Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Why do Hong Kong tycoons hold on to their wealth while Westerners give back so much?

CommentInsight & Opinion
2018-01-25

Michael Chugani says the Teresa Cheng scandal has led him to question why Hong Kong’s ultra rich prefer to keep their wealth, unlike their counterparts in the West. A conversation with the city’s third-wealthiest man shows there are exceptions

Who would have thought that embattled justice secretary Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah’s illegal structures would reawaken public anger at how Hong Kong’s rich live?

We know from Cheng’s upscale homes that she is wealthy but nowhere near our tycoons who belong to a class of their own. Once admired for their rags-to-riches stories, they are now mocked by many Hongkongers.

Our tycoons have amassed immense wealth but what always strikes me is how they cling on to it, passing it down to their children instead of giving it back to society. America’s super rich have amassed even greater wealth. The difference is that most have pledged to give it away. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, now the world’s richest man, even asked Twitter followers for philanthropy ideas.

Why are the top donors in The Giving Pledge, started by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, all Westerners? Surely that should shame Asians. I have long wanted to ask an actual Hong Kong tycoon upfront why Asians pocket their wealth while Westerners give much of it back to society.

When property and casino magnate Lui Che-woo of K Wah Group obliged, I wondered if I would get straight answers. But that’s exactly what I got over a lunch of takeaway fishball noodles with Hong Kong’s third-richest man.

A huge cultural difference steeped in politics and tradition is why Gates can give away his billions with his children’s blessing while Hong Kong’s tycoons keep their fortunes in the family. Western parents ask their children to make their own way when they come of age but Chinese parents don’t ever want their children to leave home.

That reminded me of how accustomed ordinary Hongkongers are to seeing the offspring of the rich fight over the family fortune. I don’t know if cultural differences will dissipate enough for our tycoons to become like Gates or Buffett but my sit-down with the 88-year-old Lui was like a breath of fresh air.

He pressed the point that he started with little, made a lot, and now wants to give back to the world that enriched him, quoting the Chinese saying that you gain more by giving than receiving. He reminded me of my time in Seattle seeing Gates speak so passionately about easing world hunger and disease.

Instead of dividing his vast fortune among his children, Lui has his own version of a giving pledge – the nearly HK$20 billion Lui Che Woo Foundation through which he does his philanthropy work. His offspring run different businesses and channel profits to top up the foundation.

The HK$4 billion LUI Che Woo Prize has a different mission – handing out HK$60 million a year to winners who have helped advance world civilisation in different ways. It’s relatively new compared to the Nobel Prize or Shaw Prize but is the most generous in prize money.

When you have nearly two hours with a property tycoon who likes to talk about giving, it’s not easy to switch subjects.

Property prices in Hong Kong show no signs of dropping. Photo: EPABut I needed to hear from a property tycoon if home prices in Hong Kong – the world’s highest – will ever ease. He gave me a straight answer. With the mainland’s 1.4 billion population and the growth of the Greater Bay Area, there’s so much money coming in that it’s hard for prices to drop.

I never thought I would hear a property tycoon say the rush to build nano flats is unhealthy but Lui did. Homes have to be at least 300-400 square feet for healthy living. And he was brutally frank about Hong Kong’s disillusioned youth. They already have a lot compared to his own past when a dim sum meal was like a banquet.

You may say I’m a dreamer but maybe one day our other tycoons will also talk more about giving than taking. Maybe one day they’ll say nano flats are a no-no. And maybe one day, they’ll set up Hong Kong’s very own giving pledge.

Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong journalist and TV show host

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Next head of HKU, Zhang Xiang, must lay down a strict code of conduct for students and staff

CommentInsight & Opinion
2018-01-05

Tony Kwok says the incoming head must guide the University of Hong Kong – once Asia’s finest – to adopt an attitude of zero tolerance towards disrespectful and rowdy conduct in the name of academic freedom

 

To many insider observers, the most unfortunate incident in the recent history of the University of Hong Kong was the student protest controversy over the visit of Li Keqiang, then a vice-premier, in 2011, which played a part in Professor Tsui Lap-chee’s decision to resign the vice-chancellorship in 2014.

