2014 February 19 Wednesday
Indentured Servants In Hong Kong

The upper classes can't be trusted with lower classes.

The minimum wage for foreign maids in Hong Kong — a flat rate of $517 per month — works out to be significantly lower than it is for locals, which is about $3.85 per hour. By paying foreign maids much less for longer working hours, Hong Kong has, in effect, created an underclass of foreign female laborers. The women who take care of Hong Kong’s children and elderly are on the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder.

Some maids get beaten by their masters and get their travel documents taken away so they can't leave. Read the whole thing. The Indonesian government even forces the women to go into debt before leaving so that back in Indonesia some parasites can live off the domestic workers once they are in Hong Kong.

Upper classes can't be trusted with lower classes. They just want bigger and more subservient lower classes. That's the story of the business lobbies for low paid jobs who want even lower paid workers. Look at Hong Kong where the upper classes are happy to use foreigners who have to work 7 days a week for long hours as domestic servants for about $17 per day.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2014 February 19 08:42 PM 


Comments
Wolf-Dog said at February 19, 2014 9:53 PM:

The feudalism in many non-western countries is far worse than the situation in North America or EU.
This is a lesson that many foreigners know and this is one of the reasons they want to immigrate to the West.

DdR said at February 20, 2014 6:52 AM:

My sister lives in Hong Kong and employs a helper.

Helper makes circa $650/month. Gets three weeks' vacation. Always has Sundays off. All helpers congregate on Sundays to socialize a bit. This is a typical scene at the HSBC headquarters in Central:

http://untappedcities.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/IMG_1049-e1341572821986.jpg

Vast majority of helpers are from the Philippines. In case you've forgotten RP, an average Filipino is dirt poor. No chance of moving up in that country, and an average helper there earns $50-60 per month. Probably also treated like crap by her employer.

Most helpers are married with children and are very Catholic. The arrangement is that Dad stays home to take care of the kids, while mom lives in HK most of the year. Moms live in a four-person apt. to save on expenses. Wires all excess money back home.

Authorities turn a blind eye towards undocumented Filipino helpers. Allow them to come and go. But if she shows up with her family, she's denied at customs.

A helper could leave her employer anytime and find a new one pretty quickly. The locals treat their helpers far more poorly than Westerners.

What I'm getting at is that Hong Kong natives are very wealthy, Filipinos are piss poor. Filippino helpers are not slaves, they voluntarily can come and go. NYT is also playing on the exceptions for everything, therefore more taxes, laws, regulations, safety nets. I'm surprised you fell for their bait so easily.

Filipinos will always come because they can make a better life for themselves and their family. If you want to stop helpers migrating to HK, then improve the conditions in the Philippines or have the authorities actually start kicking out illegals. Just in the States, this ain't gonna happen because we like our cheap, good labor, and Banana Republics rarely improve themselves. At least the Hong Kong authorities are smart enough to not allow them to breed in HK, but then they don't have to defend a 1,951-mile border.

Would you eschew having a live-in helper who cleans, cooks and watches your children very well, for the cost of $600/mo.? I thought so.

Daniel said at February 20, 2014 5:39 PM:

>>Would you eschew having a live-in helper who cleans, cooks and watches your children very well, for the cost of $600/mo.? I thought so.

I would. I do it all the time. Your smug response reinforces PP's thesis: the upper classes can't be trusted with lower classes.

Krishna K. said at February 20, 2014 8:01 PM:

When maids cost $17/day, by definition a lot of non-upper-class people are going to be employing them. So the first question here should be: what benefit do the real elites (owners of capital) get when lots of non-elites import maids? More local women in the workforce, more cash chasing the same limited stock of housing that the elites built, and more skilled workers chasing the same jobs in the companies the elites own.

Now the real question. This story about maid abuse got big in HK before the NYT noticed it. The life of a maid is not great, but HKers treat their maids much better than Singaporeans or Emiratis do. So why have HK elites decided that now is a good time for a media campaign against maid abuse? This is not their only effort at raising tensions between Hong Kong & its Southeast Asian neighbors: they're also pushing sanctions against the Philippines over some tourists who got shot four years ago.

As an additional side effect, this kind of coverage also increases tensions between average Hong Kongers and Westerners. In the past, HKers felt the Western media was on their side because it supported HK's aspirations for democracy & autonomy. Now instead HKers feel like the Western media is criticising everything about them (the NYT, unsurprisingly, also gave very negative coverage to HK's protests against mainland Chinese immigration). Beijing, and the HK elites who do Beijing's bidding, obviously benefit from this increase in tensions. I'm not surprised the NYT was too guileless to avoid being drawn into their strategy; they're always up for a moral crusade in a foreign country without any understanding of whose interests they're ultimately promoting.

Randall Parker said at February 20, 2014 8:45 PM:

DdR,

I absolutely would not want a live-in maid. The idea of having some worker to deal with every day strikes me as very unappealing. Years ago I had someone come once a week for a couple of hours. But gave it up. I could easily afford it, now more than ever. But I want fewer people doing that work.

