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