Under Tsui’s leadership from 2002 to 2014, Hong Kong’s oldest university was acknowledged as being among the world’s best institutions, and arguably Asia’s finest. Tsui is regarded as one of the university’s best vice-chancellors; had he stayed, he could have taken the university to greater heights.

Today, the university is no longer Asia’s best, and some of its faculty and students appear more focused on taking part in social movements and political activities than on academic studies. Their irresponsible behaviour has brought the university into disrepute.

Hence, one would have expected a big welcome for the appointment of a renowned scientist to replace the outgoing incumbent vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson. Zhang Xiang, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, a top US university, has a distinguished track record in scientific research. Yet, his appointment was greeted with disdain by some in Hong Kong simply because he was born on the mainland.

Some said his English is not good enough, even though he has taught in America for years.

Dr William Cheung Sing-wai, chairman of HKU’s academic staff association, even said: “I’m worried that under his leadership, HKU will just be another Peking University or Tsinghua University.”

In Zhang’s interview with the media, questions focused on how he would uphold the core value of academic freedom in the university. Specifically, he was asked if he would allow Hong Kong independence to be freely discussed on campus. Zhang’s answer was short and sharp: while reaffirming the importance of academic freedom, he said it has its own limits.

Zhang should lay down the limits soon after taking office. I propose that he revises the code of conduct for staff and students, drawing from the experience of UC Berkeley, where he has been teaching.

The university lists 12 values that all staff and students must uphold in its “Standards of Ethical Conduct”. They include: individual responsibility and accountability; respect for others; compliance with laws and regulations; and the proper use of university resources.

Professor Tsui Lap-chee stepped down as HKU vice-chancellor in 2014. Under his leadership, Hong Kong’s oldest university was acknowledged as Asia’s finest. Photo: Nora Tam

If the above values are incorporated into the HKU’s code of conduct, the following disgraceful activities – which have happened in various Hong Kong universities and schools over the past few years – would be banned from campus:

 Anonymous posters with provocative language displayed.

 Activities promoting Hong Kong independence, or any other political activities.

 University staff getting involved in political activities.

 Disrespectful behaviour at school events, such as a graduation ceremony.

 Abusive shouting at university council members and government officials.

Rather than taking a lenient stance, as in the past, the university should now take a zero-tolerance approach to all breaches of the code of conduct.

The new vice-chancellor faces a tough road ahead. He will need public support to prevail against the localist forces in the university and local media – the same forces that caused the university to lose one of its greatest leaders, Professor Tsui, in 2014.

Tony Kwok is an honorary fellow and adjunct professor at HKU Space, and an adviser to Our Hong Kong Foundation


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「學位貶值論」錯失焦點——「辛普森悖論」的啟示

明報
觀點
2017-09-18
趙永佳、周德威

每年當大批大學生畢業離校進入勞工市場,都總會有評論或研究報告提出「學位貶值論」,指過去一段時間,大學畢業生不論是起薪點或是工作一段時間後的薪資增長,都日見下滑,與整體勞工收入有可觀增長相形見絀。

青年整體工資增 按教育程度比較則下降

我們以1991年、2001年及2011年3次人口普查整體數據當中的5%樣本來說明。1991年25至29歲在職青年,扣除通脹後工資中位數增加了20%。同期30至34歲勞動人口工資中位數也上升近四成。但同時持有大學學位的25至29歲青年平均工資則下跌達13.6%。而同期30至34歲、大學畢業的青年工資中位數,更跌了22%。這大概就是「學位貶值論」者的最有力證據。

