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原載《HKCER Letters》一九九八年七月第五十一期

                            

香港就此壽終正寢?

李浩 ● 孫永泉

                            

                           香港自一九八五年以來,第一季度的經濟成長率首次錄得負數。縱然政府官員一再力
                           稱「香港的基本因素十分健全」,長遠的經濟發展已變得不甚樂觀。香港租金太貴,
                           而平庸的管理行政人員,相對於其工作表現來看,所賺取的薪水實在驚人。再加上多
                           年來的投機風氣,各類人才都不腳踏實地苦幹。而政府的管治有欠妥善,亦慢慢動搖
                           香港自由經濟的根基。

                           香港經濟的這許多問題,是最近才出現的還是我們最近才覺察到的呢?把香港的經濟
                           成就譽為奇蹟,絕非過譽。有人認為,香港有此成就,只不過是時來運到。香港以往
                           每次遇到關鍵時刻,總能夠絕處逢生。共產黨當年席捲內地,為香港造就了創造奇蹟
                           的機會。南下的難民和企業家使香港成為蓬勃的紡織成衣、玩具和電子生產基地。其
                           後,香港的勞動成本上升,競爭力受到削弱,卻適逢內地對外資開放。香港的投資者
                           和管理人員立即把握機會,進軍華南。正當香港經理人員的工資逐漸高不可攀,內地
                           工商業對金融服務的需求大增,香港迅速轉型為國際級的金融中心。

                           但是,香港的運氣未能延續。自從數年前上海從沉睡中甦醒後,香港為內地經濟發展
                           集資的獨特地位受到了威脅。香港大學的張五常教授一談起上海大學生就津津樂道。
                           他們比香港學生用功得多。他們苦學英文、掌握股票和衍生工具的之道、又會證明
                           Modigliani-Miller 定理,而且要求的工資低於香港的畢業生。不難想像有一天,國
                           內外的投資者會發覺,在上海做生意不僅比香港便宜,也更方便。沒有金融業的香
                           港,會是什麼樣子?

                           擔心香港被上海趕上,絕非杞人憂天。然而,我們也無須妄自菲薄。香港在經濟上仍
                           有不少相對優勢,包括高效率的法律制度、有效的行政管治、與全球金融市場的緊密
                           聯系、及先進的基本建設等。所有的硬件,香港都不缺。問題只是如何物盡其用。答
                           案明顯不過:選用最好的軟件。

                           眾所公認,香港在五十年代的工業化,有賴來自上海企的業家。當時本地人才相當缺
                           乏。如今香港歷經半個世紀的發展,人力資源已大有改善。我們今天可以比上海培養
                           出更好的人才(雖然張五常教授會不以為然)。然而,隨著內地放寬戶籍管理,各地
                           的人才都湧到上海。香港縱使竭盡全力,在人數上顯然仍無法比併:在六百萬人中冒
                           出來的菁英,畢竟難與在十二億人中湧現的人才匹敵。

                           香港不僅人少,市場也小。像航空控制員和微分拓撲學者這類特殊技術的人才如果要
                           留在香港的話,想更換工作也就難乎其難。這種因市場小而出現的就業上的風險,使
                           人們少投資於特殊的技能。因此,香港的勞動力求廣不求深,每樣都懂一點。難怪我
                           們以靈活性而非專長著稱。

                           香港想要增加人力資源,就不能只靠本地人才。無論我們投下多少資源開發人力,都
                           無法克服人口少和市場小的先天缺陷。這也是香港長期以來從世界各地(除了內地以
                           外)引入技術人才的原因。誠然,今天已有不少受過高等教育的內地人在港工作,但
                           大都是先到北美或歐洲才轉來香港的。內地不少一流的人才為美國而非香港所用,實
                           在令人羞慚。香港生活水平高,又與內地近在咫尺,只要打開大門,對內地技術人才
                           會有相當大的吸引力。

                           要吸納人才,一個可行的方法是讓本港大專院校的內地(和海外)學生畢業後留港工
                           作。中國政府既然願意讓眾多學生赴美,應該不會介意讓他們來港。目前大學資助委
                           員會只撥出百分之二的大學學額供外地學生就讀,而不少持有本港學位的內地學生轉
                           赴美國要比留在香港容易。我們應該讓這些內地學生有機會長期留港,成為永久居
                           民。只要他們在港找到工作,特區政府就應該讓他們繼續在港居住。這也是美國留住
                           外國學生的方法。

                           若此,來港留學對內地菁英也就有足夠的吸引力,而大學應該增加他們的學額。內地
                           人口眾多,人才亦自然多於香港,但香港的教育資源則遠勝內地。內地人才與香港優
                           越的教育資源相結合,對內地學生、香港的大學教師和香港學生都有好處。內地學生
                           畢業後,將會是香港發展所需的重要軟件。

