An Interview Transcript

Q1.你曾在地產公司就職很長時間,我發現在《地產霸權》中,你描繪這些公司時,用了感情色彩相當濃厚的辭彙。能否談談在地產公司就職期間,你自己對這個行業在認知上的一些改變?[You worked for a long time in property development companies. Can you tell us how your perception of this industry has changed over time?]

A1. It was in the 80s and 90s that I was employed in the property development industry, a period that saw the longest bull trend in the property market. In my recollection, during that period, no other business was as profitable as that of property development. In the 80s, leading developers could still be considered as honest business people who were very mindful of their reputation. Beginning with the 90s, when almost everyone was caught up in a frenzied speculative mood, greed seems to have superseded ethical sales practice for developers and even many of their employees have become property speculators.

Q2.這本書最早在加拿大出版,你寫作的初衷是什麼?[The book was originally published in Canada. What was your initial purpose for writing the book?]

A2. After writing a first English draft of the book in Hong Kong in 2003, I returned to Canada to settle down. In 2004 and part of 2005, I went through a process of rewriting and fine-tuning the manuscript. Then I decided to self-publish it in December 2005 (printing and distribution was done through Hong Kong companies). The reason for writing the book was that I felt an urge to put down on paper my thoughts and views (formed from my work experience, from reading books about the inequalities that arise from land monopoly and from my research) and to share those thoughts and views with people interested in the subject. I was particularly influenced by Henry George’s Progress and Poverty 1879, which was the most widely read book in the 1880s (second in popularity only to the Bible). What I found interesting was that George’s analysis over twelve decades ago, of how land hoarding and land speculation led to great social injustice and a wide rich-poor gap, could still be aptly applied to present-day Hong Kong.

Q3.在今年香港書展期間,《地產霸權》影響非常大,那麼地產公司對你書中所表達的觀點有什麼反應?[In the Hong Kong Book Fair this year, the book became the centre of attention. How have property developers reacted to your views that are expressed in the book?]

A3. So far, I have only heard of one response and it was from Walter Kwok (郭炳湘) as reported in 信報 (Hong Kong Economic Journal) on 26th July, 2010. He reportedly said that Hong Kong is a free economy, that anybody is free to engage in any kind of business and that there does not exist any kind of monopoly. (“香港奉行自由經濟体糸,任何人都可以從事任何生意… 本港沒有霸權, 不存在壟斷, 任何人都可以進場”

Q4.觀察香港樓市,會發現一些有趣的事情。比如,董建華的“八萬五”政策出發點是相當好的,但是香港市民會有相當大的反對聲音。相比上漲,反對樓價下跌的聲音反而更大。為什麼會有這樣的矛盾?[Tung Chee-hwa’s “85,000 policy” was supposedly well meant. But interestingly, Hong Kong people seemed to have harbored a repugnant feeling towards it. They seem to have a much stronger aversion to property prices going down than to prices going up. Why is there such an anomaly?]

A4. This is one of the key obstacles impeding constructive changes to the status quo. It is true that there are over 2 million home owners in Hong Kong who may not wish to see a drop in property prices, especially those who may have entered the market at a relatively high point. But if these home owners have adult children who are potential home purchasers, they probably would understand that lower property prices might not be all that bad.

Q5.1997年,香港樓市的崩潰曾經造成無數的負資產家庭。對於一個普通的香港人來說,買房意味著什麼?[In 1997, the property market crash put numerous families in negative equity. What does home purchase mean to an ordinary Hong Kong person?]

A5. Property purchasers can be grouped into three categories: (1) those who view property as a living space; (2) those who view property as an investment which is expected to yield a good return to the investor (it is usually their second or third property); (3) those who treat property as a commodity from which quick money can be made by flipping. It is my belief that those in negative equity who took to the streets to protest in July 2003 were mostly from the latter two categories.

Q6.政府在面對這種矛盾時,本身就很難做出決斷。很多人都知道,香港的地產問題牽一髮而動全身,那麼,如何理解地產行業對香港宏觀經濟的重要性?這種重要性某種程度是不是被高估了?[Faced with such contradictions, the government would naturally find it hard to go one way or the other. Many people are aware that dealing with Hong Kong’s land and property issues is like walking on a tightrope. How should one make of the importance of the property development industry to Hong Kong’s macro economy? Is this importance being exaggerated?]

