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Our Liberties are under threat

Next Magazine/Second Opinion/2017-09-07/Bill Stacey

Our Liberties are under threat

Sixteen young people are behind bars, a price they willingly pay for their love of Hong Kong. While it is debatable if the price is too high,  many of us who have made this city our home by choice can nevertheless empathize with their “localist” aspirations. Hong Kong is uniquely attractive and it is incumbent upon us all to preserve the local virtues that make us stand out.

First among these is tax. Imagine the newcomer from the “developed” world. For example, Australians earning a good salary have half of their gross wages deducted before they receive anything. On top of that they have to make compulsory retirement savings payments. There is a 10% GST on every dollar they spend. More taxes accumulate. Many other countries have similar burdens.

In Hong Kong we do things differently. The government takes nothing from your pay. The money is yours. MPF money goes into your account. The company you work for is not a tax collector. Taxes are levied later, but at rates that are not wholly out of proportion to the services delivered to you.

At the top of that list of services is safety. We are a remarkably safe city for its size. There are not the “no go” areas that can be found in almost every metropolis. Crime rates are low and the crimes that happen are rarely random acts of violence inflicted on the innocent and vulnerable. Children are safe and can travel alone on public transport.

And that transport works like in few other cities. The trip to and from the airport is swift and comfortable. Choices for transport are many and largely affordable. Cars are a wonderful luxury, but no necessity to live here. The convenience and pervasive commerce of our ever expanding business districts is probably only rivaled by Manhattan.

Education is often criticized, but with money and skill one can, after navigating the arduous admissions processes, find a huge number of choices. Education is delivered in multiple languages, with different educational philosophies by teachers who are reasonably paid and conscientious. We attract teachers from around the world who produce outcomes that rank highly internationally.

Setting up a business here is simple and low-cost, and the rules are fairly clear. There is a cornucopia of agents to assist the process. When you open your doors, you are assuming a serious responsibility and the requirements for employers are serious but straightforward compared to most countries. You can contract for labor, hire and fire – but you had better treat good employees well, because they do have choices.

Admittedly, our rulebook is growing longer, there are businesses that are hard to enter, and the licensing burden is gradually expanding to create more barriers. Yet these rules are usually simple, easily found and enforced in a “black letter” way so that you know where you stand.

Accessing health care is usually a matter of turning up to a doctor’s office or hospital and paying for service. It is an unbelievably more complex process in most countries.

These conveniences can seem prosaic and are easily taken for granted. However, they are founded on a rich vein of culture that is our real strength. The native Cantonese culture is enterprising and resourceful; it is also respectful of others and conscientious. There is an important element of trust that is built from business, civic, religious and clan associations that provide mutual aid and rarely rely on the coercive power of government for support.

And we are an emporium for every kind of food imaginable. For those from other countries, almost every comfort food is available on the shelves of supermarkets or in small specialty stores catering to every taste. Travel the world and people envy you for living in our visually spectacular city.

These local virtues are built on liberty. Those young people behind bars grew up with these virtues. In their defiance, they sounded an alarm that these virtues, hence our liberties, are under threat. We ignore this alarm at our perils.

Caption:Under threat. (Apple Daily photo)

Writer:Bill Stacey   The Lion Rock Institute

我們的自由正受威脅

十六個年青人正準備為他們所愛的香港付上相關的法律責任。我們很多選擇以這城市為家的某程度上都很同情他們關於”本土”的願望,所以責任如果太高是值得相確的。香港的吸引在於它的獨特性,是值得我們企出來捍衛的。

首先要談就是稅制。試想像一下一個從“已發展”國家來港的人。例如,在澳洲一個有不錯收入但收款前要把一半薪金扣除的人。除此以外更要強制儲蓄。消費每一元都會被抽取10%消售稅。還有累進稅。很多其他國家都有差不多的負擔。

香港則大為不同。政府沒有在你的付款內再抽稅。所有錢仍然是你的。強積金都保留在個人戶口。公司出糧時不會預先抽稅。稅率比例跟服務不成正比,而且是出糧後一斷時間才徵收。

服務表上最重要的一環就是安全性。我們在這個城市規模上是非常安全的。在全球大都市當中,我們絕對不是”警示”城市。犯罪率很低,而且罪案很少是對無辜及弱勢造成暴力傷害。兒童都很安全,自己乘坐公共交通工具也沒有問題。

交通方面跟其他大城市都很相似。機場往返都很迅速及舒適。交通工具的選擇很多而且易於負擔。私家車都是奢侈的,住在這裡沒有這個必要。商業區不斷擴大,當中帶來的便利是只有曼哈頓才可以比美的。

教育方面是經常受批評的,但以個人的能力及財力,經過艱鉅的招生過程,仍然可以有很多選擇。更有不同的語言、教學理念由一些得到合理報酬及教學認真的老師提供教學。這地方吸引了全球高質素的師資前來。

這裡創業容易而且成本低,規矩清晰。這裡有很多代理商會幫倒助你成立公司。成立公司後當然對僱員有一定的責任,但對比很多國家來說,條例絕不念糊。你可以任意去跟勞工訂立合約,包括招聘或辭退。但你最好訂立較好的待遇,因為他們都有選擇的。

誠然,我們的條例也越來越多,有些行業的門檻很高,牌照的負擔也成為了障礙。但這些規條都以”白紙黑字”的方式記錄,好讓你易於跟從。

醫療方面可選擇私家醫生或醫院,簡單付費就可以。在某些國家醫療是複雜得難以理解的事情。

以上提及的看起來都是很普通,理所當然不過的事情。然而我們的實力就是建立在這些豐富的文化脈絡上。本地的廣東文化都很,同時也尊重別人及做事認真。這些互相信任的特質都對商業機構、市民之間、宗教團體及親宗會的建立很重要,很少是依賴政府強制性力量的支持。

同時,我們是美食天堂。世界各地的美食都可以在超市或專賣店上的貨架找到。環繞世界,你會發現各地的人們都很羨慕這個偉大的城市。

這些美事都建基於自由。這些面對法律責任的年青人都是在這些美事下成長。他們蔑視的行為正是對這些美事響起了警號從而威脅到我們的自由。但我們漠視了這個風險。

Writer:Bill Stacey 

Translate : Joe Chan

The Lion Rock Institute