The Working Group on Long Term ‘Not Scaring People’ report appears, prompting a great screeching of headlines about Hong Kong turning into the next Greece, and government spending at double the level of revenues. The South China Morning Post provides a swift debunking of the exercise: it’s based on ‘lunatic’ increases in infrastructure spending (enough to build four new runways a year by 2041). As a footnote tucked away at the bottom of page 53 puts it…
The doomsday Greece scenario is the worst case; others are less ludicrous (you can choose your own macroeconomic and expenditure combinations – Fun for All the Family!) But the basic assumption is that we must forever go on shoveling a vast share of public wealth into the pockets of concrete-laying tycoons, and if the rabble want anything else they’ll have to pay extra.
What is most shocking here is that it is so clumsily done. As with the consultation paper years ago on a sales tax – which completely ignored the existence of land sales and premiums – it insults the public’s intelligence. It is so transparent and blatant a pile of BS that you could almost believe it is an act of sabotage, designed to fail. Perhaps a less fanciful view is that the bureaucrat-tycoon nexus is getting desperate and lapsing into gross exaggeration and scaremongering in a bid to keep the infrastructure trough at least half-full in coming decades. We could consider the possibility that the civil servants and poodle-academics on the task force actually believe what they are saying – but that’s really scary. (Is it just me or do they looked sort of drugged?)
The contradictions verge on the surreal. What does an ageing population, too frail to walk more than a few steps unaided, do with even more roads, bridges and tunnels? With no money for welfare or hospitals, maybe we will get a bridge each in our retirement to sleep under, and a personal tunnel we can crawl into to die.
A bus company executive writes an op-ed in the SCMP gently wondering why the government’s transport policy rests on blindly trying to accommodate whatever volume of traffic appears, rather than curbing the number of vehicles. Laziness and stupidity are two obvious reasons, and let’s not forget the fact that a large number of the idiots clogging up the streets in their cars are the civil servants in charge. But, as the Working Group on Long Term Fiscal Freak-out report indicates, there is a serious mental unhinging behind all this – even allowing for vested interests and other motives for bad policy.
It’s as if government economic policymaking has been taken over by a robot with a short-circuit: must have more tourists, must create jobs, must have more infrastructure, must import labour, must have more tourists, must create jobs… The system has forgotten what the economy is for. Or it has malfunctioned, and now operates automatically on the premise that the purpose of the economy is to generate up-front financing for pointless infrastructure projects. And this brings us neatly to proof from Commerce and Economic Development Secretary Greg So, who is quoted in a little item on Mainland visitors…
There you have it: economic development and the livelihood of the people are two different things. Not just different, but diametrically opposed – economic development damages the well-being of the people. Therefore we have to ‘strike a balance’ (damaging the well-being of the people being necessary to some degree, you see). I doubt even Greek officials have such frighteningly dislocated logic.