Fix the Philippines: No way to do that short of bringing them back under a colonial system of uncorrupt and fairly laissez faire government. Even that would have limits in upside potential.

My problem with a servant class: It is unhealthy for the body politic. People should have to serve themselves with limited domestic help.

Krishna,

I'd like to know how much maid abuse occurs at each level of the economic rung. Who abuses them most? CEOs? Or middle managers? Or even lower ranked people?

I did not realize that Western media has turned against Hong Kong. It is far more glaring that American media hates Russia. I rarely see anti-Hong Kong stories. But I'll watch for them now. I will also start watching for anti-X stories for any number of countries and groups. Who does the media demonize? Thanks for triggering this thought. It is an interesting subject.

I think it would be interesting to see quantitative work on who the American media most demonize and why.

The fourth doorman of the apocalypse said at February 20, 2014 8:47 PM:

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-02-19/gap-ditches-the-minimum-wage-gives-raises-to-65-000-workers

The Gap and others try to head off an increase in the minimum wage.

We should up the ante. $15/hr and nothing less. $20/hr in 2016.

DdR said at February 21, 2014 6:33 AM:

@ Daniel: please elaborate on your smug response how you eschew a live-in helper. Do you live in HK? Are you married with children in HK? If you put an ad in a Filippino paper in HK saying that you're a Westerner who will pay $650/mo. for a maid (doesn't have to be live-in), there would be a mob of Filipino women outside your door within a day.

I wouldn't want a helper if I didn't have children, but I think I would spring for one pretty quickly once life becomes more complicated with kids.

@ RP: I understand your response. Do you have children? My sister never would've sprung for a maid when she was just married w/o children, but Hong Kong is not stroller/kid friendly, so she eventually caved.

My sister and brother-in-law are NOT elite. They're barely saving in HK and could never afford a car. You should see the ridiculous exotic cars on the streets there, even though there's hardly any place to drive, parking is non-existent, and HK has close to a 100% registration tax, i.e., a $200K Lamborghini costs close to $400K after registering it.

However, every middle-class family and up in Hong Kong has a helper as they are affordable.

My post, while strong in hindsight, takes more aim at a knee-jerk response that foreign elites are exploiting everybody. This is bait that the NYT loives to throw out there to garner a frenzied response, even though it is completely exaggerated. These Filipinos want the jobs in HK and thus travel there.

Ask a Mexican out in Central Valley if he/she feels like they're being exploited. Their likely response, as long as they've not being verbally/physically abused by their employer, is absolutely not on account of the wage-arbitrage play they're performing.

Toddy Cat said at February 21, 2014 8:53 AM:

Indenture servitude. That's our future if our so-called "liberal" elite has it's way. That'll be the new American Dream. Your wife a scullery maid, your son a gardner, and you get to drive Mr. Big's limo, while your daughter fellates him in the back seat. But look on the bright side; you'll receive more pleasure from the beans, just ask Tyler Cowan...

Personally, I'd rather avoid this, but YMMV...

Toddy Cat said at February 21, 2014 8:54 AM:

Indenture servitude. That's our future if our so-called "liberal" elite has it's way. That'll be the new American Dream. Your wife a scullery maid, your son a gardner, and you get to drive Mr. Big's limo, while your daughter fellates him in the back seat. But look on the bright side; you'll receive more pleasure from the beans, just ask Tyler Cowan...

Personally, I'd rather avoid this, but YMMV...

Daniel said at February 21, 2014 9:59 AM:

@DDR

>>Daniel: please elaborate on your smug response how you eschew a live-in helper. Do you live in HK? Are you married with children in HK? If you put an ad in a Filippino paper in HK saying that you're a Westerner who will pay $650/mo. for a maid (doesn't have to be live-in), there would be a mob of Filipino women outside your door within a day.

And if there were no mob in response to that 650/mo. wage you would have to pay 1300/mo.

>>I wouldn't want a helper if I didn't have children, but I think I would spring for one pretty quickly once life becomes more complicated with kids.

Rear your own damn kids (your brats mean nothing to me). Cut your own damn lawn. Scrub your own toilet. Unless, you are willing to pay a competitive wage, not a wage rigged by the elites, allowing unlimited immigration into the labor market.

You should be proud of this: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/hong-kongs-poor-live-in-stacked-metal-cages/

>> and HK has close to a 100% registration tax, i.e., a $200K Lamborghini costs close to $400K after registering it.

My heart breaks for your sister in law. I guess she will just have to settle for a Lexus or (the indignity) a Toyota.

>>Just in the States, this ain't gonna happen because we like our cheap, good labor,

Speak for yourself and your class.

>>My post, while strong in hindsight, takes more aim at a knee-jerk response that foreign elites are exploiting everybody. This is bait that the NYT loives to throw out there to garner a frenzied response,

Don't you get it, you are the New York Times elite.

