Sunday, 25 June 2017

Superficial Economic Progress

This picture in Times Square was taken last year but still applies today
A local newspaper asked Hong Kong documentary filmmaker Ruby Yang her thoughts on the last 20 years since the handover in 1997.

She said it was superficial progress, that it was all focused on the economy and asked, what about people's livelihoods?

Yang really hit the nail on the head -- superficial progress. The government doesn't like to admit there are serious problems, in particular with the economy. However, the wealth gap between the rich and poor has gotten even worse, with the Gini Co-efficient at a record 0.539, up from 0.537 in 2011.

This means the city's wealthiest make 44 times more than the poorest. Interestingly Hong Kong is behind New York as the second-most unequal city in terms of income.

So while we have people who are uber rich and at the other end of the scale people barely scraping a living, the economy is faltering, but the government doesn't seem to notice.

Around dinnertime today I went to Sogo department store in Causeway Bay to buy a few things and was shocked to see how empty it was. The place is usually packed with shoppers and you'd have to elbow your way through the crowds.

But tonight there were none.

A friend had made this observation to me a few days earlier and I was very surprised, but this time I saw it for myself.

Granted the mad summer sales ended a few weeks earlier, but individual brands still had discounts though they weren't enough to entice people to buy.

People cannot afford to shop in Hong Kong -- heck they can't afford to spend much money except for basic expenses. People may be looking, but not many are actually getting their wallets out.

The only place that was busy was the basement grocery store, but while there were customers there buying food, the cashier line was empty.

There were mainlanders in the department store, some were buying -- saw one woman with her suitcase open on the floor and she was literally filling it up with her purchases like a jigsaw puzzle, while others were conducting a Sunday afternoon window shopping exercise with the emphasis on exercise.

Meanwhile most locals were empty handed.

As my friend said to me, this economy is unsustainable with housing prices through the roof and people priced out of the market.

So yes, Ruby Yang is right -- we are experiencing superficial progress -- to the benefit of whom?


  1. I agree with Ruby Yang's thoughts about "superficial progress" but am not so sure about your assertion that "People cannot afford to shop in Hong Kong". Rather, I just think they're shopping elsewhere or less. And while the latter may in some instances be due to people having to watch their budgets, I think it may also be a case of some people now realizing that shopping -- and material consumption -- is not the way to happiness that Hong Kongers previously thought; and that realization may be a good thing/step in the right direction in the grand scheme of things.

    1. I think the group you're referring to is a small but growing one, but the reality is that people can't afford things in HK, or they would rather fly elsewhere (ie Japan) where it's cheaper!