World’s “Freest” Economy Squeezes Citizens Into Boxes

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What do words like ‘freedom’ and ‘liberal’ actually mean?

Hong Kong has been in the news for a while now. Many of us will have at least a passing familiarity with the fact that the Chinese government is experimenting with various methods of running them into the ground.

But a more long-standing problem – in the country deemed 2020’s Freest Economy by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal – is the spiraling price of real estate.

A tiny Hong Kong home

A man’s tiny Hong Kong home

Vox recently published a video addressing the issue. Land scarcity, the obvious suspect in an island nation of millions, is not the problem. Only about 3% of Hong Kong is zoned for urban housing.

No, the problem is the method of land use. Hong Kong’s government owns it all – And leases it to the highest bidder. These bidding wars can get outrageous, driving up the price of property.

This is amazing for real estate developers and brokers. They make mad bank. They aren’t worried about filling their units, because Hong Kong is a popular destination all over the region. But the locals are being squeezed. Their wallets are empty and their possessions are stacked in a corner.

One house visited by reporter Johhny Harris looks familiar to these American eyes. It’s a mid-century two-story single-family dwelling, complete with kitchen, bathroom and even hardwood floors.

But this house is being shared by four families.

The houses have been carved up into makeshift apartments, just large enough for a bed and a table. The high-rise apartments are worse, dog kennels stacked on top of each other sold as “cage homes” for over $200 a month.

A communal kitchen in Hong Kong

A communal kitchen in Hong Kong

This doesn’t jive with the impression many westerners have of Hong Kong as a hyper-modern place, full of skyscrapers, neon and high-speed internet. Like too many modern economies, stratification between haves and have-nots has become impossible to ignore.

All this in the Freest Economy in the World. Thank Adam Smith, the 18th century Scotsman who first postulated the so-called “liberal market” wherein the Invisible Hand tells us all what has Value. This “freedom” for the bankers and plutocrats to run roughshod over the unwashed masses in service of profit is what so many politicians mean when they say “liberal.” They mean unmonitored and profit-driven.

They don’t mean open-minded, generous or empathetic to those lower down the social ladder, as “liberal” has come to mean to many of us. This on its own feels like a betrayal, a lie of omission.

Hong Kong today, someplace else tomorrow. We are looking at the future for all of us, to some degree, if we allow those in power to keep stealing from us and hiding it in the Cayman Islands.

There are already places in the United States that resemble this. There is an entire city of homeless people living in the sewers of Las Vegas, like something out of a Dr. Who episode.

We as a society need to get our act together. I suggest we start by deciding what we mean by “free.” Who is free? Free to do what? Is the United States the Land of the Citizens Who Live Comfortable Lives? Or the Land of the Robber Barons?

Competing with the likes of China and Russia has brought out the worst in our national character. Like it or not, we still have a large role in the global zeitgeist. My generation appears to be adept ad redefining words. Let’s pick on a few that matter.



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