Hong Kong's economy

The socioeconomic systems of the world can be classified into two rough camps: the paternalistic, and the maternalistic.

Paternalistic societies range from the vaguely-well-meaning-but-uninterested-Dad-in-an-armchair model, i.e. laissez-faire free market systems, to the straightjackets provided by the glowering-dictator-style exemplified, in its extreme form, in the Taliban. In all paternalistic societies, however, Dad doesn't want to be bothered with Junior's whining demands for milk and cookies, or for state-subsidized programs nurturing the development of alternative communities devoted to exploring postmodern dance.

Maternalistic societies comprise all the current and former socialist/communist countries. In most of these cases, such as North Korea and the old USSR, we're talking 'mother love' administered by a deranged harpy, but all maternalistic societies are premised on the notion that the state, like an infinitely-teated brood sow, exists to provide for its citizens' most basic needs. These days many western countries -- including my own homeland, the USA -- flirt with increasing maternalism, no matter what their prevailing political rhetoric may be. When was the last time the US government actually got smaller?

Anyway, I'm no Milton Friedman or J M Keynes, so I'll stop digging myself a deeper conceptual hole by trying to make vast, sweeping generalizations. I'll confine myself to trying to make a merely sweeping one: is Hong Kong society maternalistic or paternalistic?

Well, at first glance Hong Kong seems to epitomize the paternalistic model -- low taxes, a nearly free market, and a world-wide reputation for wide-open money-making possibilities and lifestyle choices. But once you actually live here, as I now have for a long time, you find Hong Kong life to be curiously circumscribed by its Government.

For example, the Hong Kong housing market is a Government fix -- a free market it most certainly is not. And our Government tries very hard to enforce lifestyle choices on its citizens: witness the truly oppressive luxury taxes it levies on car owners and alcoholic-beverage drinkers (as you might already be suspecting, I am a member of both groups).

Also, there are sometimes disturbing indications that the Hong Kong Government cares just a bit too much: I'm thinking of its long-running and consistently screechy series of public-service announcements, from the classic 'Falling objects can kill!' television ad series, to the 'Let's eliminate rats' posters that are put up with worrying frequency in my neighborhood.

I submit, then, that Hong Kong society, while not exactly maternalistic, can't be classified as paternalistic, either. It's more like Hong Kong is run by your eccentric uncle -- he doesn't seem to care all that much about how you live your life, but you'd be a lot better off not getting him started on his pet topics.