From the Chinese media this week are three stories of interest. Two concern aging and how to help older people. The third is about how the Hong Kong government can – and must – learn from the Mainland to achieve better social harmony.
“Accelerated population aging should allow for three children as soon as possible”.
Recently, Ren Zeping, president and chief economist of Evergrande Research Institute, published an article “Recommendation to allow three children: China Population Report 2020”. According to the article, China’s birth rate continues to decline while the aging population is increasing. Therefore, three children should be allowed as soon as possible to deal with these problems.
Subsequently, this view caused controversy on the Internet. Many netizens said that the cost of raising children is too high. “You can’t even support two children, let alone three children!” Under multiple pressures from housing, education, medical care, and elderly care, people’s willingness to bear children has dropped significantly. China’s declining birth-rate and aging population affect its potential economic growth rate
Births in China have continued to decline in the past two years. They fell by 2 million in 2018, and in 2019 dropped by 580,000 to 14.65 million. The birth rate will fall to less than 11 million by 2030.
With the decline in the birth rate, the aging of China’s population is accelerating. The speed and scale of China’s population aging is unprecedented. On the one hand, aging is a global phenomenon. But, due to the long implementation of family planning in China, the aging rate is faster than other countries in the world.
Ren Zeping and his team predict that, starting from around 2050, China’s total population will shrink sharply. By 2100, China’s population will drop to less than 800 million. By then, the proportion of China’s population in the world will fall from the current 19% to 7%. This will trigger changes in China’s consumption structure, leading to a decline in economic growth.
Among the voices questioning “allow three children”, quite a lot of people said that they “can afford to be born but cannot afford to be raised.” The rise in the costs of housing, education, and medical care have squeezed the willingness of childbearing couples to have children.
In this regard, Professor Peng Xizhe from the Institute of Population Research, School of Social Development and Public Policy in Fudan University holds the same view: the implementation of the policy of allowing three children is “not of much significance.” “Even if you are allowed three children, you still don’t want to have children.”
The Professor believes that China’s population aging is an irreversible trend. “On this point, demographers and economists have a consensus.” As for the relationship between population growth and future economic development, he does not worry. He said that it was reasonable to link the improvement of labour, capital, and technology with the size of the population in the age of industrialization. However, in today’s information age, new technologies are rapidly emerging. These are changing the relationship between population growth and economic development: the demand for labour in society will continue to weaken. Therefore, he believes that there is no need to worry too much about the negative effects of population decline on the economy.
I do not advocate the policy of allowing three children. The future policy should be further liberalized, and the right to have children should be left to couples of childbearing age.Professor Peng Xizhe
He believes that the Chinese people should be allowed to take more decisions themselves.
In the view of demographers, population growth has its own disciplines. The Professor believes that the key to addressing aging should not just focus on a single population policy and the population numbers. Rather it should accelerate the progress of other social policies such as increasing the supply of childcare services, improving protection of women’s employment rights and reform of the pension system.
Elderly outpatient registration records: What is WeChat or Alipay?
Since late February this year, Beijing hospitals have implemented non-emergency appointments: patients can make appointments by dialling 114. They can also call the hospital service number by mobile phone and download the hospital’s official app online.
For most patients, this eliminates the trouble of queuing for registration and reduces the risk of infections caused by crowds. However, many elderly people do not know how to operate smart phones. This makes it extremely difficult for them to seek medical treatment alone.
During a recent visit to a hospital in Beijing, our reporter noticed that the hospital’s only window for on-site registration for people over 70 years old, had a long queue. The old people were a little nervous.
Zhong Deming is 82 years old this year. He asked his son to make an appointment for him. Since he didn’t know how to use a self-service machine, he had to line up to pick up his number.
I had to queue all night to be able to register. Now I have to rely on someone else to understand the machine!
The self-service machine needs to scan a code through Alipay, WeChat, or insert a bank card to pay, and mobile phone registration must be tied to a personal bank card account.
What are WeChat and Alipay?
After listening to the old man’s appeal, the doctor at the side of the self-service machine explained patiently: “These self-service machines can only scan a QR code, not even bank cards. Do you have any money in WeChat or Alipay?”
The old man also revealed to the reporter that he was worried about giving his medical insurance card and cash to volunteers or young people. “The machine has clear instructions – don’t give your medical insurance card to a stranger.”
A volunteer serving in the outpatient building of Xuanwu Hospital of Capital Medical University said that the most important problem for patients every day is to make appointments. “But for those old people who don’t have a mobile phone or even a bank card, they can’t get help if they want to.”
“You young people think it’s easy, but it’s not that easy for us. I have learned it step by step, but I remembered this and forgot that. Now, I don’t bother at all, just wait in line.” A 69-year-old man in line said.
In contrast, the medical guidance services that some receive are much more considerate. “Miss, can you teach me to make an appointment online? Every time I see a doctor, I must go twice, once to register and then to see the doctor. It’s too much trouble.”
