21 February 2012

A brief history of Hong Kong housing on chinaSMACK

Time Out HK has a highly interesting article on chinaSMACK recently, on the topic of the housing market (or sad lack thereof) in Hong Kong, which increasingly is appearing to be a case of laisser-faire capitalism gone bad on each possible level: a highly-unregulated housing market that eventually fell into the hands of a very few people, who in turn used their newfound wealth and influence to cultivate close relationships first with the British colonial and then with the Chinese communist government in order to stifle both economic competition and political action that could limit their activities in the public interest. Definitely worth a very careful read, even if Time Out HK’s prescriptions ultimately end up sounding a bit… shall we say, resigned.

It is a very thorny problem, and it is not one (it should be noted) which has remained confined to Hong Kong. In the mainland, large developers have been following exactly the same pattern; protected by the government, they acquire massive tracts of agricultural land often for dirt-cheap prices from cooperative local administrations for new urban developments. These are generally seen as good investments because they are sponsored by the local governments as a good source of revenue and because the rising population of China (and the social norms which have come to demand that young people attempting to attain any kind of social status - to get married, for example - must purchase a house and a car) ensure that demand for these new developments will always be there. Meanwhile, prices continue to inflate, and the people who end up out in the cold are the new homeowners and, of course, the vagrant peasants whose land was expropriated in the first place, often on remarkably unfair terms.

Mainland Chinese and Hongkongers are, if truth be told, really on the same page here (or rather, the Mainlanders will be arriving on that page quite soon). And yet, now more than ever, there seems to be a growing, completely misdirected resentment between the two groups. Whipping up ethnic- or linguistic-nationalist sentiment (and all the epithets that come with, ‘locusts’ and ‘dogs’ and so forth), in the end, serves no one’s true interests except for those who benefit by the broken systems on either side of Shenzhen Wan.

Thanks to Aaron Posehn and Rob Klugerman for the link!

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