Hong Kong Oligarchs


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The term “oligarch”, defined as “a small group of people having control of a country or organisation” is often used to describe countries like Russia, Ukraine and other autocratic systems where, for various historical reasons, power, influence and wealth is concentrated amongst a small group of people (families, companies, politicians) which usually leads to resentment, unrest and (sometimes) revolution. I had not heard this term used in relation to Hong Kong until recently, but now I hear it all the time.

Despite all the talk amongst the Hong Kong protestors of independence and freedom, the biggest problem, in my opinion, is the ridiculous cost of housing which is hard to justify based on any reasonable measure and causes enormous resentment on the ground. On a ratio of ‘median house prices to median household income’, Hong Kong is more expensive, by a factor of two, than any other city in the world, meaning that “the median annual salary buys just 12 square feet, an eighth as much as in New York or Tokyo” according to the Economist. It’s hard to think of a single reason why Hong Kong’s housing should be so expensive compared to other global cities, other than a deliberate attempt to distort the supply/demand equation.

Three families control Hong Kong’s three main property groups, Wheelock, Henderson Land and Sun Hung Kai, and “since the handover, the tycoons have come to dominate not just the economy but also government, opposing calls for more democratic representation, a more generous welfare state and, of course, a program to build mass, cheap housing of the kind that Singapore has long promoted.” It’s difficult to envisage a settled future for Hong Kong while it remains such an oligarchy.

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