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Posts Tagged ‘economy’

I was watching an old Seinfeld episode last week and it made me think of what is wrong with the new economy. It was the famous ‘airport episode’ which revolves around Jerry and Elaine trying to get on a flight but the only seats available are one in first class and the other in economy. While Elaine gets shoe-horned into her middle seat hell, is harassed by the trolley-pushiing battle axe, and is forced  to climb over a big obnoxious guy to get to the toilet, Jerry is drinking champagne, enjoying his extra leg-room, and putting on his courtesy slippers.

While watching it, my daughter, (a seasoned economy class traveler who dreams of flying first class), looked at me and said “is that what first class looks like?” And I thought: well, no actually it doesn’t look like that. First class these days is much, much better. You not only get champange, you have a chef. You don’t just have a bigger seat, you have a fully, turned-down bed. And skip the slippers, in first class you have full pyjamas. And of course that’s just the beginning. Many other nice touches — too many to mention here.

But the interesting thing here, is that while first class has improved by elegant leaps and bounds, economy class looks pretty much the same as it did in the episode, filmed over ten years ago. Except of course, for the 5×7 TV screens jammed in the seat backs, which, in my case, are either busted, or impossible to view because the guy in front of me is reclined so far into my lap I could give him a facial.

This small realisation brings me to a recent report in The South China Morning Post that the Employers’ Federation of Hong Kong has recommended that pay rises should generally be capped at 2.5 per cent next year in view of dimmer economic prospects. Well once I got over the fact there even is an “Employers’ Federation”, I began thinking about the fact that, when the economy went south, employees all took their salary cuts. And now when the economy has been rebounding with vigour, employees are still being asked to tighten their belts.

Well, for those of us in the back of the plane, that means that someone is profiting from the economic recovery but it is not those of us who get paid salaries. And while the Employers get together and decide to keep salaries low so that profits can remain high, expenses like rent are increasing at a rate of 20%, 30% or even 50% over the last two years. And while, yes, a bonus can help offset the rising cost of living, it does little for a person’s confidence in his or her ability to maintain their way of life in the coming year. And it doesn’t help that salaries for those in the top executive levels are reaching new heights.

I’m no economist but the math on this is not working for me. Who do I need to talk to around here to get an upgrade?

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Remember the good ol’ days? We didn’t have much money, but hell, we were happy. In those years, post SARS (OK, not that long ago), when the economy was just trying to find its feet, we were all humbled by the experience of living through dangerous times, but flush with the promise of better times possibly ahead.

We lived simply, not sure if our jobs were secure, but we enjoyed things more. A day at the beach, a hike in the park. And we could afford things too, like a family meal, a bouquet of flowers, or, I don’t know: even, school fees and rent.

Store clerks were still surly (I wouldn’t have it any other way) but more willing to provide service. Restaurants remembered their regulars, even by name, and even offered complimentary drinks after dinner to show their appreciation for your patronage. If something wasn’t right with a service or product you were buying, a genuine effort was made to ensure your satisfaction. In those times, your business was important.

Well those days are gone. Businesses that I frequent regularly, barely take notice of me. If I make a small complaint about something, they look at me blankly. They don’t care if I never come back, they are busy busy busy. cha-ching!

Landlords are raising rents by 60% or more. They dont’ care if you have to move. There are prospective tenants with bulging housing allowances waiting to pounce. (I understand that there is a supply-demand thing going on here, but its a vicious cycle: too many employers are willing to pay housing allowances that meet the escalating rent levels. It’s a landlord’s market. And while this is going on at the top end of the scale it is putting downward pressure on housing all the way down the line.)

The ESF has raised school fees, and has even asked for September fees to be paid in June. They don’t care if you can’t afford it. There are children lined up waiting for the chance to get in.

The manager at the Pizza Express that ‘lost’ my daughter’s birthday party reservation didn’t care that 10 girls had no place to go for their promised pizzas. He really couldn’t care less. He was booked up. Why would he care?
So I’ll admit it and you can verbally abuse me all you want. I liked Hong Kong better when it was scrapping itself back up (I’m talking a recovering economy here, not an economic crisis). Without the cushion of endless supplies of cash and customers, nothing could be taken for granted. With a little less cash flying around, we all had a little more value.

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