Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Smoke Follows Beauty

According to the Index of Economic Freedom, which is a joint project of the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal, Hong Kong currently enjoys more economic freedom than any other country on earth.

“Economic freedom,” in their sense, exists in countries where few “bees of social virtue are buzzing in Man’s bonnet”: low tax rates on business, low wages, weak or nonexistent unions, and little or no environmental regulations will earn countries a much higher IEF rating than laws protecting the public from the social and economic effects of corporate sociopathy.

Since that's the case, it’s worth mentioning that international executives are beginning to shun Hong Kong because of its air quality:

“Up to a year ago [pollution] really hadn’t hit our pocketbook,” said Victor Fung, chairman of the government-backed Greater Pearl River Delta Business Council. “But now people are not coming to Hong Kong to take that job because their kid has asthma,” he said at a briefing.

Mr Fung’s comments follow an American Chamber of Commerce survey published this weekend that found 60 per cent of 140 senior executives polled were “very worried” about the effect pollution was having on their health. Almost 40 per cent said Hong Kong’s worsening air quality made it difficult to recruit overseas staff, while 80 per cent said they either knew someone who had left the territory, or was thinking of doing so, because of the air pollution.
You heard it here first: the freedom to breathe clean air has its partisans even in the hardheaded, practical, no-nonsense world of business. And the results of the AmCham survey are actually a bit more dramatic than this article lets on; while 60 percent of respondents said they were "very worried," only five percent said they were "not worried."

This isn’t really a new finding, either. Similar reports reached a crescendo in 2002, at which point it was generally agreed that someone really ought to do something. Accordingly, Guangdong Province and HK jointly arrived at a target for emissions caps. Sad to say, it was recently revealed that Guangdong had secretly “raised the emissions caps by as much as 158 percent.”

Who would've thought that the economic and political conflicts of interest inherent in industrial self-policing could lead to such a disappointing outcome?

Oddly enough, while the bulk of HK’s pollution comes from factories in Guangdong, tens of thousands of these factories are owned by executives who live in HK. Unlike workers in Guangdong’s "special economic zones," these businesspeople can afford to move for the sake of their children’s health. But this begs the question of where they can go; there seems to be some truth to the old saying that smoke follows beauty.

All in all, this is an excellent demonstration of the fact that the vulgar idealist theories behind the "Index of Economic Freedom" are about as rational as Hans Hörbiger’s Glazial-Kosmogonie.

(Photo by Michael Wolf, who’s quickly becoming one of my favorite photographers. Click the link to see more of his work.)

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