Thursday, February 7, 2013

Hong Kong Dreaming

Right now, there are groans of envy coming out of every corporate boardroom in the United States. The Romneys are wistfully sighing over their hot cocoa and Graham crackers. The Koch brothers are squirming with blue balls. Why? Because they’ve seen a tantalizing vision of the slightly too distant future and it’s driving them crazy with desire:
For many of the richest people in Hong Kong, one of Asia’s wealthiest cities, home is a mansion with an expansive view from the heights of Victoria Peak. For some of the poorest, like Leung Cho-yin, home is a metal cage.

The 67-year-old former butcher pays 1,300 Hong Kong dollars ($167) a month for one of about a dozen wire mesh cages resembling rabbit hutches crammed into a dilapidated apartment in a gritty, working-class West Kowloon neighborhood.

The cages, stacked on top of each other, measure 1.5 square meters (16 square feet). To keep bedbugs away, Leung and his roommates put thin pads, bamboo mats, even old linoleum on their cages’ wooden planks instead of mattresses.


Some 100,000 people in the former British colony live in what's known as inadequate housing, according to the Society for Community Organization, a social welfare group. The category also includes apartments subdivided into tiny cubicles or filled with coffin-sized wood and metal sleeping compartments as well as rooftop shacks. They're a grim counterpoint to the southern Chinese city's renowned material affluence.

The poor, endlessly besieged American plutocrat must tip his hat to his luckier Asian brothers. They get to enjoy in the open the kind of things that he can only pine for secret. Throwing the poor in wire cages and charging them $167 a month for the privilege, how exhilarating! We could easily jack that up to two hundred in the states. Coffin-sized sleeping compartments, rooftop shacks, bedbugs, misery. How nice it must be to cram the 47% into cages where they belong and be done with it, no muss, no fuss, no more living a lie. They’re all moochers and looters anyway. Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.

But, alas!, here in America too many people have vestigial memories of being middle class and they just wouldn’t tolerate living in cages, at least not yet. The expectation of a better life has been hardwired into their DNA and it can only gradually be bred out them. The American frog must be boiled slowly, very slowly, with lots of gadgets and entertainments thrown in along the way. It takes patience, planning, art.

“There just wasn’t enough time, Tagg,” said a disconsolate Mitt Romney to his eldest son. “There just wasn’t enough time.”

“We’ll get there, Pop,” Tagg replied. Ann looked on lovingly as father and son shared a warm hug, and then they all went back to cheating each other at Monopoly, relieved that things in the family were still normal.

I think the uber-rich in this country would like to see us living in cages, cardboard boxes, and rooftops shacks. I really do.  The fact is, it’s just not enough for them to get richer and more powerful. You must also suffer. Material acquisition is all well and good, but even the most shallow trust fund baby must occasionally fall prey to bouts of ennui. Another sports car, another yacht, another ski trip to Switzerland, another offer for a reality TV show … Daddy, what’s it all about? Grinding others down is just the thing to take the angst away, and being envied is your birthright as a member of the one percent. A world without losers to gawk at you would be such a buzz kill.

If that doesn’t work, they can always convert to Objectivism or Scientology, or Christian Science, or evangelical Christianity, or any of the other insipid consolations that our overlords tend to embrace.  Maybe buy a senate seat, run for president, or go play soldier with Erik Prince at Xe; start a paper and write anti-Jewish screeds like Henry Ford did; collect urine bottles like Howard Hughs; start a wrestling camp like John E. DuPont, fondle the athletes and kill one of them. Use your imagination. You’re a producer, the world is your clam.

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