No easy fix for poverty

Updated: 2015-09-30 09:48

By Staff Writer(HK Edition)

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The recent fall in tourist arrivals is a warning sign of looming unemployment, because the consumer service sector is a major source of low-paid jobs in Hong Kong. There is no denying that the city has become overly reliant on this labor-intensive industry in recent years and the need to step up economic restructuring has never been more urgent than today. However, there is no telling when or even whether economic restructuring will produce tangible results in terms of job creation. More immediate measures are needed to prevent a sudden rise of unemployment rates in the near future.

Hong Kong is a capitalist free-market economy. Its very nature has long determined that businesses must have the freedom to make decisions that ensure profitability, albeit legally, or they will not be able to survive fierce competition in the market and provide jobs for society. People may resent the "law of the jungle" or "survival of the fittest", but that is exactly what businesses have to deal with on a daily basis in order to stay alive, if not thrive. And that is why the governments from all capitalist societies face the same challenges posed by widening income gaps and the working poor.

The SAR government has been trying hard to help low-income families get back on their feet economically, apart from offering financial assistance out of the welfare budget, in the past 18 years. The results may be debatable among people of different backgrounds, but no one can deny the fact that public policies can do only so much in capitalist societies everywhere.

Take the minimum wage for example: It always takes a great deal of negotiation to convince employers a slight increase of the minimum wage will not break their bank accounts - or their financial bottom lines for that matter. The government cannot simply force employers to agree on a minimum wage raise whenever pressure groups demand it, because such a move will almost surely be counterproductive.

Poverty alleviation is an extremely complex project of socio-economic system engineering and it may take multiple generations - if not forever - to find a reasonably effective solution. It no doubt requires determination and dedication on the government's part. But society also needs to "chip in" with compassion, understanding and perseverance, as well as collective thinking. There is no easy fix for poverty. But Hong Kong people can prove they have what it takes to perform another economic "miracle" if they set their minds to it. An "appropriately proactive" government will definitely help.

(HK Edition 09/30/2015 page10)