Thursday, November 1, 2007

CBRA's Review of "Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong"

Canadian Book Review Annual featured “Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong” as Editor’s Choice: Scholarly for the months of September and October 2007. Canadian Book Review Annual is an annual publication that provides the most comprehensive collection of authoritative reviews of English-language trade, scholarly and reference books published in Canada each year. Website:http://home.interlog.com/~cbra/index.html

The full review is as follows:-

4037 Poon, Alice. Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong. Richmond: Alice Poon, 2005. 162p. biblio. index. $23.50. ISBN 0-9738760-0-X. CCIP. DDC 333.33'7'095125.

"Oligopoly pays." That’s the chief lesson emerging from Alice Poon’s excellent survey of Hong Kong’s real estate and infrastructure economies. Although Hong Kong is often characterized as one of the world’s freest economies, it is in fact controlled by a handful of wealthy individuals and companies who stifle—rather than encourage—competition.

Poon dissects the sinews of Hong Kong "big money" and isolates its key components, those being legislative and legal sway over land and competitive policies. Hong Kong’s biggest fortunes owe their growth and security to dominance over a wide spectrum of businesses ranging from transport, public utilities, supermarkets, and food distribution to, most importantly, land development. Huge amounts of real estate are developed by a handful of large companies who control all aspects of supply, construction, and property management. Indeed, the usual hallmarks of classically defined competitive markets are nearly absent; instead, Hong Kong’s market structure suffers from steep barriers to entry and government policies that serve to bolster the market positions of a half dozen huge conglomerates.

The situation of near-anarchy for Hong Kong’s corporate heavyweights may make for impressive annual reports but does little to relieve Hong Kong’s mounting social and economic tensions. Poon carefully details how government "of the rich, by the rich, for the rich" in Hong Kong has damaged civil norms and deprived its population of economic security and well-being. Not surprisingly, articulate protest groups have lodged forceful criticism of "business as usual" and gained widespread support, proving that discontent is deep-seated and justified.

Poon’s concise, well-argued analysis is one of the few available English-language sources on Hong Kong’s predicament. While Hong Kong’s once-vigorous and argumentative press has lost its teeth following the takeover, new outlets such as blogs have assumed huge importance as a barricade for free expression and democratic principles. With Shanghai rapidly eclipsing Hong Kong as the banking and finance powerhouse for China’s breakneck growth, there’s a chance that competition may in fact re-emerge and make for the kind of "popular" entrepreneurship long absent in Hong Kong.

Gary Watson