Hong Kong's Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po has exceeded giveaway expectations in his budget - all the more impressive as it is the most proactive move to come out of the government in the past decade. The icing on the cake is that the handouts reach the lower levels of society - something government budgets have dodged for decades.
Perhaps he has been listening to the old investment manager's mantra, which is, "if you are going to panic, then panic early". For it does seem the right thing to do. Hong Kong is leading the pack, in that we started our recession last year when the government's lack of response to the people's protest marches caused an economic slump.
It has given the financial secretary some time to think about what to do. We are not in normal times; we are staring recession in the face, and this is the time to act. The question is whether he went far enough, given Hong Kong's enormous fiscal resources of HK$1.1 trillion (US$130 billion)?
There will be many who say that we are giving away too much. I would remind them that the projected HK$139 billion deficit is similar to the surplus from 2018 alone. It is a drop in the ocean. This is the rainy day that we have been saving for. We are one of the very few territories in the world with a massive surplus - no net government debt, no interest bills to service.
The government has previously listened only to the fat cats; the kind of people officials would have round at their dinner parties. Property, hotel and tourism billionaires cried crocodile tears after the protests. Subsidies for the rich have typically been a way of softening a recession.
This is why the giveaway of HK$10,000 to each permanent resident in Hong Kong is so important. It puts money straight into the hands of those who are going to spend it.
For half of the receivers, it is little more than a direct transfer to the latest iPhone (other fine brands are available). For the many, it is a welcome relief in helping with the rent, commuting costs or a course to better themselves. It will tide over an army of waiters, cooks and shop staff who have already been given the push. The HK$10,000 goes into the hands of people who will rapidly circulate it in the economy.
For years, economists talked of the "trickle down economy", whereby if the rich made money, it would trickle down to the poor. Reducing interest rates and adding periodic liquidity makes the economy grow like a weed, but the spoils are not equally divided.
Money in the hands of business owners, entrepreneurs, debtors and chancers is likely to get spent on high-end goods. The wealth becomes concentrated in the hands of a very few. Bill Gates, a man worth US$114 billion, said in a Bloomberg interview that billionaires should be paying more.
The trickle-down would also be helped if minimum wages were decent. Those who say that small businesses will be hurt by minimum wages are correct, but this is not usually crippling to businesses - except those that need to go down anyway.
Quite rightly, the budget includes help for small and medium-sized enterprises and their staff, in terms of guaranteeing loans taken out to pay wages and taxes. The budget carefully put limits on its giveaways to prevent big business from taking advantage.
Hong Kong is an early indicator of what is likely to happen in other economies - a fall in consumption, weak travel and business performance, and possibly a global recession, something that is in very few economists' forecasts.
The global economy is built on low interest rates and printing money. There are too many zombie companies with too much debt that have been overreliant on the good business environment. Yet for every disappointment in economic growth, there is an opportunity.
If what has been happening in Hong Kong over the past year has helped make us aware of how to handle economic difficulty, we will be stronger through the crisis.
Every silver lining has a cloud. The fingerprints of the central government liaison office in Hong Kong are all over the decision to set aside HK$45 million a year for the next 10 years to "strengthen the community's understanding" of the rule of law.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has also managed to bully the financial secretary into continued funding for her idea of an artificial island off Lantau for housing. A white elephant to be known as "Carrie's Folly".
The plan would pour hundreds of billions of dollars of our rainy-day reserves into the sea, rather than supporting the underprivileged and the lower-middle class. This makes support in this budget for mental health, students, low-income earners and the elderly, small businesses and health care look like loose change. I suppose you cannot expect a leopard to change its spots overnight.
Richard Harris is chief executive of Port Shelter Investment and is a veteran investment manager, banker, writer and broadcaster, and financial expert witness
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