In what was supposed to be a New Year message on his official blog, Financial Secretary JohnTsang Chun-wah warned against “blind” pursuit of new industries as called for by more andmore economists, to address the social ills arising from an imbalanced economic growth that ismainly driven by the financial and property sectors.Rejecting wide-spread criticisms that the government lacks long-term vision, Tsang wrote: “Wemust understand that a new industry takes a long time to nurture and develop, and its successis not guaranteed.” He may sound clever in citing a dialogue in the latest James Bond movie: “Sometimes the old ways are best.”
But this is not the time. The “old ways” that have been driving economic growth through assetinflation are destroying the middle class, resulting in a widening wealth gap that has becomethe main source of public discontent.Some commentators have scoffed at the frequent public demonstrations against theestablishment and fierce opposition to almost any government policy proposal as nothing morethan an indication that Hong Kong people love to complain. Their show of ignorance in thismatter apparently is shared by many policy makers.The many young rebels against Tsang’s “old ways” are not without a cause. They havegenuine reasons to feel betrayed by market forces that are shaped by what Tsang called the”conventional economic pillars,” finance, logistics and trade, tourism, and professional services.He left property out of the list. But everyone in Hong Kong knows its overbearing influence onalmost every other sector of the economy.“The four conventional pillars have become our major economic backbone because they havethe edge,” Tsang wrote in his blog. “While developing new sectors, we should make more effortto expand the edge of the pillar industries.”
But for what? That is the question many frustrated Hong Kong people are asking. To be sure,the “pillars” have sustained Hong Kong’s economic growth in the past several years despite aglobal downturn. But such growth is not seen to have brought improvement to the livelihood ofa large segment of the population, or created many opportunities that can facilitate socialmobility for those at the lower end of the social scale.For that reason, more and more economists are calling on the government to take the initiativein nurturing higher-value added manufacturing industries that can generate new opportunitiesfor entrepreneurs and create secured and well-paying jobs for skilled workers. Of course, ittakes time to establish a new industry and the risk of failure is real enough. But suchconsiderations should not be taken as excuses of doing nothing.If they were, none of those “pillar” industries would have existed. Rather than being”conventional”, the groundwork for the development of the financial industry, as it is today, waslaid in the late 1970s by the government. Tourism didn’t become a “pillar” until the governmenttook the initiative in 2003 to make arrangements that facilitated the massive inflow of millions ofmainland tourists every year. Nobody is saying that the government should abandon the pillarindustries. What Hong Kong people want is for the government to at least produce a credibleplan for the development of new manufacturing industries that can help balance economicgrowth.