As I watch the fearless Hong Kong protesters risk life and limb, standing up to the Chinese juggernaut to protect freedom, I can’t help but wistfully wish we’re witnessing the beginning of a spreading popular movement. In my heart of hearts, it’s my fondest hope that these courageous, freedom-loving protesters succeed and that their message of hope catches fire in other countries in desperate need of the Hong Kong formula.
I’m not referring to a spread into mainland China, which would also be wonderful. No, here I’m hoping their thirst for freedom also spreads to the United States.
I’m not saying the United States isn’t free. But it’s a whole lot less free than the special experiment of Hong Kong. For one thing, the Heritage Foundation rates Hong Kong’s as the freest economy in the world, and the United States as the world’s 12th-freest. That’s embarrassing.
Hong Kong is a miracle economy. Its unemployment rate rarely rises above 4 percent. It recovered quickly from the financial crisis in contrast to the very lethargic U.S. recovery between 2008 and 2017. Hong Kong has avoided the curse of a large entitlement system due to its free market policies. It maintains a “simple and efficient” tax rate of 15 percent, from which it drives an astonishing budget surplus, averaging 3.4 percent. Its debt is equivalent to 0.1 percent of GDP.
Leftist orthodoxy would hold that the absence of a robust social safety net would result in widespread human suffering. But the opposite is true. Hong Kong, a city of comparable size to New York City, has a tiny homeless population of approximately 1,000, as opposed to New York, where nearly one of every 121 New Yorkers is currently homeless. Hong Kong’s poverty rate of 14.7 percent is among the lowest in the world.
In spite of a comparatively hands-off regulatory environment, market efficiencies make Hong Kong’s carbon footprint per citizen less than green-obsessed Great Britain, Belgium, Germany, and Luxembourg, to name a few examples. Indeed, its carbon footprint per citizen is only two-thirds of Norway’s (6.4 metric tons per capita versus 9.3) and less than half of Canada’s (15.2 metric tons). If the left really cared about the environment, it shouldn’t abandon the profit motive’s efficient resource management that has proven to be a more effective pollution reducer than central control.
Is Hong Kong’s education system suffering under its heartless capitalism? On the contrary, its education system is ranked third in the world, behind Finland and South Korea. The United States, with all of its massive “investments” in education, was ranked 17th on the list.
Bring the Hong Kong Freedom Revolution to U.S. Cities
Imagine a choice of two buttons. Pressing the first button results in lower taxes, better education, less unemployment, poverty, and homelessness, and a more efficient management of resources leading to lower pollution emissions (including greenhouse gases). The second button results in higher taxes, more homelessness, huge budget deficits, and ineffectual environmental and education policy.
Viewed in this light, wouldn’t you fight for access to the first button? In effect, the left has simply switched the labels both systems truly deserve. That’s the essence of virtue signaling. It doesn’t matter whether a proposal actually solves the problem so long as the proposal is delivered with a sufficiently emotive speech about the problem.
The protesters in Hong Kong aren’t just fighting for their own freedom. Hong Kong is perhaps the last island of market freedom in the world. We should be demanding our own leaders adopt lower and simpler taxes, fewer and simpler regulations, and less intervention in all of the voluntary transactions that solve everyday problems.
Hong Kong’s fight to preserve its freedom has come at a cost. The police have been brutal, leading the protesters to demand an investigation. As I write this, news broke that the Chinese have acceded to the protesters’ first demand, to withdraw the extradition bill that is credited with sparking the protests at the outset. Not good enough, protesters insist. As The New York Times noted, the list of protester demands “has grown to include an independent investigation into the police response, amnesty for arrested protesters and direct elections for all lawmakers and the chief executive.”
Speaking of The New York Times, why are its relatively underpaid journalists and opinion-makers content to tolerate crime and homelessness in their increasingly dirty and dangerous city? Forget virtue signaling and try some actual virtue. These influencers live with the awful consequences that left-wing policies provide. If they truly cared about their fellow citizens more than sucking up to the faux virtue of the American oligarchy, they would help re-label the buttons.
Think of all the misery that could be avoided if the Hong Kong freedom revolution spread to our beleaguered American cities. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently wrote, “My heart is with the protesters. … So it’s impossible not to be inspired by up to two million brave Hong Kongers marching to gain rights that are taken for granted in so much of the world.”
Is he inspired enough to demand market freedoms in New York? He will if he truly cares more about the homeless than being invited to swanky cocktail parties by the “virtuous” elite.