Hong Kong is consumed by consumerism
HongKongers are obsessed with brands. Go to any shopping mall, and you will see luxury brands everywhere. In fact, HongKongers care so much about brands that Hong Kong is itself a big showroom. Not only do you see women sporting French designer handbags, you have men showing off their Italian sports cars, businessmen inviting their friends to their villas on the Peak – and then there are parents bragging about their kids going to British boarding schools.
The real problem is spending more money than you have
There is nothing wrong with spending your hard earned money to treat yourself, to make yourself feel good. As a matter of fact, spending money helps the economy. No one has a right to tell you how not to spend your money. But the real problem arises when you’re spending more money than you have. You would go in debt. When I was little, my father taught me a very important lesson about money. He taught me, “If you make $10, there’s nothing wrong with spending all your $10. Just don’t ever spend $11.”
Loan commercials and loan sharks are telling young people that it’s okay
Then next thing you know, you’re seeing TV commercials advertising “no show personal loans” (“no show” means you don’t even need to show up in person to apply!). No credit checks required – just give them a call, tell them your HKID number, and voila! You get to buy all those pretty designer dresses! Expensive cameras to take vacation photos! Tickets to concerts in Japan and Korea! And next day, you’re receiving random calls from loan sharks soliciting personal loans to clear your credit card debts. They already know you have credit card debt and are more than happy to put you further in debt!
Young people are spending more than they have on things they don’t need
These loan commercials on TV and unsolicited phone calls only suggest one thing – young people are willing to spend more money than they have, on things they probably don’t need. I haven’t researched on why people get into credit card debt, but the commercials suggest that young people will indeed buy more than they can afford. Either they think the world will end very soon in a zombie apocalypse (for which they will need to learn survival skills), or they’re just not planning very well for the future, if at all. Worse, they see no future anyways.
Consumption of commodities as a way of showing social status
So why are these young people so obsessed with spending beyond their abilities? I’ve read an article about Chinese people’s obsession with luxury brands. A professor argued that in Chinese culture, “face” is very important, as it signifies social status and prestige. One way of having “face” is to consume commodities. Display of wealth becomes a way to seek higher social status. If there is indeed any truth to this, then maybe young people want to seek “esteem” and “envy” from their friends. And they will post pictures of their “goods” on Facebook to let all their friends know. Vanity.
Young people are getting into a spiral of debt and there’s no way out
When many of our young people are busy repaying credit card companies or loan sharks, they are not otherwise contributing to society. Things turn from bad to worse when they take out further loans to cover their previous debts. Loan sharks call this “debt restructuring”. I call this digging yourself into a deeper hole. Eventually, the bubble will burst and the loan sharks will sell your debt to a money collector who will harass your entire family until they get paid. Now, your problem becomes other people’s problems. Most of the time, other people will have to clean up your mess.
Young people need to rebuild their self-worth though confidence and faith
Why do these young people feel they have to buy expensive brands to have “face”? My hypothesis is that many lack self-worth and see little future, no matter how hard they try. They no longer have confidence in themselves that they can make a difference in their lives. They no longer believe that our society has their best interests in mind to build a better future for them. So they just give up. But if they can’t meaningfully climb the social ladder, what they can do is buy things now to feel good about themselves, at least temporarily – and earn some Facebook “likes.”
To stop this endless cycle, young people must start having confidence in themselves that they can make a difference in their own lives. They will never succeed if they don’t believe they will succeed. They must be instilled an entrepreneurship spirit to create value for themselves. But not only that, society must also acknowledge their needs – an opportunity, i.e. a platform, to help them improve their quality of life. If there is no such meaningful opportunity to do so, then there is no future – and the present is meaningless. We would only then be living in a borrowed place, with borrowed time.