A6. It is highly unfortunate that Hong Kong has for a long time been dependent on the property development industry as an engine for economic growth. There was a good chance to break away from this dependence in the early 2000s when the property market was in the trough, but that chance was missed.

Q7.你曾在書中表達,內地人赴港置業拉抬了香港的樓價。但是,越來越多的內地富人願意為更好的生活負擔溢價,這一趨勢不會改變,你認為這個問題有沒有合適的解決辦法?[You mentioned in your book that mainlanders purchasing Hong Kong properties is one price-prodding factor. But the fact is that more and more rich mainlanders are willing to pay a high premium for better living conditions. Such a trend will likely persist. Is there a solution for this problem?]

A7. Donald Tsang has just delivered his policy address, in which he has responded to popular demand by announcing temporary removal of real estate, with effect from 14th October, 2010, from investment asset classes for immigrant applications under the “Capital Investment Entrant Scheme”. This won’t solve the problem entirely, but it is a help.

Q8.你在書中表達的觀點是“土地壟斷”是根本原因,但是土地政策和政治制度緊密相連,你也用了“官商勾結”來形容。這是否意味著行政制度如果沒有革新,香港地產霸權的局面不會更改?[The theme of your book is that land monopoly is the fundamental root cause for many social and economic problems. But the land system is closely linked with the political system. Does it mean that without reform to the administrative systems, the phenomenon of real estate monopolists ruling Hong Kong cannot be expected to change?]

A8. Yes, I would tend to think so.

Q9.彭定康在離任的時候,曾說住房問題是香港最大的問題,現在看來非常正確。在你看來,港英政府時代香港政府和現在的特區政府,在這個問題上應該分別負有怎樣的責任?[When Chris Patten left office, he once said that housing was Hong Kong’s biggest problem. It looks like he was right. In your view, in what ways should the colonial governments and the SAR governments share the blame for this problem?]

A9. The high land price policy is a policy inherited from the HK colonial government. But it was well aware of the living-cost effect of the policy on low-income citizens and that is why it had always used subsidized housing schemes to neutralize the hurtful effect. Before Chris Patten left office, he instructed Wong Sing Wah, the then Secretary for Housing, to draw up the “Long Term Housing Strategy Review Consultative Document”, from which Tung Chee-Hwa’s “85,000 policy” was derived. But after the 1998 property market crash, the Tung government was coerced by the property cartel into abandoning the “85,000 policy” and overthrowing the housing objectives under the “Long Term Housing Strategy Review Consultative Document”. Now the Tsang government is seen to have not only failed to grapple with the adverse effects of the high land price policy - a world-famous rich-poor gap included, it has also failed to satisfy housing demands from the middle- to low-income group.

If the HK colonial government is guilty of anything in land and housing, it is in the land policy area. It did nothing to control Letter B (換地權益書) hoarding by a few developers. Neither the colonial nor SAR governments did or have done anything to control agricultural land hoarding by developers and, through a system of lease modification, allowed the land hoarders to convert agricultural land into residential land at their discretion on payment of a negotiated premium. The most aggressive Letter B and agricultural land hoarders naturally became the wealthiest developers.

Q10.對於內地的很多地方政府來說,賣地以及房地產稅收所占的財政收入比重已經超過香港,也就是說,對於地產的依賴性,內地更甚香港。對內地出現“地產霸權”的可能性,你是否有一些判斷?[For many mainland local governments, the proportion of land revenues to total fiscal revenues is already higher than that of Hong Kong. In other words, cities in the mainland are even more dependent on the property sector than in Hong Kong. Would you have something to say about the possibility of “real estate monopolists” appearing in the mainland?]

A10. If the mainland local governments had understood fully the harmful effects of relying on land sale revenue for their fiscal health and that such a fiscal policy would translate into misallocation of resources (with most directed towards property and little left for other innovative businesses) and uncontrollable property bubbles, as can be seen from the example of Hong Kong, they would probably not have followed this path. I don’t want to predict whether “地產霸權” (“real estate monopolists”) will appear in the mainland, as I am not familiar with the systems there.