不過當按教育程度比較,青年工資收入顯著下降,而不按教育程度分組比較,下跌幅度則輕微得多甚至反而上升,在統計學中這個結果就是一個「辛普森悖論」(Simpson’s Paradox)。其基本含義是,兩個變量(在這裏是工資與年份)之間在不同分組裏皆有相同方向的關係;但在不作分組的時候,兩個變量的關係卻可以大大減弱、消失甚至相反。統計學家認為這個現象的主要原因,是因為有第三個(或第四個)變項在影響兩者之關係。而這裏就是組別構成的變化。

在香港,辛普森悖論顯現在25至29歲勞動人口,整體工資在2011年前之20年有相當增長;但分組計算後,除了最高(研究學位)或最低(中五或以下)組別較穩定外,幾乎所有組別的工資中位數在扣除通脹後都明顯下滑。悖論於30至34歲的勞動人口整體工資變化上就更清晰:所有勞動人口的工資由1991年的10,799元增至2001年之15,638元,而在2001至2011年則維持約1.5萬元(圖1);但分組計算後,除了中五或以下勞動人口的工資持平之外,其他學歷都明顯下降。

「學位貶值論」沒考慮人口教育水平改善

這看似矛盾的趨勢就清楚說明,這類工資水平的長期統計在分組計算後必須小心詮釋。試想,為什麼當每一組青年人的平均工資都在下降時,整體平均工資卻在20年間有增長?單單聚焦在「大學生工資跑輸大市」,除了製造「道德恐慌」外,還有什麼積極意義?

一個導致悖論的原因就是整體樣本(和所有勞工)的構成改變,例如勞動力中的教育與族裔構成或其中工資分佈的改變。這裏我們要關注的當然是人口中不同學歷的構成。在圖2,在所有25至29歲的人口當中,有大學學位或以上者由7.8%激增至37.3%;中五或以下學歷者,則由75.4%急降至40%。「學位貶值論」者只集中提出持有學位者平均工資下跌,但卻沒有考慮本港人口中教育水平改善的重點!

香港勞動人口的學歷分佈除了揭示大學畢業生平均工資在下降以外,也提醒我們,在殖民地時代的香港因高等教育長期受壓抑,只有少數「精英」能考入大學殿堂,但在1990年以後高等教育體系快速擴張,先是大學教育資助委員會系統的新生由1991年的1萬人左右,增至2013/14年的1.7萬人(雖然在2000年後增加放緩),然後是近年私立大學的擴張。

「大學生不再是天之驕子」是在先進國家中十分正常的社會進步象徵。當然我們必須關注大學畢業生的出路問題,但他們的長期工資趨勢,因為大學畢業生在整體人口中翻了幾番之後,事實上已不能直接比較。換另一角度看,比起1991年多了幾倍年輕人能擺脫低學歷低工資,而得到學士水平的中等工資。

而只聚焦畢業生工資,也忽略很多青年勞動市場問題。其中最嚴重的當然是低學歷者工資水平在過去20年幾乎無大改變的情况。要知道,教育水平較低者平均工資本來已經是最低,但現在就更低!似乎社會更應關注的,是在2011年佔25至29歲人口40%和22.7%的只有中五、中五以上和學位以下的青年人勞動市場的處境。

青年人的處境是社會必須注意的議題,不過現在有關青年「問題」的討論都受不同因素影響。而當更多學界以外的社會團體加入討論,卻會令問題更難聚焦,容易以偏概全。「下流」現象可能是所有年輕人都在面對的問題,但並不是只在大學生當中發生。他們的「怨氣」也不光是只源自「搵食艱難」;所謂「上游」、「下流」,甚至可能不是最主要因素。

以數據闡釋 須注意會否呈現片面「現實」

我們非常關注大學生的職場發展。我們認為學界一方面要檢視他們在本科的訓練是否能協助同學將來在不同進路的生涯發展,而另一方面也要把討論放大至香港整體經濟發展的方向與結構,才可以為青年人的出路提供更多機會。

辛普森悖論的出現,也提醒我們「科普工作」(現在流行叫「知識轉移」)的重要。在社會科學和統計學訓練中,如何應用和詮釋數據是重要一環。在公眾討論中以數據闡釋議題就是在進行翻譯工作,但在過程中會否只呈現片面的「現實」,卻是我們在公共領域發聲所必須注意的環節。

(作者按:本文的分析為兩名作者在中文大學香港亞太研究所任職時所完成,特此致謝)

作者趙永佳是香港教育大學社會科學系講座教授,周德威是理工大學專任導師


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If Singapore can groom political talent for good governance, why can’t Hong Kong?

