As mentioned in the last post, the amount Cheung Kong and Hutchison Whampoa plan to raise from bankers – HK$55 billion – to fund their restructuring is more than the amount – HK$50 billion – that the Hong Kong government has proposed to set aside to help the old and needy.
Now comes more news that offers food for thought: Apple is sitting on US$178 billion of cash, which has been estimated as enough for running the UK’s National Health Service. One SCMP columnist is of the opinion that it doesn’t matter how big the wealth gap is because the poor are getting less poor as the world develops. How does this work? Think about all the iWatches that are about to hit Apple stores – are they really necessary? How much of Earth’s resources go into making them? How much are the workers paid for making them?
OK, so the workers make more in the sub-contractor’s factory than they would toiling on their farms in the countryside. But what if the countryside hasn’t been spoiled by open-cut mines or pollution from manufacturing concerns? What if farmers are taught to farm sustainably and only surplus labour go to factories to make essential goods?
Oxfam recently showed up at the rich men’s club in Davos to present a world inequality report, prompting another SCMP columnist to criticise them for taking up advocacy work and not sticking to charity work. To some extent I actually agree with Philip Bowring’s stance because all non-governmental organisations, in order to get heard over issues that affect humanity and this planet, are usually able to do so only after allowing themselves to be co-opted by corporations keen to burnish their image.
But does it mean inequality isn’t a problem? Is there a problem when the rich use their clout to bully governments into cutting tax so they can hoard more while governments have to be tight-fisted with social welfare items made necessary by the multitudes who can’t make enough however hard they work? Inequality, as the authors of the book The Spirit Level have pointed out, impacts on health, lifespan and our general sense of well-being. Here in Hong Kong we seem relatively healthy and long-lived, but the healthcare system is creaking at the seams and people aren’t at all happy. Then again, to the government, only economic growth matters, right?