Sixteen young people are behind bars, a price they willingly pay for their love of Hong Kong. While it is debatable if the price is too high, many of us who have made this city our home by choice can nevertheless empathize with their “localist” aspirations. Hong Kong is uniquely attractive and it is incumbent upon us all to preserve the local virtues that make us stand out.
First among these is tax. Imagine the newcomer from the “developed” world. For example, Australians earning a good salary have half of their gross wages deducted before they receive anything. On top of that they have to make compulsory retirement savings payments. There is a 10% GST on every dollar they spend. More taxes accumulate. Many other countries have similar burdens.
In Hong Kong we do things differently. The government takes nothing from your pay. The money is yours. MPF money goes into your account. The company you work for is not a tax collector. Taxes are levied later, but at rates that are not wholly out of proportion to the services delivered to you.
At the top of that list of services is safety. We are a remarkably safe city for its size. There are not the “no go” areas that can be found in almost every metropolis. Crime rates are low and the crimes that happen are rarely random acts of violence inflicted on the innocent and vulnerable. Children are safe and can travel alone on public transport.
And that transport works like in few other cities. The trip to and from the airport is swift and comfortable. Choices for transport are many and largely affordable. Cars are a wonderful luxury, but no necessity to live here. The convenience and pervasive commerce of our ever expanding business districts is probably only rivaled by Manhattan.
Education is often criticized, but with money and skill one can, after navigating the arduous admissions processes, find a huge number of choices. Education is delivered in multiple languages, with different educational philosophies by teachers who are reasonably paid and conscientious. We attract teachers from around the world who produce outcomes that rank highly internationally.
Setting up a business here is simple and low-cost, and the rules are fairly clear. There is a cornucopia of agents to assist the process. When you open your doors, you are assuming a serious responsibility and the requirements for employers are serious but straightforward compared to most countries. You can contract for labor, hire and fire – but you had better treat good employees well, because they do have choices.
Admittedly, our rulebook is growing longer, there are businesses that are hard to enter, and the licensing burden is gradually expanding to create more barriers. Yet these rules are usually simple, easily found and enforced in a “black letter” way so that you know where you stand.
Accessing health care is usually a matter of turning up to a doctor’s office or hospital and paying for service. It is an unbelievably more complex process in most countries.
These conveniences can seem prosaic and are easily taken for granted. However, they are founded on a rich vein of culture that is our real strength. The native Cantonese culture is enterprising and resourceful; it is also respectful of others and conscientious. There is an important element of trust that is built from business, civic, religious and clan associations that provide mutual aid and rarely rely on the coercive power of government for support.
And we are an emporium for every kind of food imaginable. For those from other countries, almost every comfort food is available on the shelves of supermarkets or in small specialty stores catering to every taste. Travel the world and people envy you for living in our visually spectacular city.
These local virtues are built on liberty. Those young people behind bars grew up with these virtues. In their defiance, they sounded an alarm that these virtues, hence our liberties, are under threat. We ignore this alarm at our perils.