He is a quitter after all
On the high seas

Oligopoly

Recently, I have become rather bad at reading Hong Kong blogs.  Mainly it's sheer laziness, but the problem is that there are just too many of them, and having got them all set up in an RSS reader it's all too easy to check half a dozen and overlook the rest.

Which is a pity, because there is some good stuff out there.  And, no, Mr Fumier, I don't mean you.

For example, Learning Cantonese had a rather long post about the problems faced by the pan-democrats.  This is what I meant when I said that the biggest obstacle to democracy in Hong Kong is our political parties - it's so easy to find fault with all of them. 

First of all, the pro-democrats are, and have always been, a bunch of strange bedfellows united by a single issue. There have always been cracks, economic fissures, in Hong Kong's pro-democracy alliance. (Just as there are strange bedfellows, indeed, among the pro-Beijing camp). Strip away the eloquent philosophy, and what does a wealthy guy like London-educated Democratic party barrister Martin Lee have in common with a humble schoolteacher activist like democracy's great uncle Szeto Wah?  Fear of Beijing has been enough to cement the pro-Democrats together for a decade, as solidly as Tito held Yugoslavia.

There's also a reference to a book which I think I need to read.

Ten years after the 1997 handover, Hong Kong's battle lines are changing. The people, and the politicians of Hong Kong have begun to focus less on Beijing, and more on the enemy within--the collusion between home-grown tycoons and a government that exercises almost unlimited control over the city's wealth and development. (The way this system works to choke Hong Kong's economic growth and initiative is very ably explained by Alice Poon in her great book, and by my buddy Hemlock, in his.).

This led me to something else I had overlooked - an article by Alice Poon in Asia Sentinel:

Hong Kong’s proposed new competition law barely scratches the surface and leaves the oligarchs pretty much alone

Hong Kong is about to get a law sometime later this year designed to regulate competition in an economy that has always prided itself on being red in fang and claw. But don’t look for much substance. The oligarchs of Hong Kong have always been largely exempt from the hard scramble of real competition and the powers that be are making sure that the final law is going to be more form than substance ‑  no review mechanisms for the control of mergers and acquisitions, no criminal sanctions and no consumer protection provisions.

Although this is a city famously regarded as a territory of free marketeers, that is largely a false perception perpetrated by right-wing American think-tanks which consistently declare Hong Kong to be a paragon of competitiveness. What the libertarian think tanks measure are free ports with low-tariff regimes and fully convertible currencies. In Hong Kong, taxes are low, government is small, trade is free and business, credit and labor markets are fully deregulated.

But the fact is that Hong Kong’s trading companies, particularly Hutchison Whampoa and Jardine Matheson, operate a duopoly that stifles competition in supermarkets, petrol stations and drug store chains. In the late 1990s, the oligarchs, aided by government policy, famously drove Carrefour, the French retailer, out of town and put an end to any chance of so-called big-box retailers like Wal-Mart or COSTCO that would save consumers money and give them choice.

And, of course, if you search for a review of Alice Poon's book you will find one by Hemlock.  Who has his own book out now - and what's the betting that the "friendly journalist" who interviewed him on his website is the same person who interviewed him for Slate?  Yes, the blogger behind Learning Cantonese, Daisann McLane.

Incidentally, it rather amused me (and maybe nobody else) that Hemlock's book is published by Chameleon Press, who also published several of Nury Vittachi's books.  Or perhaps Hemlock and Peter Gordon (the boss of Chameleon Press) now have something in common.

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