Cultural Heritage and Free Market

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As I am preparing a long paper on cultural heritage and free market, I came across some interesting news from Hong Kong Free Press regarding the historical Central Market, a place that will be renewed by the “evil” Urban Renewal Authority, URA for short. As the HKFP website explains here:

“Unfortunately, contemporary greed means history will be trashed and forgotten. All things public must be privatised. After all, how else could property developers find “land” in a densely built Central? Under the so-called “Conserving Central” plan, the publicly owned Central Market will enter the Urban Renewal Authority’s (URA) land bank. The market-oriented URA will soon remodel the building and tender it for “culture and retail” use”.

It sounds funny to me that an entity I hold in high regard due to their continuous fight against Communist Chinese cultural infestation is now talking socialist gibberish. So I did some research on the aforementioned URA, this evil organization that destroys Hong Kong’s history through free-market and privatization, just to find out the opposite.

Previously to this evil organization, the Land Development Corporation (LDC) was founded in Hong Kong in 1988. At that time, the LDC was required to undertake negotiations with the private owners of the land they wished to acquire, including land containing cultural heritage. This was too slow for the government, so in 1999 they created the URA, “with the aim of speeding up urban renewal”. In other words, the URA can expropriate land if they want to, and the only reason they can do that is because the URA is an organism that belongs to the Hong Kong government. And only the government has the monopoly of violence and coercion. Even when it poses as a semi-private entrepreneurship, the URA receives benefits from the government, including tax exception. The URA, unlike the LDC, requires members to attend meetings of the Legislative Council (unlike any private enterprise) and is allowed to lend tax-payers’ money (yet it enjoys tax-exemption).

If we take a look at this table, comparing LDC and URA, we can clearly see the public, thus government-owned character of the URA:

“A register of declared interest of LDC members is not made available for public inspection.  […] No provision to require public officers to state the public interest”.

Versus,

“URA members are required to declare interests and a register of such disclosures will be made available for public inspection. […] Public officers are duty-bound to state the public interest”.

Now, if you are all against privatization you may think that “to state the public interest” is better than “no provision to require public officers” to do so, right? Wrong. The LDC was not a public enterprise, and thus their public officers were acting as private persons, not as public officers. Their decisions are their own business. That is why the URA, a public company, should disclose any information that affects the “public interest”.

And what is “public interest”? No, it is not YOUR interest. Your interest is called “private interest” and belongs to you alone. “Public” is a code word for “government”. “Public interest” means “Government interest”.

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