There will be no hunger for success among Hongkongers if all our lunches are free

Stephen Ng says a growing sense of entitlement is creeping into Hong Kong’s political discourse, and if left unchecked, it will damage our entrepreneurial economy

I read with some amusement, and concern, an article in this newspaper which gave our financial secretary the moniker John Scrooge. To be fair to the secretary, Hong Kong’s public finances are in good health, in spite of the ailing global economy. My worry, even fear, is about the dangerous growing sense of “entitlement” creeping into the Hong Kong psyche.Nobody in Hong Kong is “entitled” to a livelihood and we all work hard to pay our bills. That has kept us in fighting shape in a tough world market. It has made Hong Kong hungry. It has made Hong Kong great.

Elsewhere, a “free lunch” attitude has already wrecked many economies around the world. It puts severe fiscal pressure on government budgets, and diverts funds needed to invest in growth for future budgets. More importantly, this attitude diminishes the hunger for sustained growth and success.I happily support allocating public funds to health care, education and infrastructure projects which benefit the whole community. I also enthusiastically support efforts to provide assistance to people in need, and Hong Kong has always had a very warm heart in helping the under-privileged. However, I strongly object to the growing free-lunch sentiment which has become more prominent on Hong Kong’s political agenda.What has set Hong Kong apart from other places in terms of economic success, and enabled entrepreneurs to thrive, has been the fact that we are the world’s freest economy, with one of the world’s least interventionist governments. However, in recent years, we have seen a slew of new regulations being rolled out, from the statutory minimum wage to the competition ordinance and most recently the emotional debate on standard working hours.

Positive non-interventionism has served Hong Kong admirably for decades. But now we see the government increasingly trying to intervene in markets by imposing reams of new regulation on business to score populist points, often buckling to political pressure. Populist policies might temporarily appease large sectors of the public, but they inflict lasting damage on our spirit to compete and are not conducive to entrepreneurship.Hong Kong’s can-do spirit is being threatened with extinction by creeping welfarism and “well-meaning” regulations. It is vital that Hong Kong does not stray from the basic principle of freedom of competitive enterprise.Hong Kong’s success has been hard-earned. Let us not throw all that away for short-sighted populist policies that bring only temporary reprieve but permanent damage.

Stephen Ng is chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce


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