Labour and Welfare Secretary Matthew Cheung rediscovers an old, embarrassingly inapt and best-forgotten solution. Now all he needs is a problem – or better still, a whole bunch of them, real or imagined.
The South China Morning Post reports this story almost entirely as recited by Cheung. In essence, thousands of stay-at-home mothers could return to work if their children had after-school care. This would be a Good Thing, as it would help tackle the Aging Population Looming Storm Terror. The kids, from poor backgrounds, would receive mentoring from professional types who would inspire them and boost their language skills while they wait for mummy to finish her shift at Park N Shop. This would be a Good Thing because – how can it not be? Some of the funding would come from Centum Charitas, a philanthropic group comprising the offspring of many of Hong Kong’s richest tycoons. This would be a Good Thing because it’s not welfarist and it could reduce hatred of the rich.
It would be churlish to dismiss the whole thing as a putrid PR stunt trying to promote a multitude of self-serving bureaucrat-tycoon agendas simultaneously. Some poorer mothers probably would welcome the chance to earn more, and perhaps young ragamuffins would benefit from after-school coaching by urbane middle-class social betters. So in all fairness, let’s say this is 80% a putrid PR stunt trying to push too many lame and selfish establishment priorities in one efficient package.
Let us count the ways ‘Nine Properties’ Cheung is promoting falsehoods, delusions and distractions.
First, the ‘aging-population’ phenomenon, about which our policymakers have officially been wetting themselves since Donald Tsang became Chief Executive. Thanks to continued human progress, people are healthier and therefore living longer. This is a Humungous Problem. Oh – how much better everything would be if we could go back to the days of TB and smallpox and average life expectancy of 43 years!
In countries with bankrupt governments and stroppy labour unions, this modern demographic pattern poses an actuarial challenge, as a shrinking workforce has to subsidize a growing population of retirees (though immigration offers a fix). In Hong Kong, with gargantuan fiscal reserves and famously flexible and thrifty people, this is not so much the case: government spends a bit more, and people work longer and save a bit more, and presto – the problem vanishes. Unless you despise your fellow citizens and want to reserve public wealth strictly for your own bloated pensions and your construction-industry pals’ infrastructure slush-funds, there is nothing to worry about.
Second, ‘We care deeply about poverty and inequality’ and ‘We must avoid populism and welfare’. You could write a book about this (like this one). Hong Kong’s economic structure forces the poor and much of the middle class to subsidize the ultra-rich. This is not Marxist pseudo-science or a trendy Thomas Piketty thesis, but something very specific to this city: the systematic way the economy extracts and channels wealth, ultimately via the land system. Hong Kong could easily provide or afford higher wages for the low-paid, nursery/childcare services for working mothers, child allowances for the poor, and lower costs for essentials like housing. But that would mean less wealth diverted to Matthew Cheung and the rest of the bureaucrat-tycoon caste. So instead, we get silly, piecemeal one-off gimmicky schemes with a hint of lottery about them subsidizing particular sub-groups’ micro-scale needs within tight limits for a set amount of time. PR stunts.
Third – we save the best for last – ‘Let’s reduce hatred for the rich’. OK, Centum Charitas may be just one of the non-government groups involved in funding this hairball of an initiative (try naming it: The Mentors for Working Mothers’ Poor Kids Let’s Love Tycoons Scheme). But Centum Charitas is irresistible.
It is a group of 100 (in theory) tycoons’ kids founded in 2008 at the behest of Beijing’s local officials to appear generous and warm-hearted and caring (recorded here at the time). It was lame and contrived even then, and I suspect that parasitical cartels have not gone up in Hong Kong public esteem since. Indeed, in the aftermath of Occupy, we have come closer than ever to the point where the scions of our property conglomerates dangle from lampposts in the early morning gloom. Most of us probably didn’t realize that the rich-kids’ mock-altruistic Centum Charitas is still around, doling out scholarships and other crumbs for the little people. What on earth is Matthew Cheung thinking, dredging it up now as a way to ‘reduce hatred for the rich’? Hallucinogenic mushrooms are the best explanation I can think of.
The SCMP, which assigned three reporters to this story, carries no independent comment analyzing this half-baked, myth-peddling, Donald Tsang-era social welfare Band-Aid PR stunt – just a quote from a social worker nitpicking about the scheme’s operating hours. (At least the Harry cartoon pokes fun.)
I think you nailed it with this:
“Unless you despise your fellow citizens and want to reserve public wealth strictly for your own bloated pensions and your construction-industry pals’ infrastructure slush-funds . . .”
And of course, they do!
“We hope to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor, and the gap between the educated and the uneducated,” Peter Lee said.
How’s that working out Peter?
And how’s life w/ the triplet boys, Peter? Planning to send them to a local Govt. school?
