Basic income could help resolve Hong Kong woes
Among the political turmoil experienced by Hong Kongers, there is another crisis that is eroding the societal foundations of the global financial hub: debilitating poverty.
Hailed as one of the freest economies in the world, Hong Kong now has a higher per capita income than its former colonizer Great Britain. However, they also have a high and persistent poverty rate at nearly 20 percent.
It is not just relative poverty compared to the lavish lifestyles of many Hong Kongers. Many locals have become homeless or McRefugees (those who sleep in McDonalds at night) due to the prohibitively high cost of housing across the autonomous region.
One of the main contributors to the dissatisfaction with Hong Kong’s government is the sense of economic unfairness. Hong Kong youth have low social mobility; despite higher levels of education, they are unable to secure the wages their parents did at their age. The more serious factor is the high level of economic inequality, which threatens social stability.
Social welfare is severely lacking in Hong Kong, partly because many slip through the cracks. However, the lack of a comprehensive welfare system makes Hong Kong an ideal location to implement basic income. The large pool of wealthy individuals means a universal system would be feasible. The market-oriented nature and efficiency of basic income is also in line with its free market tradition.
The basic income would begin to address the various economic issues plaguing the youth and low-income individuals in Hong Kong. Youth will be able to search for more suitable jobs and have cash to afford rent. Those in poverty would not have to worry about finding a place to stay or finding their next meal.
Importantly, it would address many of the underlying factors that are causing tensions to undermine social harmony in the “city of protests.”
As of now, it appears the basic income movement does not have a significant presence in Hong Kong. A conversation with Hong Kong’s basic income Facebook page revealed the administrator was unaware of any prominent activists or academics in Hong Kong pushing the idea. Other regional activists were also unaware of individuals pushing for basic income in Hong Kong.
Due to the increasing awareness in interest in the basic income in China and Taiwan, as well as across Europe, it is probably only a matter of time before the idea gains greater traction in Hong Kong. For the sake of the people sleeping on the streets, and the youth worried about their future, let’s hope it is sooner rather than later.