Hand out the happy pills, and enjoy the trip while it lasts

Friday 4 March 2011, 3.01am HKT


Hongkongers are over the moon with our government, at least for the time being. Enjoy the misplaced euphoria until it’s time to wake the hell up.

Highly unusual for our government to yield to popular opinion, but every Hong Kong permanent resident (i.e. domicile) over the age of 18 will be getting a direct cash handout of HK$6,000 (US$770 or £472) from the government this fiscal year (2011-2012).

via Nuacco

Let’s remind those who need reminding that it is only a proposed handout. In reliably inept fashion that you could set your cock clock by, the government still hasn’t decided the draw-in or cutoff details, other than it promising it would be “lenient” so as to draw the most number of payees into the handout net.

Lest we also forget, this handout money (totalling some HK$36 million) is taxpayers’ money — money that the government has already earned from tobacco duties since the 41% price jump on cigarettes just one week ago.

Why the generosity? This former British colony has never had this kind of cash handout in its history. For one thing, the government has been facing mounting criticism for some time for doing nothing long-term to lessen the hardships faced by low-income groups. For another, the government wanted to diffuse public discontent over the original plan announced on Budget Day (23rd February) to inject that handout cash into every working person’s Mandatory Provident Fund (or MPF).

(For those who might be mildly interested, the MPF is Hong Kong’s compulsory contributory pension fund, somewhat loosely like the 401(k) in the USA or a hybridised combo of the UK’s personal pension, occupational pension and ‘stakeholder’ pension schemes.)

Unlike the situation in Singapore, our MPF provides for no early access until the person is over 65. Average age of people in Hong Kong is 41/42. The value of the 6,000 bucks would’ve been wiped clean by ‘regular’ inflation long before then. For the man in the street, if this becomes an annual handout, it would be a better payout than the MPF when we retire.

Not the Financial Secretary!

Why the backflip? First reason: civil servants’ morale (read: whingeing) have as much to do with this humiliating climbdown as lawmakers’ threats. Civil servants’ own bloated pension funds wouldn’t have benefited from an MPF handout. Consider allowing them a few more of our benefits — such as job insecurity and paying for our own air-conditioning. Second reason: If we’re French, we’d call the handout a panic measure in true gallic fashion, this time specifically to stave off a demo set for Sunday, 6th March.

Question. Do permanent residents currently in gaol [AmE: jail] qualify? If so, then crime does pay!

Aside: The local media, in a fit of hack sensationalism, quoted a waste worker as saying:

“Six thousand dollars is more than I make collecting waste cardboard all year.”

Which generated this remark from one commentator (who shall remain nameless):

“Sort it out, Tsang, you phuqwitted waste of air.”

Considering the 41% price hike let loose on cigarettes by Financial Secretary John “Tom Selleck” Tsang on Budget Day, you might as well put the 6,000 dollars into a cigarette fund before every other price going up wipes it worthless by next month.

* * *

Not to put too fine a point on things, the anti-smoking lobby should be consider the handout matter on its own recognizance since their happy handouts are (factually speaking) coming at the expense of the lungs of their filthy, inconsiderate, bad-mannered, atheistic, over-religious, overpaid, oversexed, smoking brethren and sisters. Pray that you should bow and be damned grateful to them, you little snot. (Joking aside, smokers as a group are in fact the biggest spenders in food, beverages, eating out, having nights out and take-out laundry out of any other consumer grouping.)

* * *

On a ever-so-slightly deeper level, academics say the sudden U-turn suggests the decision-making process at the highest levels of government is chaotic and lacking in guiding principlesQuite the opposite. There is no waffling or vacillation in the government: the guiding principle has nearly always been to go through the motions of trying to better the people’s lot whilst leaving them to fend for themselves in accordance with the tenets of free-market capitalism. Don’t they farkin’ always!

As to why there is chaos or lack of guiding principles in top officialdom, those academics went on to back up their prognostications with the same, worn-out, hot-air rationalisations (widely quoted in the local media) they’ve always been fond of churning out for the precious sound bite they so crave:

  • the central government in Peking largely controls the already one-sided process of selecting our chief executive; and
  • the highly complicated process by which we elect our lawmakers gives power skewed towards special-interest groups mainly in the business sector.

True enough, but these have no bearing on the decision to switch from pension fund to direct handouts. Non sequitur. It really does take an effort of will and logic to link those two facts even tenuously with the matter of the handouts.

* * *

'Real capitalism'

Aside: There is a lesson to be learnt here against listening to academic auguries, which have a strong tendency to ‘take things to their logical conclusions’ that don’t always reflect historical or topical reality. Theirs is a methodology of analysis that relies on a set of orderly logical steps based on their respective established (i.e. static) models of analysis but applied — apologies for the chemical metaphor — to a system of high entropy.

(Everybody deserves to be able to express themselves. And the fact that a group of people would pick on a topic or anybody and exercise what is really a disproportionate level of influence on the general public because of their supposed academic credentials, I think, is something that should be abhorrent to everybody. Of course, it’s a two-way street: the general public has to be sufficiently unwashed in the ways of the academic world to make the exercise convincing enough.)

* * *

Prediction: The default way of doing things by any government is to give with one hand and take away with the other. Mark my words, the government will institute eligibility preconditions (on the quiet, of course) for the handout. It always does when money is concerned.

© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2011.

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