                           與此同時,特區政府亦應該直接從內地引入技術人才。後者不僅有技術,而且熟悉內
                           地的運作,是港商在內地開展業務的關鍵,香港的教育制度難以提供。內地人才的知
                           識與香港的硬件優勢相結合,將會如虎添翼。我們應對內地和外國的人才一視同仁,
                           尤其不應只讓他們在中資企業工作,應讓他們在內地和香港之間自由往來。人口自由
                           流動,是香港吸引內地人才的一個關鍵。因為對有些人來說,今日的內地比香港更有
                           吸引力。只要內地人才能夠在香港和內地之間自由流動,勞動市場就會為兩地揀選出
                           最適用的人才。

                           在失業率創下十五年來新高之時主張輸入勞動力,似乎有點離經叛道,但正是此時才
                           須提高警惕,以防保護主義瀰漫。目前政府的輸入外勞計劃只集中輸入低技術工人是
                           很錯誤的。非技術勞動力的實質工資近年停滯不前,而管理人員和專業人士的工資則
                           飆升。香港的未來有賴高增值工業,也就是為內地工業活動服務的部門。香港缺少的
                           是腦袋,並非筋肉。假經濟論者會說,輸入技術勞動力會搶走港人的就業機會。但事
                           實上,不同種類的人力資本可以相輔相成,增加技術勞動力的供應,只會增加而非減
                           少非技術勞動力的需求。

                           經濟週期週而復始,眼前經濟困境誠然值得憂慮,但不應延誤長遠的發展大計。及至
                           本文的建議付諸實行,內地學生在港畢業後求職時,香港的勞動市場很可能又已轉趨
                           緊張。世上沒有一個政府能預知三年後的就業情況,因此,目前應選用一些可望帶動
                           長遠生產力成長的政策。

                           香港人愈來愈擔心自己會輸給上海。但很少人問,香港既然能夠提供大部分所需的服
                           務,中國為何還要另設金融中心。即使以美國的經濟規模,也只有紐約一個金融中
                           心。有些人認為,由於人民幣還不能自由兌換,中國在上海另設金融中心有其必要。
                           但這正是香港還可以利用的時機?香港如果不去行動,再過十年,為內地提供服務的
                           將會是上海。亞洲其他的活動要不是搬去東京就是新加坡。到時香港就真的壽終正寢
                           矣!
 

(Reprinted from HKCER Letters, Vol. 51, July 1998)

 

Is Hong Kong Finished?

Li Hao and Wing Suen

 

          This year, for the first time since 1985, Hong Kong registered a first-quarter negative growth rate.
          Despite government officials' repeated assurances of "sound fundamentals" the outlook for the
          economy's long-term future has become gloomy. Rent in Hong Kong is too high. Mediocre managers
          and administrators earn amazing salaries considering the amount or the importance of their work.
          Speculative fervor draws energy away from enterprise. Government mismanagement, real or
          imagined, nips at Hong Kong's free-market foundation.

          Are these problems new or just newly discovered? Hong Kong's economic success has been nothing
          short of a miracle. One theory has it that we are just lucky. At every critical junction, events took the
          best possible course for Hong Kong.

          The miracle was born when the communists took over China. The refugee workers and entrepreneurs
          that came here as a result helped turn Hong Kong into a successful manufacturer of textiles, toys, and
          electronics. When labor costs began to erode Hong Kong's competitive edge, China opened its doors
          to foreign investment. Hong Kong's investors and managers jumped at this opportunity and swarmed
          into South China. And just when Hong Kong managers became too expensive relative to the local
          supply of talent, the demand for financial services arising from mainland business needs exploded.
          Hong Kong quickly transformed itself into a world-class financial center.

          But our luck is running out. Since Shanghai woke up a few years ago Hong Kong's status as the
          financier for Chinese economic development has been under threat. Steven Cheung of the University
          of Hong Kong often comments on the fact that Shanghai's college students study so much harder than
          do their counterparts in Hong Kong. They learn English; they understand stocks and derivatives; they
          can prove the Modigliani-Miller theorem. And they are willing to work for a fraction of the pay that
          Hong Kong graduates are getting. It is not hard to imagine that some day mainland and foreign
          investors will find it both cheaper and easier to engage in transactions in Shanghai than in Hong Kong.
          What will become of Hong Kong without the financial industry?

          That Shanghai may gain ascendancy is a valid concern, but one should not lose sight of the
          comparative advantages of the Hong Kong economy. In Hong Kong there is an efficient legal
          framework, a working administrative system, a close connection to international financial markets, and
          a state-of-the-art infrastructure. Hong Kong has all the hardware, but how can it best exploit it? The
          answer is simple: by getting the best software.

          It is well recognized that entrepreneurs from Shanghai played a crucial role in bringing about the
          industrialization of Hong Kong that took place in the 1950s. The supply of talent in Hong Kong at that
          time was rather limited. One would like to believe that as the city became more prosperous the
          situation changed. True, fifty years of economic development has improved the human capital stock of
          Hong Kong tremendously. Hong Kong may even claim to train better people than Shanghai does now
          (Steven Cheung would disagree). It is all too easy to turn complacent, however. As migration control
          in China relaxes, Shanghai has been drawing talent from all over the country. Hard as Hong Kong may
          try, it is tough to beat the numbers: the best and the brightest from a pool of 6 million people will face
          an uphill battle against the best and the brightest from a pool of 1.2 billion.

