My Dinner Conversation

I am going to start off with a seemingly unrelated quote from a post by Max Sawicky:


I'm glad you asked. Because he has the patience to devote his time to stringing together some disparate quotes to compose moronic, self-righteous indictments of "The Left."

Any clown could put together an identical screed, enjoying a harvest of the bumper crop of lunacy issuing from talk radio and the U.S. House of Representatives and arrive at an identical summary judgment of "The Right." The question is, who has a mind that could content itself with pursuing such an exercise?  Nobody I know.  Maybe that's why we're losing.  We dislike being assholes.

Now, let us get back to my dinner.  This was the annual shareholders' meeting for my cooperative apartment building in Hong Kong.  There were about 10 people present, and we dealt with the business issues quickly and then we sat down for the meal.  As we ate dinner, we had a chance to talk about other matters.

Who are these people?  There was a doctor, an English-language teacher, a financial advisor, a retired elderly lady, a restaurant owner and three factory owners.  Their ages range between fifty to eighty-three.  Given that they own apartments in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Hong Kong (note: Jackie Chen just got a house down the street for his wife), they are presumed to be among the upper class elite in the city.  So what did they talk about?

As expected, they didn't have good opinions about the 'democratic' rebel-rousers of Hong Kong.  They just shook their heads to indicate disgust, but they didn't bother to waste much time criticizing this one or that one.  They accepted those people as creatures of the society at this time.

But these people are not by no means pro-government advocates.  In fact, they reserved most of their complaints for government officials.  They said that this is a weak, indecisive and passive administration, as exemplified by the chief executive Tung Chee-hwa.  They said that these are a bunch of bureaucrats who only want to sit out their time in office before they retire and collect their bountiful pension money.  In the meantime, the less they do, the lower the probability of getting into trouble.  This is made worse when the message from the central government is to seek stability, harmony and development above all.  That is why nothing gets done, and Hong Kong is losing its competitive edge.

This is not a group of people who are looking for special favors (such as sweetheart land deals) from the government.  The factory owners have family businesses that were started in Hong Kong in the 1950's with the first wave of Chinese migrants who made Hong Kong into a powerhouse manufacturing center.  That was a time when the people had the hunger and drive to succeed.  In the 1980's and 1990's, they moved their factories into Guangdong province.  They felt that while the labor costs were seemingly lower up there, it was not easy to work in China due to hidden costs which always result in cost overruns.  On the whole, they would rather be back in Hong Kong any time.  One woman even said that she still has an unused factory here with the machine lines intact, because she hopes that she could re-start production.

Alas, they don't see this as being possible given this government's policies.  It is not that they want labor wages or benefits to be cut down to bare bones in Hong Kong.  Their businesses are not about fighting for a share of the Wal-Mart pie with the lowest bid.  Their long history of successes was based upon their ability to catch the next wave at the forefront (which was plastic flowers, ballpoint pens, calculators and so on in years past).  For example, when people started ordering ballpoint pens, they immediately converted their factories to manufacture those products and they made a bundle; by the time that hundreds of others followed in, they left for the next project because they were not interested in a race to the bottom.  Today, their problem is that they cannot find people with acceptable quality and work ethic who are willing to work in factories in Hong Kong any more.

The male factory owner said, "All of these problems can be solved immediately if the government would permit migrant laborers to come and work in Hong Kong.  They are the ones with the hunger and the drive."  Their golden days were in the 1950's, when their own families came to Hong Kong from China, often without any assets but they worked hard, took risks and made smart decisions to become what they are today.  That is why they value individual drive and energy.  But migrant labor will never be permitted under the present political conditions.  While there are 150 new immigrants coming into Hong Kong each day, they come for family re-unification instead of economic contribution.  

The female factory owner came to this meeting from China today, and she said, "As I went through the Lowu immigration control, I saw these elderly Hong Kong men bringing in their young mainland Chinese wives and small children.  Hong Kong is the only place in the world that does not select its immigrants on the basis of potential economic contribution.  Instead, they pick up all the people who will need public assistance."

What will the factory owners do?  They all felt that Macau is the place to be right now, because it offers tax-free status to new businesses and it has the migrant labor workforce.  They only rue that Hong Kong could not offer the same.

This is just a group of people whom I had dinner with.  They don't represent the population nor do they even represent any particular social stratum.  I am not saying they are either right or wrong about these issues, but this is how they feel.  Given their social standing and financial capital, one must give their opinions due consideration.  The factory owners used to employ tens of thousands of people when they were located in Hong Kong, and they could and want to do the same again if only the conditions are right again.

I am thinking about the Hong Kong political blogosphere.  I must say that those who write about politics are predominantly oriented towards the so-called pan-democratic 'grass roots' mindset.  Who would speak up consistently on behalf of people like my fellow shareholders?  Nobody I know.  This creates a skewed representation of public opinion in the manner of the "Spiral of Silence" of Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann -- a small self-selected group dominates the share of voice among those who speak out, thus creating the impression that they represent the majority.

So why won't they speak on their own behalf?  These people are too busy looking after their businesses to blog!  This leads us right back to the Max Sawicky quote: "The question is, who has a mind that could content itself with pursuing such an exercise?  Nobody I know.  Maybe that's why we're losing.  We dislike being assholes."

P.S.  This post made Danwei think of Yeats' words:

The best lack all conviction
While the worst are full of passionate intensity.

P.S.  Supplementary reading at Simon World: "It would be great to have more views and voices in HK blogging so this could be debated in greater depth. The barriers to entry in blogging are extremely low and it needn't take much time. If they want to join the debate, let them. Otherwise they forfeit their right to be a part of the decision."  

I surmise that the real barrier is not technological in nature; it is their perception that blogging has no material significance with respect to changing things in the real world at this moment in time.  To put it bluntly, blogging is a just a small circular jerk-off that will not affect public opinions or government policies significantly.  And I am afraid that they are right -- at this moment in time.  We will have to wait to see what the future brings.