An Attack on The Hong Kong Government’s Lack of Wealth Disparity Diminishment Efforts Under the Neoliberalist Model
By Theresa Hu, Grade 11 Student from The Webb School
It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. Though Charles Dickens’ historic book, A Tale of Two Cities, describes the massive social inequality between the French aristocrats and peasants, this image is still realistic for low-income families in Hong Kong, who have continued to be impacted by our underlying wealth disparity. Central, the wealthy financial district covered with a blanket of modern architecture with luxury stores left and right, and Sham Shui Po, the capital for Hong Kong’s subdivided housing and low-income families. Though there is such a stark dissonance between the two sides of Hong Kong, the government continuously enacts inadequate legislation to help those in need. During the pandemic, the government enforced budget cuts to welfare programs and only offered loans to the unemployed, while simultaneously paying companies billions to keep their employees. Oxfam HK has said that offering unemployment allowance to low-income households would only require $2.4 billion, a fraction of the $80 billion spent on the Employment Support Scheme. By following the current capitalist neoliberalist model, the Hong Kong Government only continues to neglect the needs of low-income families and the imminent wealth gap.
The neoliberalist model prioritizes free market capitalism and private ownership, and aims to reduce government spending and lower taxes through austerity policies, which increase long-term unemployment rates and income inequality. The government spending on the Employment Support Scheme versus unemployment allowance only further proves their neoliberal practices. Though Hong Kong’s economy has grown significantly since the 2008 financial crisis, income inequality has continued to be a significant issue, incomparable to any other developed economy. The pandemic has only further exacerbated the wealth gap. Pre-pandemic, income inequality was already a significant issue.
According to the 2011 Hong Kong Population Census, the income share of the wealthiest 20% of households in Hong Kong increased from 56.5% to 57.1%, but the income share of the poorest 20% of households decreased from 3.2% to 2.7%. As of 2022, the poorest households in Hong Kong make 47.3 times less than the wealthiest households.
By conforming to neoliberalism, the Hong Kong Government refuses to resolve a decades-long issue that impacts the most vulnerable populations in Hong Kong: ethnic minorities, the elderly, low-income families, women, and children. It is inconsequential to argue why the government must prioritize the needs of hundreds and thousands of Hong Kong people over the growing economy. Especially as the pandemic only intensifies the inconceivable struggle that these populations endure, the government must ask themselves: Who do they strive to protect?
1 Oxfam Hong Kong. “Oxfam Hong Kong: Budget failed public Government must offer unemployment allowance.” Oxfam Hong Kong. Last modified April 11, 2021.https://www.oxfam.org.hk/en/news-and-publication/oxfam-hong-kong-budget-failed-public-government-must-offer-unemployment-allowance.
2 Ostry, Jonathan D., Prakash Loungani, and Davide Furceri. “Neoliberalism: Oversold?” FINANCE & DEVELOPMENT 53, no. 2 (June 2016).https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2016/06/ostry.htm.
3 Lau, Maggie. “Poverty in a Rich Society—The Case of Hong Kong.” China Review 15, no. 2 (Fall 2015).https://www.jstor.org/stable/43710023.
4 Lau, Maggie. “Poverty in a Rich Society—The Case of Hong Kong.” China Review 15, no. 2 (Fall 2015).https://www.jstor.org/stable/43710023.
5 Oxfam Hong Kong. “Poorest Make over 47 Times Less Than Richest in Hong Kong As COVID Widens Gap Between Rich and Poor.” Oxfam Hong Kong. Last modified October 5, 2022.https://www.oxfam.org.hk/en/news-and-publication/poorest-make-over-47-times-less-than-richest-in-hong-kong-as-covid-widens-gap-between-rich-and-poor.
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