This is the second post in a series about my holiday in Asia. The second place we stayed for an extended period of time. We actually landed in Hong Kong on Christmas Eve, but we left within 24 hours for Bali. When we returned, we spent several days in the city and it was absolutely wonderful.
The first thing I realized was that Hong Kong is an amazing city. It's beautiful. The architecture is unique. The islands are enchanting. The technology is advanced - riding on the subway was actually an enjoyable experience. And the vibrancy of the economy is infectious - walking down streets that included local vendors selling live fish and major multinational banks next door to each other was an inspiring sight. One of the most interesting things about Hong Kong is how it seems to embrace its contentious history. You see the interplay between Chinese, British, and local Hong Kong identities. Instead of downplaying any of them, you can see their melding throughout the city in the signs, shops, and practices of the city. While there is a vocal localism movement in Hong Kong today advocating for an emphasis solely on the latter of these 3 cultures, it is apparent that the reason there is a vocal movement is because of how strongly Hong Kong has been and still is influenced from diverse cultures and histories.
One night in Hong Kong, I had the pleasure of spending an evening with 3 impressive libertarians from the island. One is the founder of Hong Kong Students For Liberty. One is the president of the Princeton Libertarians back in the US (from Hong Kong, though). And one is a supporter of their work. Throughout the dinner, one of the topics of conversation was about how restrictive the Hong Kong government is, particularly on economic issues. As an outsider, I was surprised to hear this because Hong Kong is consistently ranked as the most economically free place in the world (e.g. by the Economic Freedom of the World Index). Back in the US, it is common for libertarians to think of Hong Kong as the economic utopia one dreams of. No doubt this is also partly due to Milton Friedman's portrayal of Hong Kong in his PBS series:
As I learned about the local policies, I began to appreciate what they were saying about zoning outside the island, difficulties for small businesses in contrast to large ones, etc. There are also serious threats from the mainland government to the political integrity of Hong Kong and the freedoms that its people enjoy compared to the mainland. But, I also began to realize something else: It is a natural tendency for people who spend a lot of time thinking about freedom and oppression to focus on restrictions of their liberty than the liberties they enjoy. I see this often in the US as well, fellow libertarians claiming that the US is incredibly restrictive and fails to recognize the full set of rights of humanity. It should go without saying that there is no perfectly free place in the world; there is work to be done everywhere to promote freedom. However, some places are freer than others. We ought to appreciate it if we do live somewhere that is comparatively more free while also working to make it even freer. (Something I believe describes everyone I had dinner with that night.)
The last lesson to take away is that freedom leads to prosperity, not just in economics, but in culture as well. My wife was enamored by the fashion and how "cool" the people in the city were. I was blown away by the diversity and quality of the food. And we both agreed that we saw our best live jazz performance to date when we stumbled upon a place called Fringe. It does not do justice to the full experience, but here's a recording from the show (and check out Trio Soundscapism on Facebook):
My conclusion: Hong Kong is one of the most exciting cities in the world. Its unique history and embrace of freedom today has led to incredible prosperity. While there is work to be done and threats to the future freedom of the city-state, it is an inspiring and exciting place to learn from.