Recently, I visited Hong Kong and China for the first time. Traveling to Hong Kong was a lifelong dream for me, as I have long admired the economic freedom that it possesses. But how would the real Hong Kong appear to me, as opposed to the theoretical place that topped the Economic Freedom lists? And would Hong Kong be significantly changed, given the 20 years it has been under Chinese control?
I thought the real Hong Kong was incredible. This city of skyscrapers was absolutely beautiful, with a skyline that rivals and perhaps surpasses any city in the world. Hong Kong does not have any significant natural resources – it was initially mainly an island adjacent to mainland China – but its economic freedom has led it to be one of the richer places in the world, with a per capita income higher than the U.S.
As compared to China, Hong Kong seems to be a politically freer place. There is much better access to western newspapers and websites are not blocked. Hong Kong also shows a distinct British influence in its culture, including the food.
The incredible density of Hong Kong has a significant influence on the city. To note just one aspect of it, on Sunday when most of the workers, including the domestic workers, have off, the people congregate in incredible numbers not merely in the parks, but underneath the sides of skyscrapers and other buildings that provide shade. I have never seen anything like it.
When China took back Hong Kong in 1997, I was worried about the possible decline of its economic freedom. But nearly 20 years later, it turns out I should have been more worried about the U.S. than Hong Kong. According to the Heritage Foundation’s rankings, Hong Kong was #1 in the world in 1996 and the U.S. was #7. In 2016, Hong Kong remained #1 but the U.S. had fallen to #11.