IMD International

Hong Kong: Occupy central – globalization, capitalism and identity

Jean-Pierre Lehmann says the protests in Hong Kong demonstrate the limits of capitalism

October 8, 2014

At the moment no one knows what will be the final outcome of the Hong Kong Occupy Central demonstrations. What we can assert is that beyond the immediate issue of determining the selection process for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Chief Executive election, the movement has considerable symbolic significance.

For one important thing the movement disproves the erstwhile quite commonly held "wisdom" that all Hong Kongers care about is money. If the only thing ordinary Hong Kongers, especially the younger generations, care about is money, they would not be taking to the streets by the tens-of-thousands.

Although the demonstrations are ostensibly about democracy, there is something deeper, arguably even more meaningful, with universal implications: the imperatives of identity and dignity.

Francis Fukuyama was correct in stating that the erstwhile deep-rooted ideological struggle between socialism and capitalism and between collectivism and individualism is over. "Socialism with Chinese characteristics" should be more accurately phrased as "capitalism with Chinese characteristics".

Beyond the immediate consequences arising for the inhabitants of Hong Kong, there are broader implications for the globalized capitalist world. While global capitalism has created great prosperity, it has also been seen to be dysfunctional in other respects, notably in respect to spiritual, social, cultural and environmental values. Global capitalism's success may be breeding its demise. The current apparent impasse in Hong Kong is a vivid illustration of this syndrome. Raw, materialist capitalism, which is at the roots of the threat, must give way to "conscious capitalism", "moral capitalism" and "inclusive capitalism".

Hong Kong is a small place; it could make a big impact on the planet.

This is an extract edited from a full article originally published on Jean-Pierre Lehmann's blog on Forbes.

Jean-Pierre Lehmann is Emeritus Professor of International Political Economy at IMD, Founder of the Evian Group and Visiting Professor at the University of Hong Kong and NIIT University in India.

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