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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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