November 28, 2005

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Hong Kong's Commission on Strategic Development

It's been done before, but few do it as well as Jake van der Kamp. Today in the SCMP he takes to the newest Hong Kong government wheeze to pretend to talk about democracy, the Commission on Strategic Development. It's a read the whole thing effort, reproduced in full below the jump.

Working paper's tone and questions cast democracy as a dirty word

"Social conflict, public jitters and populism have undoubtedly posed threats to our society."

Secretariat working papers,
Commission on Strategic Development

Undoubtedly, you understand and thus when the members of this new commission meet to discuss the big questions of the day, they will just have to take the statement as read. It is undoubted.

Here is a little more along the same line: "How can democratic development be taken forward without undermining economic prosperity, causing social instability, impairing the efficiency of government, and undermining trust between Hong Kong and the central government?"

What we have here obviously is evidence of a mindset that distrusts democracy as rule by the rabble. The civil servants who coined these statements are unlikely to say so directly but it oozes out of everything else they say. They think you are not mature enough to be entrusted with decisions in public policy. Only they themselves have reached this exalted status. Yours is not to reason why. Yours is but to do and die. It is an old notion and it has not gone away.

But why should social conflict pose a threat to our society? Social conflict is rather the best way of determining what directions society should take in matters in which there is reason for dispute.

For instance, there is no social conflict at all about society's resolve that the police should be set to catch thieves and bring them to justice. Where we get social conflict is in such questions as whether government should continue to reclaim our harbour and turn it into the Kowloon Ditch.

On the one side we have government officials saying that reclamation is absolutely required to accommodate traffic projections and demand for office space in Central.

On the other side we have people saying that an open harbour is a priceless asset and congestion could be resolved if government did not insist on locating its own offices in a financial district.

Who is right? Who is wrong? I have my own opinions but the point is that we have legitimate disagreement here and the only way to resolve it is to argue it out in public, sometimes heatedly.

This makes for social conflict but it is just the sort of conflict we need. Out of it we will eventually get a decision in which we can be reasonably sure that the relevant questions have been fully explored. Likewise those "public jitters". Life itself is a state of "jitters" about the future.

Full consensus you get only in the grave. If you want to tempt an explosion of public unrest, however, there is no better way than to give "public jitters" no outlet.

Democracy does not create them. They always exist. Democracy only allows them to be expressed.

And what do these anonymous civil servants mean by "populism"? Do they say that our elected representatives are all just a pack of baby-kissers who pander only to the baser instincts of their electorates and who scorn real deliberation of public policy issues?

If so, I would like to hear it said directly.

It is certainly implied and it is a rank insult, both to legislators and to you, dear reader.

But let us turn to the questions in that second statement I quoted.

How can democratic development be taken forward without undermining economic prosperity? Let us do it as a survey. You can do it yourself. In one column rank the world's countries by their wealth. In another column rank them by their state of democratic development.

Strange, isn't it, how the two rankings match so well. What is this talk of democracy "undermining"? The evidence says it is rather rule through edict by bureaucrat that undermines.

Causing social instability. I give you a survey again. In one column rank the world's countries by social instability or police state measures to hide social instability. In the other column rank them from least democratic to most democratic. Once again we have a close match. Where would you rather live, Britain or Chechnya?

Impairing the efficiency of government. Hello, North Korea. Yours is a very efficient government. Your bureaucrats can do what they want unimpaired by democracy of any sort. Your country must be the most prosperous on earth.

Undermining trust between Hong Kong and the central government. What trust? There can only be trust between a government and its people if trust is given by choice. Compulsion is not trust. If the central government wants trust from Hong Kong then it should be prepared to trust Hong Kong. The vote determines whether it does.

But our bureaucrats are determined that they do not want the vote. They do not have to say so. They need only let their mindset determine how they phrase their questions and all is immediately apparent.

posted by Simon on 11.28.05 at 12:06 PM in the Hong Kong democracy/politics category.


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