Let’s all panic about the economy!

Hong Kong has been subjected in recent months to a campaign of deranged apocalyptic mouth-frothing about the calamities and holocausts awaiting us should the pro-democracy Occupy Central movement carry out its plan to sit in the street. Among the surreal imagery employed in the ranting – the city consumed by fire, destroyed by zombies, etc – are visions of financial collapse.

Now, just as the maelstrom of alarmist freaking-out seems to be subsiding (or maybe we’re just too numb to notice it any more) a new, or at least offshoot, contrived panic springs to life: the Great John Tsang Economic Perfect Storm Bloodbath Annihilation Massacre Horror of 2014 Or Possibly A Bit Later.

If you see a sporty white Tesla zipping around town with a blurry splash of grey hair in the back, that’s Financial Secretary John Tsang (look for the ‘FS1’ plate). It’s presumably some sort of mid-life crisis, male menopause thing, and this possibly explains his decision to start jabbering like a maniac about impending doom. (I have no idea who dreamed up the phrase ‘perfect storm’, but even a child could point out that it’s stupid and unworthy of use by any thinking person.)

The disaster, John shrieks in Cassandra-like tones, will partly arise from evil international crocodilian speculators wreaking havoc and abuse upon our sweet and innocent markets, thus gravely injuring the elderly, orphans, bunny rabbits, dolphins and so on, which will all be the fault of Occupy Central. But he implies that other terrors will occur at the same time, pointing his trembling finger at a ‘slowdown’, a tragic decline in jewellery sales to Mainlanders and a rise in unemployment from 3.1% to 3.2% (pretty much on the borderline of full employment, hence all the recent bleating – where did it go? – about a labour shortage).

Cue HK Monetary Authority boss Norman Chan. He has just insisted with a straight face that Hong Kong must keep HK$3 trillion in reserves sitting around doing nothing, to guard against an invasion of giant killer bees. He now foresees shocks following a rise in US interest rates, which, after failing to come in 2012, 2013 or 2014, may now take place next year. These shocks, he hints, could include such menaces to our well-being as cheaper housing and better returns for savers. And it could happen within… the next five years! There’s a headline in the stuff-you-ignore section of today’s South China Morning Post announcing that fathers should do the bedtime-story thing with their male offspring;  if Norman can’t get the kids to sleep, no-one can.

Official alarmism and gloom about the economy seem to have been a permanent feature of post-1997 Hong Kong. We have certainly seen some ‘volatility’, as they call it, but much of the panic-mongering has come at times of strong GDP growth and low unemployment (static median incomes notwithstanding). Government pushers of pessimism appear to have had various agendas: ‘we will starve without the generosity of Beijing’; ‘we must keep welfare spending down/reserves high’; ‘we must freak out about the aging population’; and this time, to some extent, ‘blame Occupy Central’. But there seems to be something else behind this. Not sure what (if not mid-life crisis). Maybe it’s just habit: with nothing else going on this week, our top bureaucrats start wetting themselves about economic collapse by default, without even realizing they’re doing it, or maybe just to pass the time.

I am intrigued to know how the evil speculator-reptiles will make a killing out of the coming financial mayhem. Anyone shorting the Hang Seng Index lately will have suffered painful losses, so it can’t be that (funny how the stock market hasn’t heard about the impending economic chaos). Maybe John Tsang could share it with us in one of his blog posts: ‘How we can all make money out of Occupy Central’. Why should international speculators be the only ones to benefit?



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