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-09-07
Gary Wong Chi-him says that if Carrie Lam wants more effective governance in Hong Kong, she should look to Singapore’s political cultivation process, not its civil service training

During her maiden official trip to Singapore, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor visited the country’s Civil Service College, admitting that it was her second attempt to learn from the vision of the local academy. In the face of new global challenges, professional training for public servants is important, but the Singapore government’s great foresight is not merely the result of a civil service training facility. Rather, its rigorous system in recruitment and development of political talent is key.

Lee Kuan Yew, founding prime minister of Singapore, once stated that the key to the country’s success was “the best and brightest doing the most outstanding jobs”, meaning political talent doing political work.

One must overcome many hurdles to represent the People’s Action Party in Singapore’s general elections. According to Men in White: The Untold Story of Singapore’s Ruling Political Party, candidates must complete an IQ exam, psychological test with more than 1,000 questions and two face-to-face interviews for clinical assessment. Doctors examine childhood and family life, educational background, experience with national service, sex psychology history, marriage habits, social activities, health, work experience, finances, life philosophy and political motivation. However, past performance in grass-roots work is given higher priority than the psychological test. In the past, Lee Kwan Yew disapproved of some outstanding civil servants due to their lack of ability to work with grass-roots communities and labour unions.

Singapore strongly believes that dealing with low-income groups is the starting point of political training. Political newcomers must begin working in the grass-roots community and climb up step by step. After winning in the general elections and building a solid power base, they may finally enter the government to serve as cabinet ministers or in other high-level leadership positions.

In Singapore, members of Parliament, including the cabinet ministers, meet the residents of their constituencies every week – a programme known as a “meet-the-people session”. I have attended one such session, which began at 7pm and officially ended at midnight. Since there is no specific closing time, the MPs met all the residents who came for help.

Singapore highly values nurturing successors in political leadership. Early in the 1980s, Lee Kwan Yew began talent-hunting across the nation for people in their 30s and early 40s, with academic brilliance and distinguished careers, to join the political arena.

During each general election, the PAP requests a third of its MPs give up their seats for new candidates. Prime Minister Lee Hsien-loong believes this turnover rate allows each MP to serve an average of three terms, or about 15 years. In Singapore, if one begins a political career at 37, he or she would only be around 50 on completing 15 years of public service. Singapore emphasises recruiting talent from outside the establishment. Lee Kwan Yew did not want to see a situation where cabinet members hold similar views, leading to “ideological inbreeding”. Currently, the PAP actively recruits talent from think tanks, religious groups, business corporations, community organisations and other fields. Those with political talent are encouraged to have different ideologies, but must agree on core values, handle problems logically and share the goal of solving political problems.

Beyond providing training for civil servants, perhaps Hong Kong more urgently needs a structure for developing political talent. Hong Kong’s chief executive often faces difficulties in forging an effective cabinet, final appointees rarely share a common vision, and the poor organisation process leads to public criticism. Moreover, most appointed officials have no experience in grass-roots politics and elections.

Discussions of Singapore’s political talent system are not intended to encourage Hong Kong to replicate Singapore’s model, but to caution the government to deepen their examination into effective strategies that better discover, nurture and sustain talent in public service. After all, good governance cannot depend on capable public servants – it requires excellent political leaders.

Gary Wong Chi-him is governor of the Path of Democracy