The lack of democracy under British rule was a key component of Hong Kong’s ascent

Wednesday, November 4th, 2020

Back in 2005, Bryan Caplan noted that Hong Kong has had the freest economy in the world and had since 1970, the earliest year covered by the Economic Freedom of the World data set:

Indeed, it’s higher now [in 2005] under the Communists than it was in 80’s! And it’s hard to deny that Hong Kong has been an economic miracle since World War II. So even though Hong Kong was not a democracy before the Communist takeover, it’s very tempting to believe that the people of Hong Kong would have voted to retain (if not initially adopt) the free-market policies they had.


But it turns out that Hong Kong’s support for laissez-faire is only skin-deep. As soon as you ask people their opinions about specific interventionist policies — all of which, note the authors, “have either not been performed by the government or performed only very light or rarely,” they show their true statist colors.


To be blunt, it looks like the lack of democracy under British rule was a key component of Hong Kong’s ascent. The policies worked wonders, but they never became democratically self-sustaining. In politics, people often resist policy change just because “things have always been this way,” even if the results were never very good. But free-market policies apparently labor under a greater political handicap. Even if “we’ve always left these things to the free market,” even if leaving things to the free market has worked in the past, it just isn’t enough to win over public opinion.

Countless market-oriented intellectuals idolize Hong Kong but I’ve never heard of, much less met, a Hong Kong libertarian. Google confirms my impression, returning no relevant hits for “Hong Kong libertarian.” I’d like to think, then, that Hong Kong’s problem was a shortage of libertarian intellectuals to transform freedom by default into freedom on principle. But sadly, I suspect that wouldn’t have been enough either.


  1. Bruce Purcell says:

    The Hong Kong cartels and Singapore laundering ethnic Chinese money from around South East Asia aren’t exactly libertarian free markets.

  2. W2 says:

    Chinese don’t want freedom. Freedom has never been part of their culture.

  3. Harry Jones says:

    Freedom is a very abstract concept. Those people who can grasp it tend to value it highly. But the rest… you can’t touch freedom, you can’t put in your backpack, you can’t eat it and you don’t notice when it’s gone.

    Freedom is a very future oriented concept. It’s about future options, future possibilities. Not everyone is future oriented by inclination.

    Fear is about the present to near future. Terror is about right now, and anxiety is about the near future. But freedom is about the rest of your life. Only those who think long term can appreciate freedom. The rest are controlled by terror and anxiety.

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