Friday, February 24, 2012

The Key Thing Poor Countries Should Do

Peter Moore writes in the comments:

In the case of Hong Kong, it also had a Financial Secretary called Sir John Cowperthwaite, a colonial administrator of genius because he did hardly anything to get in the way of life. This from one of a number of educational obituaries about him which can be found online:

"Asked what the key thing poor countries should do, Cowperthwaite once remarked, "They should abolish the office of national statistics." He refused to collect all but the most superficial statistics, believing they led the state to fiddle about remedying perceived ills, thus hindering the working of the market. This caused consternation: a Whitehall delegation was sent to find out why employment statistics were not being collected, but the financial secretary literally sent them back on the next plane [...] He opposed giving special benefits to business; when a group of businessmen asked him to fund a tunnel across Hong Kong harbour, he argued that if it made economic sense, the private sector would pay for it (as indeed it did)."


  1. Why thank you Mr Wenzel. That's taken from this obituary of Sir John Cowperthwaite (1915-2006):

    A slightly longer one is here:

    Both are well worth a few minutes reading.

  2. Whoa, how the hell did he get appointed colonial administrator? Was he the only enlightened exception among colonial governors?

  3. This was the biggest take-away from a piece by Milton Friedman that I read several years ago on the "Hong Kong Miracle":

    "I met Cowperthwaite in 1963 on my next visit to Hong Kong. I remember asking him about the paucity of statistics. He answered, “If I let them compute those statistics, they’ll want to use them for planning.’’ How wise!"

  4. Love that Cowperthwaite obit.

  5. From the obit:

    He "was a key influence in China's economic liberalisation after the demise of Mao Zedong."

    Incredible! Cowperthwaite not only did so much good for the people of Hong Kong, but is indirectly responsible for the greatest economic miracle in world history -- the liberalization of China!