Saturday, February 20, 2010

Democracy, Hong Kong style

The Hong Kong political and legislative system appeals to the heart and soul of this 'small d' democrat. If you follow this blog from time to time, you know that BobOnARoll, besides being a not-so-borderline elitist, is a republican. At least when it comes to electoral systems. The Founders had it right, with their non-direct election of the US president and senate. (And oh so wrong on the slavery issue, of course.) Universal suffrage? Well....let's re-think that. Has brought us a whole lot of grief these past 25, 30 years, when what we need, in addition to the protection of the rights of minorities, is a more efficient can-do legislature and executive that can get ahead and stay ahead of the tsunamis of change sweeping across the world.

Witness Hong Kong. Plenty of reasons for hesitation when it comes to basic freedoms and protections in this semi-autonomous part of Communist China. But the fact is, HK is a city that works in a way that would make even Richard J. Daley green with envy. No sales tax, VAT, income and corp tax rates below 20%, a health care system that is a mix of publicly funded and private options, with net expenditure of estimated 7% of GDP. A prosperous, educated, well fed and housed population, etc etc. Yes, it has nothing like the breadth and diversity of the US and many other western and Asian states, but it's a model for contemplation.

While I was there, there was a lively debate, with full coverage in the media, about future funding for health care, public/private care, and, significantly, how self-government will function in the years after the system imposed by the Chinese expires in a few years' time.

The current system, which of course has its drawbacks, provides for a legislature that is 50% elected from geographical constituencies. The other half, also elected, represents functional constituencies---lawyers, bankers, the info technology industry, textiles, accountants, tourism, architects, even caterers---30 industrial and service sectors. Though this 'one man, two votes' system is anathema to our so-called way of life, there is something blatant, clear, and elegant about a democracy where government is organized not only to express the will of the people but also where business and professions' self-interests and expertise are given official voice in key decision-making. The HK chief exec is elected by a form of electoral college appointed by, you guessed it, the functional constituencies.

In the US, we have full republican rule, but legislators who have no depth or breadth beyond their long-term committee and sub-committee assignments. And near complete paralysis.

Can we draw on any lessons from the East.....?

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