How…colonial. It’s just like when the Brits encouraged the compradors to provide health care and education to dissuade the plebes from revolting. It’s disturbing how stable some aspects of Hong Kong are. Well, if it worked 200 years ago, surely it would work today. Right? Right?
‘We care deeply about poverty and inequality’ because they are the rocks upon which this church is founded. Long may they live, rest assured all our dogma and policy are bent to this one goal — that and serve Beijing and the Oligarchy, being one and the same.
For example, the Public Housing kennels are all about inequality, using government money to create a cheep labour pool while releasing the real estate market from having to provide affordable housing. Proudly let me point out that by various regulations we hampered these slaves from lifting emancipating themselves out of poverty trap. Our public/private two track health system again much the same.
Thus spoke the Cheung and every slime ball before him.
Fine words and some excellent comments to supplement them of which I cannot hope to improve on.
I only hope there is a similar blog in Chinese allowing Hong Konger’s to finally see the wood through the trees. For us, proficient in English, I assume the message is ‘keep your snout out you’re not Han’ ! Special mention for TVB’s (Pearl) main news which last night was a disgrace and will join the Pro China Morning Post in never be looked at again.
Total agreement with NIMBY.
I remember my surprise, as a member of a middle class HKG family, mixing with the “scions of the tycoon caste” for the first time, as a sixth form entrant to a renowned boarding school in the UK…
In hindsight, there is something repugnant about seeing 15 and 16 year olds spending more than the annual average income of a Hong Konger on a single visit to Harvey Nichols, literally dropping 40k or 50k HKD in 2 or 3 hours on shirts and pants… A sight I witnessed without resentment (and which occurred on almost every visit to London for half term or for a weekend), despite my paltry 5 pound weekly allowance.
If the erstwhile members of “Centum Charitas” (what have we come to when even the names of new charities sound like property development projects), redirected their designer clothes expenditure to education or re-homing the old who live in cages, how many people’s lives could they transform? Could the human happiness wrought by their hand be even quantifiable?
2 questions only today:
how did an un-worthy like Prof Cheung get to own 9 properties in the most expensive property market in the world on a ‘professor’/ minister/ civil servant’ salary ?
By way of what logic gets the (unelected) CEO of Hong Kong paid more in salary than the presidents of China and the USA combined ?
How gets a forcibly retired senior superintendent of the HK Police Gestapo a golden handshake retirement payment of HK$ 5 million, in addition to his regular monthly pension payment of 30 k ? Where’s the logic here ? Who ever made these rules ?
The very existence of Centum Charitas shows you everything that’s wrong with Hong Kong. Just why would 100 children of tychoons be expected to be so incredibly rich that they can afford to make lavish donations to charity for the long term, and why would they have to club together to do so to “reduce hatred of the rich”?
Could it possibly be that they, collectively, form a cottery that expects to automatically assume the same wealth and power that their parents currently enjoy, and wish to build up some firendly PR in preparation for that?
Hemlock’s comment that Matthew’s idea is 80% crap sounds like the best comment on this imbecile.
Sadly, the point for Matthew, and his scaveninging peers, is that it DOESN’T MATTER if their plans are crap. If at an enormous longshot they work, great, but if it’s 100% crap, whatever. The key result for Matthew is that he’s done his bit. He’s come up with some inane, childlike, “encourage harmony in a Chinese way” drivel. He can promote this “effort” on his next duty visit to Peking or his next kowtow to CY and his cronies.
More evidence. Before the handover Hong Kong had leaders producing and implementing policies that were real and would benefit Hong Kong people. Since 1997 Hong Kong leadership has descended into 80% crap. Thanks for nothing, Matthew.
@ Joe Blow: I think you mixed up two Cheungs. ‘Nine Properties’ Cheung is Matthew Cheung, a Carreer Civil Servant, the “Hero” in today’s blog. There is another one, Professor Anthony Cheung. He is ‘Secretary for Housing’. I don’t know, how many properties he owns.
Does Education still fall under the Labour Sec?
Education in theory should not be a natural monopoly, but because of the structure of land zoning and building ownership in a here it pretty much is, and like an natural monopoly, the only way to avoid it is to pay much more for expensive alternatives. However, because those who control the monopoly don’t have to use the service (ie: look at how many of the top officials in the education dept have sent their children to government schools, the answer is none). To draw the example, think about how much more worse the privatization of British rail would have been if none of the power brokers in the UK never had to use the rail service for commuting.
Interesting note, police officers (but not the low end policemen) have scholarships for their children, so they don’t have to mix with the local poor. My guess is this is setting them apart so they will act more brutally to protect their position when the time comes.
Interesting post. I tried to research this dubious and secretive Centum Charitas Foundation but found it’s website is only in Chinese.
A fine rant, Hemmers.
Bang on the money, as ever.
Am I alone in feeling bilious whenever I see Matthew Cheung’s odious face?