Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Two sides to every freedom

For the 14th year running, Hong Kong has been named the world's freest economy, ahead of Singapore in second place. This title is bestowed by the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing US-based organisation.

The Foundation warns, however, that Singpore is closing the gap. But before we all panic that Hong Kong is no longer competitive, let's look at some of the Foundation's criticisms and translate them into plain English:

  • The Scheme of Control regulation of electricity prices (translation - let the two power monopolies rip off consumers with uncontrolled prices)
  • The regulation of prices for public transport (translation - let transport operators rip off consumers with uncontrolled prices)
  • The regulation of some residential rents (translation - let Hong Kong's greedy landlords charge the SAR's poorest people, mostly elderly, even more for tiny cages in rat-infested pre-war slums)
  • "Restrictive" pharmaceuticals regulation (translation - forget about protecting the consumer from dodgy fake drugs)
  • Market access restrictions for legal services (don't know about that one)
  • Limited import licensing (to the best of my knowledge, Hong Kong has fewer import restrictions than almost anywhere in the world, and most of those that do exist are intended to ensure food safety)
  • Issues involving intellectual property rights that add to the cost of trade (not sure what they mean by this one)

Here's a question: if Hong Kong's economy is so free, how come we only have two big supermarket chains?

When big business calls for deregulation, what they really mean is usually dismantling worker protection, dismantling environmental protection, and dismantling consumer protection so they can enlarge their already bloated profits. Do we really want to be more "free" in this sense?

As for comparisons with Singapore, the Heritage Foundation says nothing about political freedoms. Even without democracy, we are streets ahead of the Lion City in terms of freedom of expression.

3 comments:

fumier said...

Who funds the Heritage Foundation?

Private Beach said...

See my later post "Whose Heritage" for some answers.

gweipo said...

the world competitive yearbook is out.
Don't equate "competitive" with "free" or democratic, or well, competitive unless you mean one for all and all for one ... sorry I mean 2.
for HK is up there at nr. 3 as well. I think it has something to do with how easily you can open a business and then loose all your money as you're squeezed out of the market by the big guys - ask the good rev. behind Oasis how that works!
http://www.imd.ch/research/publications/wcy/World-Competitiveness-Yearbook-2008-Results.cfm