Issues & Insights

All Free Men Are Citizens Of Hong Kong

I&I Editorial

Instead of saying the German for “I am a jelly doughnut” at the Brandenburg Gate in 1963, President John F. Kennedy would have done better to declare, “Ich bin ein Hongkonger.”

Chinese forces are apparently preparing for a possible invasion to quell demonstrators within the Pearl of the Orient, many sporting American flags. Its citizens want full freedoms and a cessation of interference from a Beijing government that has learned well how to use limited market economics to its advantage while maintaining a political despotism and the kind of expansionist aims to be expected from a Marxist-Leninist regime.

The paramount concern, of course, should be for the innocents within Hong Kong who might soon find themselves in the midst of a repeat of Tiananmen Square. But a Hong Kong under siege has further meaning in the eyes of the world.

It continues to be what it has been for decades, a living reminder that people anywhere can do anything if they have economic freedom. Hong Kong is a shining, unassailable testament to the power of unfettered capitalism.

“The island was a barren, almost uninhabited rock when it was acquired by the British in 1841 as a trading settlement,” noted the February 1959 monthly letter of the First National City Bank of New York (today’s decidedly politically correct Citibank), available to read on the Foundation for Economic Education’s website. “Lacking in resources, tillable land, or even adequate water supply, its principal asset is a sheltered deepwater harbor.”

Hong Kong, already prosperous, reached the heights of its singular economic success in the aftermath of adversity. After mainland China became communist and isolated, “Hong Kong found itself no longer the gateway to China, but instead on the edge of the Bamboo Curtain.” Its trade collapsed and a million refugees doubled its population. But instead of implementing “massive programs of government spending or requests for foreign assistance, reliance was placed on private initiative.”

As the bank’s tribute to the free-market powerhouse pointed out, “That it grew and attracted the commerce of all nations was because it offered businessmen — Chinese and Western alike — a stable government, the rule of law, low taxes, and a minimum of official interference.”

What’s the secret of Hong Kong’s continuing success into the 21st century, in spite of the expiration of Britain’s lease on the colony in 1997 and rule transferred to communist Beijing? It’s no secret.

A 428-Square-Mile Repudiation Of Socialism

As one Canadian publisher described it, “Hong Kong keeps it very simple. There’s no capital gains tax, there’s no dividend tax, there’s no tax on interest, and you are only taxed on income earned in Hong Kong — not overseas. The system here makes people more entrepreneurial. Maximum personal tax is 15%, but there are lots of allowances to get it lower, and corporate tax is set at 16.5% — so people are not spending half their time trying to avoid or evade. You have money in your pocket and you do things with it. You invest. You buy shares or you start second businesses.”

He pointed out that “If I earned $100,000 in Canada, after tax I would keep $64,000. If I earned $100,000 in Hong Kong, and made use of the married man’s tax allowance, I would keep $90,100.”

Hong Kongers know better than anyone in the world how bogus the American and European left’s hysteria regarding “income inequality” is. Even though the neighboring city of Shenzhen, mainland China’s “Silicon Valley,” population more than 12.5 million, has overtaken Hong Kong, population fewer than 7.5 million, in GDP, “per capita GDP in Hong Kong in 2018 was HK$381,870, equal to around 322,000 yuan according to the annual average exchange rate, which was well above Shenzhen’s 200,000 yuan.” That’s over 60% more in the place where the rich — and everyone else — pay a pittance in taxes.

Even those living in free countries where government is too big, taxes are oppressive, and economic activities are policed by heavy-handed regulation, share a bond with Hong Kong in cherishing what economic liberty they do have.

So that much of JFK’s Berlin speech in Berlin would, today, be perfectly appropriate in reference to Hong Kong. Kennedy spoke of “the fighting spirit” of the city. “There are many people in the world,” he said, “who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin.”

This could be said of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and the three other members of the socialist Squad — as well as of many of their “centrist” colleagues in Congress or running for president — who think high taxes and government programs can deliver a good life to millions: Let AOC+3 come to Hong Kong. And the 20-some-odd candidates seeking the White House, too.

“You live in a defended island of freedom,” JFK added, “but your life is part of the main. So let me ask you as I close, to lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today, to the hopes of tomorrow, beyond the freedom merely of this city … or your country … to the advance of freedom everywhere … beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind. Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free.”

President Trump on Thursday urged China’s President Xi Jinping to negotiate an agreement with Hong Kong. “If President Xi would meet directly and personally with the protesters,” Trump tweeted, “there would be a happy and enlightened ending to the Hong Kong problem. I have no doubt!”

If Xi chooses force instead, the 45th president would do well to echo the sentiments of the 35th president and declare: “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Hong Kong.”

— Written by Thomas McArdle

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