"Plutocrats Against Democracy" (Krugman): My thoughts

Paul Krugman's Plutocrats Against Democracy column yesterday is a great read. I don't agree with Krugman all that often, but this piece is clear, well-reasoned, backed up with solid data even if he can't help himself from taking some partisan swipes while he's at it. Also, he uses Hong Kong as an example for a macro-generalization about what is happening in the world, so if you're glued to the #umhk definitely check it out.

What get's me thinking is Krugman's spectre of polarity. He frames it as Plutocrat vs. Democrat, and everyone has her or his preferred words- I call it Local vs. Cosmopolitan.

If you happen to follow the political economy of Hong Kong, a city where an entrepreneurial spirit should sing, polarization is the new normal. Months before the onset of the Umbrella Movement, there were  harbingers of this upcoming normalcy. For the first time ever, on June 4th 2014 there was a counter-demonstration to the June 4th vigil, by a group called Voice of Loving Hong Kong, which broadcast a video discounting the events in Tiananmen Square in 1989 as somewhere between totally fabricated and grossly exaggerated. This is Hong Kong, mind you. 200,000 people streamed onto the streets in the days after Tiananmen. Remember that even C.Y. Leung, the target of popular angst and the subject of endless memes and mock funerals, himself was at the time outspoken about the likely mistrust toward the Chinese Gov't were it not to come clean about what really happened. (See here.)

On the flipside, and as another sign, there was a parallel vigil, in its second year, but this time with ten to twenty times the number of attendees as in 2013, in Tsim Tsa Tsui. Organized by Civic Passion (熱血公民), this rally was extremist in a way that I did not expect. It claimed the usual rally “conveyed the wrong message.[i]” Civic Passion wasn’t satisfied with remembrance or some advocacy for justice, they wanted to go straight to crudely assailing the Central Government in Beijing. And let's face it, this group in particular has made and is making statements that err on the side of challenging Beijing's sovereignty, something that @hks1958 and @scholarismhk should do everything they can to either rein in or distance themselves from.

I think the underlying polarization has to do with concern that a meritocracy is yielding to a connections-first business environment. To paint the issue as one between those with connections and those without, is not correct. The reason is people are O.K. that some  will have greater ability to curry favor- Hong Kong has always been a place with amicable class relations. The difference today is that people then believed they still had a chance- it might have been one in a thousand, or one in a million but it was a legitimate, unfettered shot. Today I fear there is no such belief. And the big fear is that there will be local, there will be cosmo, and nowhere in-between shall they meet.


[i] Luk, Eddie, and Kenneth Lau. "The Standard - China's Business Newspaper."Thestandard.com.hk. The Standard, 5 June 2014. Web. 12 July 2014.