by Robert Maynard
Proponents of liberty have had their eye on Hong Kong ever since it was taken back by mainline China. The fear of many was that this bastion of economic liberty would be swallowed up by the huge socialist giant. So far, as this Foundation for Economic Education article points out, that has not happened:
Three cheers for Hong Kong, that tiny chunk of Southeast Asian rock. For the twentieth consecutive year, the Index of Economic Freedom—compiled by The Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation—ranks Hong Kong (HK) as the freest economy in the world.
Though part of mainland China since the British ceded it in 1997, HK is governed locally on a daily basis. So far, the Chinese have remained reasonably faithful to their promise to leave the HK economy alone. What makes it so free is music to the ears of everyone who loves liberty: Relatively little corruption. An efficient and independent judiciary. Respect for the rule of law and property rights. An uncomplicated tax system with low rates on both individuals and business and an overall tax burden that’s a mere 14 percent of GDP (half the U.S. rate). No taxes on capital gains or interest income or even on earnings from outside of HK. No sales tax or VAT either. A very light regulatory touch. No government budget deficit and almost nonexistent public debt. Oh, and don’t forget its average tariff rate of near zero. That’s right—zero!
This latest ranking in the WSJ/Heritage report confirms what Canada’s Fraser Institute found in its latest Economic Freedom of the World Index, which also ranked HK as the world’s freest. The World Bank rates the “ease of doing business” in HK as just about the best on the planet.
To say that an economy is “the freest” is to say that it’s “the most capitalist.” Capitalism is what happens when you leave peaceful people alone. It doesn’t require some elaborate and artificial, Rube Goldberg contrivance cooked up by tenured central planners in their insular ivory towers. But if we are to believe the critics of capitalism, HK must also be a veritable Hell’s Kitchen of greed, poverty, exploitation and despair.
Not so. Not even close.
Maybe this is why socialists don’t like to talk about Hong Kong: It’s not only the freest economy, it’s also one of the richest. Its per capita income, at 264 percent of the world’s average, has more than doubled in the past 15 years. People don’t flee from HK; they flock to it. At the close of World War II, the population numbered 750,000. Today it’s nearly ten times that, at 7.1 million.
Perhaps it is time for China to do more than simply leave Hong Kong alone, maybe they should actually follow Hong Kong’s lead. We here in the U.S. might want to get in line too. Global poverty could be tackled a lot sooner if the major economic players around the world were actually following a model that works.