She asked the doctor for help.
“Grandma, you have to use your mobile phone to confirm your personal account for online appointment registration. If it is difficult for you, you can call our hospital for appointment registration and then bring your credentials to the window to get the number.” The medical guide said enthusiastically.
The old lady sighed, raised her hand to put her silver hair behind her ear, revealing her hearing aid: “Look at my ear, I can’t hear you on the phone.” It turns out that for hearing loss greater than 80 decibels, it is difficult to hear the content of the call even with hearing aids. Special equipment is required.
70-year-old Wang Shujuan recently felt stomach pains and wanted to visit the hospital. She cannot register on a mobile phone. She wanted to ask questions at the information desk in the shed in front of the outpatient building. She lined up for half an hour but did not get answers. As a result, “my stomach hurts again, so I had to sit on the bench and rest.”
Wang Shujuan said that her daughter cared about her, but she didn’t want to cause her trouble. She was sent to the United States for work, but she could not return to her country because of the epidemic. “My daughter works abroad. I have two grandchildren. The younger is 1 year old and the older is 3 years old. I should have come to help her”
Wang Shujuan said, with tears in her eyes “It’s one o’clock in the morning. I can’t bear to ask her to help me now…”
Hong Kong can’t wait any longer and can’t afford to wait
The Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China set some ambitious goals. These include striving for a significant leap in China’s economic strength and promoting a better life for the people. For a country with 1.4 billion people, these goals are not easy to achieve.
The people of Hong Kong have obviously not paid enough attention to the goals set by the central government. In doubt is whether the Hong Kong government knows how to learn from the central government’s policies. Combined with Hong Kong’s special circumstances, can it push forward reforms to make a breakthrough in the currently “lifeless” city.
In fact, the communiqué carries a wealth of information. Among it, the most inspiring for Hong Kong’s rulers and the general public is the phrase “promoting a better integration of effective markets and effective government.” It reveals the long-standing problem of the Hong Kong government — always think “big market, small government”. Sit back then and watch the disorder of social and economic management. If Hong Kong wants to start anew, it must reform its thinking, otherwise it will be a dead end.
According to economic theories advocating laissez-faire, the “visible hand” of the government hinders the distribution of resources and income: the “invisible hand” of the market is the most effective. These are incompatible.
Once, this guidance was regarded as a standard by many politicians. For example, former US President Ronald Reagan once claimed that “the government cannot solve the problem: the government itself is the problem”. Hong Kong bureaucrats admired by economist Milton Friedman have always been proud of the title of “the world’s freest economy”, as if not doing anything is right.
The government sets limits on its own and allows capital to expand uncontrollably. This helps stimulate economic growth, but it is abnormal and unsustainable growth. It often comes at the cost of social unrest. In addition to exacerbating inequality, it will also cause endless political disputes and damaging populism.
The success of Hong Kong in the past was largely based on “fundamental capitalism.” Some citizens still remember the glorious years of the “Four Asian Little Dragons.” However, many people fail to see that Hong Kong’s current difficulties arise from the very same dogma. What is sadder is that there is still a lack of consensus on cutting off this “malignant tumour.”
The shortcomings of “fundamental capitalism” have long been known. Hong Kong’s socio-economic system is unable to satisfy the people’s urgent demands for housing, medical care, elderly care, education, transportation, labour and other issues. To this day, even the most stubborn people cannot defend the “market omnipotence theory” in the presence of subdivided houses and other social ills.
However, no matter what political stance we have of the Communist Party of China, we cannot easily deny its effectiveness, especially in handling the relationship between the market and the government.
Compare “promoting a better integration of effective markets and effective government” with Hong Kong’s “fundamental capitalism”. Doing so simply points out that the factors creating Hong Kong’s past success are entering history. The world is always changing, and there is no perfect development model and system anywhere. The successful experience of the past does not work today. Imagine if the CCP had refused to emancipate its mind after the Cultural Revolution and did not properly introduce a market economy. Dogmatic socialism alone would not be able to bring happiness to the country and the people.
The Mainland’s experience reminds Hong Kong that, since the old rules are out of fashion, it must keep pace with the times and be active, inject a new ‘Lion Rock spirit’ and create more possibilities for the next generation.
Do not abandon capitalism, just reform it in line with social justice.
Hong Kong does not need to copy the Mainland, Singapore, or Germany in everything. But it must ensure that its economics are compatible with the welfare of the public.
Only when social and economic reforms are promoted so that citizens enjoy equal development, can Hong Kong bid farewell to injustice and transform itself into a place for young people to live their lives. On this basis, the government must restart political reforms in accordance with the “One Country, Two Systems” principle and the Basic Law. It must promote “equal participation of the people” politically. If this happens, it will not be difficult for the government to succeed.
Hong Kong has great opportunities, but we cannot eat history. We cannot wait, and we cannot afford to wait.