Francis said at February 21, 2014 7:37 PM:

"I would. I do it all the time."

Why the fuck do you want strangers around?

Randall Parker said at February 21, 2014 9:38 PM:

DdR,

I get the need for child care if mom works. I know lots of people who use child carers because the kids aren't old enough to be in school or they need care after school. But this does not require a maid spending all day (let alone all day and night) at one's home.

The reason women are in the workplace in the first place is that so much house work has been automated that they don't have as much to do at home as women did 100 years ago. Maid services can sweep thru a home once a week in a few hours. A single woman can care for several preschoolers during the work day. One maid per family is decadent.

As for willingness of people to take in very cheap labor for their own benefit without regard to the long term health of the nation: this attitude is one of the causes of the decline of the nation. Progress isn't assured.

Toddy Cat,

The future of lots of poor people living in little econoboxes eating beans is not want I want to see. It is madness.

map said at February 22, 2014 10:18 AM:

To understand the NYT's angle, it is important to understand where they are coming from and what they represent. The hall mark feature of Marxism (traditional and its "cultural" variant) is hatred of the middle class.

This is something that is not well understood by the general public. People seem to think that Marxism was all about taking down the rich to help the poor, when it is really about taking down the middle class to protect the rich. This is why Marxism is always talking about the "bourgeoisie." The bourgeoisie is you. The kulak is you.

What the NYT's objects to is anyone middle class in HK having servants. That HK billionaires have servants doubling as concubines is part of the natural order to them, but if a middle class person buys a little help, well, this is a grave injustice.

It's like in czarist Russia. That the Czar has roomfuls of diamonds is part of nature, but if your neighbor has a cow and you don't then it is terrible and in need of social correction.

Krishna K said at February 23, 2014 9:01 PM:

@Randall: I wouldn't say the Western media has "turned against" Hong Kong specifically, so much as it's trained to look at outbreaks of nationalism and identify whether they fall into the Good Liberal Democratic category or the Bad Conservative Racist category, and recently some journalists have been convinced that HK's middle-class localist protest movements are the latter.

HK & Singapore's localist anti-government movements have similar anti-mainland-Chinese sentiments. Since both places are majority Chinese, it's hard for the governments to convince outsiders that these movements do fall into the Bad Racist category and should be declared anathema by the Western media. In HK, the elites have to grasp at other straws (like a few housewives beating their Indonesian maids) to convince American elites that these middle-class protesters are racist, or at least more racist than the Chinese ultranationalists up in Beijing with whom the HK elites are in bed.

But in Singapore the elites have an even harder task in front of them: Singaporean Chinese are very good at making sure not to give even a whiff of racism in how they express political opinions (because their own government came down so hard on it for 60 years --- unintentional training for the media-driven future). So for example they had a very successful anti-mainland protest in the form of "Cook a Pot of Indian Curry Day", in response to a mainland couple who got in a fight with their Indian neighbours about their smelly cooking. And it worked, to a limited extent: you don't see the international media focusing on how a few Singaporeans housewives beat their Indonesian maids, because the elites don't think this information will convince anyone that the Singaporean Chinese middle classes are more racist than the people against whom they're protesting. Maybe it will work for long enough for Singaporeans to reverse their government's immigration policy.

---

Re: "Hong Kong's poor live in stacked metal cages" -- This points to one of the major downside of city-states: if they are well-run, then life is much better than living in city in a large centralizing state (aside from the fact that your food policy is under the control of foreign governments). But if they are captured by rentiers, the rentiers have access not just to the usual policy levers of municipal governments (e.g. zoning permits), but to national-type policy levers as well (immigration, citizenship, taxes & tariffs), and HK's elites have used all of those levers to drive down wages & drive up housing costs --- ensuring that both parents need to be working in order to pay their rent. Single elderly people (who make up most of the people living in those cage homes) don't stand a chance unless they have support from their own children.

Randall Parker said at February 23, 2014 9:17 PM:

@Krishna

I think it makes sense for the Hong Kong upper class building owners to want a mainland influx for higher rents and cheaper labor. At the same time it makes sense for the rest of the population to oppose it both due to rent prices and desire to reduce the influence of the mainland. The elites usually win.

Meanwhile, if middle class people hire Filipino maids they too are driving up housing costs and lowering wages. Heck, just freeing up the middle class women to work increases the supply of labor and lowers labor costs.

I think Singapore ought to allow in only high IQ immigrants. Also, they'll probably have a higher trust society if they restrict those immigrants to Chinese. People do not trust the more genetically distant.

I would be curious to see longitudinal data on societal trust in Singapore, Hong Kong, and, say, Shenzhen.

Glengarry said at February 24, 2014 3:58 PM:

In the larger scheme of things, foreign powers above all need to take a page from Carlos Slim's playbook and invest in US media, particularly in the New York Times. (Keep the Sulzbergers running it.)


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