February 21, 2006

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Class wordfare

In the past month there have been several examples of the rise of Marxism in places such as China's central bank and a new Marxist think tank. But did you realise that Marxist class analysis pervades even the world's free-est economy, that darling of laissez-faire economics, Hong Kong? Tomorrow sees runner-up Chief Executive Henry Tang deliver the annual budget, where he explains how another year of windfall gains from restricted land sales and a narrow income tax on the top 10% will keep the city sweet for another year. He has carefully leaked his intention to set up a committee to examine a goods and services tax, which will only be safely implemented long after the 2007 Chief Executive elections. Hong Kong is one of the last remaining developed economies to not have such a tax.

But the details of the budget can wait. What always happens in the lead up to the budget is pleas from various interest groups for tax cuts or government hand-outs. This is not unique to Hong Kong. What does seem unique is the extent to which the debate is framed in terms of class. The newspapers and radio constantly refer to the "lower middle class", the "middle class" and even the "sandwich class". It would seem that both the proleteriat (too poor to worry about) and bourgeoisie (the source of all revenue) are not worthy of mention, but this mythical middle class is where the action is. Who are this middle class? Why are they so worthy of the government's attention? Why always this focus on a particular class (or any class at all for that matter) - the very notion seems absurd in a modern economy.

And they don't even get to vote. But perhaps that's the point. If you don't get legitimacy through the ballot box, you need to get it through keeping the populace sweet. In this town the property developers pay up in the land auctions to fund the government to keep the punters sweet. I don't think that's what Karl had in mind.

posted by Simon on 02.21.06 at 09:13 AM in the Hong Kong democracy/politics category.


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