Hong Kong observations

Some observations from my recent trip to Hong Kong:

1. Hong Kong’s number one economic freedom ranking would come as no surprise to anyone who just wandered its streets, without examining any economic laws. There’s more street advertising in Hong Kong than anywhere else I’ve seen in the world, and more commerce that spills onto the street in the numerous street markets. I liked the colour and light of the advertising, especially as it distracts from one downside of little regulation, a large number of very ugly and unimaginative (but presumably cheaply constructed) buildings.

2. Despite this economic freedom, Hong Kong’s free-market think tank, the Lion Rock Institute (chaired by my expatriate friend Bill Stacey), does have something to do. HK is currently debating introducing a minimum wage. Perhaps the high A$ at the moment makes this look worse, but a report issued while I was there found that the median wage in HK was only just over A$8 an hour, way less than the Australian minimum wage (though prices seemed generally lower than here). Given that HK’s per capita GDP is greater than Australia’s, this suggests very high income inequality. Continue reading “Hong Kong observations”

My glimpse of life under communism

I was among the last generation of people whose politics were shaped by World War II and its aftermath, the long struggle between the USSR and its allies and the USA and its allies. Unsurprisingly given my youthful Friedmanite views, I was a strong anti-communist.

While I was on my student backpacking trip around Europe in late 1985 and early 1986 I decided that I had to see Berlin, the place that more than anywhere in Europe had cold war tensions built into – physically, politically, and emotionally – its daily life. So my apolitical travelling companion and I split for a few days; he went skiing and I went to check out communism first hand.

My first impression, from the East German border police, was surprisingly favourable. They boarded the train to check our travel documents, and (as I recorded in a letter back to my family in Melbourne) offered a greeting at the start and a grin at the end. By the standards of passport checkers around the world, they provided an above-average experience.

Technologically I was less impressed. While I was still on the same train, the ride became much worse due to the ‘rotten track’ (as I called it). I was bouncing from side to side. The Mercedes and BMWs I’d seen on West German roads were replaced with Trabants. But I enjoyed the countryside and eventually we made it to West Berlin. Continue reading “My glimpse of life under communism”