As these lines are being written, Causeway Bay Books is not only empty, but most of the unsold copies of their “banned” books have already been destroyed. Causeway Bay Books is, for those who are out of touch with the reality of Hong Kong, the famous bookstore selling books critical with the Communist regime on the other side of the HK-China frontier. Five booksellers from the Causeway Bay Books went missing, starting October 2015. Although at least two of them had a foreign passport –Sweden and British– and were illegally kidnapped by the authorities of the People’s Republic of China in Thailand and Hong Kong, no one seems to give an international fuck about it. Maybe it is because they publicly renounced to their nationality? Nobody knew it was so easy as to upload a video on Youtube saying that you have voluntarily yet illegally entered another country and do not want to be subjected to the laws of your own nation. Brits, take note of that.
Hence, a group of university student unions in Hong Kong has decided to take a step forward and sell copies of these books in nine universities and higher education centers. According to a communication from the Hong Kong Federation of Students, they “have already managed to obtain a few amount of the books whose printing and publishing is forbidden in Mainland China and, starting next week, students in different colleges will sell them, so fellow students, citizens and tourist can buy them. Hong Kong is a free city and the university is the bastion of freedom –it is the righteous burden of the students to protect freedom.” Ok, maybe that was a little too much baroque, but you get the message.
Just as it happened in the obscure days of the Umbrella Revolution, these kids are not only defending freedom of speech and the common law of Hong Kong: they are actually defending the free market. Because economic freedom is not just about selling apples and oranges, about immigrants going in and out as they wish, or about big shots taking all the money they want to the big city. It is also about selling your ideas –for example in the form of books.
One of the most straightforward definitions of capitalism goes on like this: “An economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production and distribution are privately owned.” And the most basic means of production we have are our own ideas. You can lose your savings, your enterprises may go south, your beloved ones may pass away, your hands may be too old to work, but your ideas will always be there. You can make free use of them, to teach, to write, to create news things and to inspire other people, and others may likewise make use of them. But once you are deprived of your own ideas –or the ability to capitalize them–, your means of production will also be limited. You may not need freedom of speech to sell eggs, but once the most basic means of production are eroded, the possibilities of you losing other freedoms will increase. And one day you may find out that the sign you wrote for selling your eggs has become illegal.