Common good


The opening of Macau’s gambling sector to foreign competition fifteen years ago has catapulted the city into the global financial economy. The liberalization’s impact over the urban fabric, and Macau’s demographics and industry, has been both overwhelming and unsettling. At first, capital inflows were so large that it took the city’s political body a while to devise a development plan, if any.
Disconnected urban projects, rather than a comprehensive city planning strategy have been the rule. Another problem, epitomized early on by (former Secretary for Transport and Public Works) Ao Man Long’s corruption misdemeanors, is that abundant financial resources have not been systematically converted into forms of wealth that would more faithfully reciprocate a general, yet increasingly more difficult-to-define, idea of the common good. If Ao’s case is a closed chapter, at least formally, the common good is not.
Eventually, I am not sure if that is what the Chinese central authorities had in mind for Macau while promoting the notion “becoming rich is glorious.” But the city’s development and economic growth have worked out for quite a few people. Ask around.
No doubt, there is always the wide, though arguably narrower, bottom of the pyramid, which have not benefitted comparatively from the fact that Macau became a wealthy city nearly overnight – a fact that has entertained quite a long life-span. Just a couple of weeks ago, Macau ranked the third wealthiest jurisdiction in the world, behind only Qatar and Luxembourg, with the local GDP per capita currently set at US$87,845 (MOP702,385).
Take an example. The average monthly earnings of a dealer in a local casino today hits roughly MOP19,000 (US$2,700/Euro 2,200). That is close to the amount an early career professor would earn in France. Yet the fact that a dealer in Macau would pay nearly as much as a professor in Paris to rent an apartment, makes it perhaps less interesting and much less attractive. While the real estate market is pairing up with Macau’s economic bonanza, it does not seem the city is pairing up with higher quality of life standards.
It is, though, a fact of economic orthodoxy that a global rise in revenue has an impact on per capita income, through wage increases, drops in unemployment rates, or more inclusive social welfare benefits, reallocated by governments according to the size of public coffers and the political ideology that drives bureaucratic intelligentsia.
The public coffers are full. But is there a driver at the wheel?