          The problem of small numbers is compounded by the problem of thin markets. Workers in Hong Kong
          who have highly specialized skills do not enjoy all the protection offered by competition. For an
          air-traffic controller or a differential topologist who is not internationally mobile, alternative employment
          opportunities are few and far between. Employment risks in a thin market discourages investment in
          specific human capital. In response, Hong Kong workers choose breadth over depth. No wonder why
          they are more renowned for their flexibility than for their expertise.

          If Hong Kong wishes to boost its human resources it cannot afford to rely exclusively on local talent.
          No investment is large enough to overcome the disadvantage inherent in small numbers and thin
          markets. That is why Hong Kong has been importing skilled labor from all corners of the world.
          Except from the mainland. True, many highly educated mainlanders are now working in Hong Kong,
          but most of them came by way of North America or Europe. It is a shame that America, not Hong
          Kong, gets some of the best brains in China. If Hong Kong opens up to skilled mainland labor, the
          combination of a high living standard and locational advantages will be irresistible to many mainlanders.

          A practical way of attracting talent is to allow mainland (and overseas) students at local universities to
          stay in Hong Kong and find work after graduation. If the mainland government allows students to go to
          the United States, it will not object if they come to Hong Kong instead. So it is unlikely that tapping
          Chinese human resources will invite the mainland government's interference with local affairs. At
          present the University Grants Committee allocates only two percent of the undergraduate intake to
          nonlocal sources. Moreover, many mainland students with degrees from Hong Kong find it easier to go
          to the United States than to stay here. These students should be given the opportunity to become
          permanent residents in Hong Kong. The government could permit them to stay as long as they are able
          to keep jobs in the Hong Kong, which is effectively what the United States does to keep many of its
          former students there.

          Studying at Hong Kong universities will then become appealing enough to attract the best mainland
          talent, and the intake quota should be raised. Because of the sheer size of its population, mainland
          China produces more innate talent than does Hong Kong. Yet education resources in Hong Kong are
          far superior to those in China. Bringing mainland talent into contact with the superior education
          resources will benefit the mainland students themselves, their teachers, and their fellow students in
          Hong Kong. When they leave the education system they will become part of the software that is key
          to Hong Kong's development.

          The government should also import skilled labor directly from China. Talented mainlanders will bring
          with them not only skills but also the specific knowledge crucial for the success of China-related
          businesses. This specific knowledge complements Hong Kong's hardware advantages, but Hong
          Kong's education system is unlikely to impart it to local students. Mainland talent should be treated in
          the same way as is the talent of other countries. In particular, skilled and professional workers from
          the mainland should not be confined to working in mainland financed enterprises. They should be
          allowed to move freely between mainland China and Hong Kong. Mobility is crucial to making Hong
          Kong an attractive destination for talented mainlanders, because some of them perceive the mainland
          as having more opportunities than Hong Kong does right now. If mainlanders can move freely, then
          the labor market will sort out the right kind of workers for both Hong Kong and for the mainland.

          A new labor-importation scheme may sound like heresy now that unemployment is at a fifteen-year
          high, but it is during times like this that we should be especially vigilant about the rise of protectionism.
          The current labor-importation schemes, which focuses on importing less skilled workers, are indeed
          perverse. Real wages for unskilled labor have remained relatively flat for several years, whereas
          wages for managerial and professional workers soared. Hong Kong's future lies in high value-added
          industries-sectors that will serve the business needs of China. It is brains, not brawn, that Hong Kong
          is short of. Bad economics will try to say that the importation of skilled labor will eliminate jobs for
          local Hong Kong people. But different types of human capital tend to complement one another, and
          they tend to complement raw labor power as well. An increase in the supply of skilled labor with
          specific human capital will raise, instead of reduce, the demand for other skilled labor and for unskilled
          labor as well.

          Business cycles come and go. Concerns about present economic troubles should not delay plans for
          the long-term future of the economy. By the time the proposed policy is in place and mainland students
          have started looking for jobs upon graduation, Hong Kong's labor market may well be tight again. No
          government can fine-tune its policies to the employment situation three years down the road.
          Governments can only hope to adopt policies that are likely to contribute to long-term productivity
          growth.

          So many people in Hong Kong worry about losing out to Shanghai, but few have asked just why China
          should build another financial center when Hong Kong can provide most of the services the country
          requires. After all, even the United States, which is a bigger economy than China is, has only one
          financial center - New York. Some say a separate financial development in Shanghai is justified
          because the renminbi is not convertible. But this should be the window of opportunity for Hong Kong,
          instead of an excuse for no action. If Hong Kong does not act, in ten years' time China's service
          providers will be in Shanghai, and those for the rest of Asia will either move east to Tokyo or west to
          Singapore. That would finish Hong Kong once and for all.
 

          Li Hao and Wing Suen are lecturer and senior lecturer respectivley at the School of Economics
          and Finance, the University of Hong Kong.
 
 

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