How much are you willing to pay for democracy? More precisely, in order to vote for your leader in the government, what would you sacrifice? Would you rather vote than have smooth downtown traffic, a stable economy, a peaceful neighborhood to live in or maybe income from your family store? To judge from the recent events in Hong Kong, some people there believe that they don’t need any of those things but democracy. The protesters have made reasonable demands on the government, such as universal suffrage, the resignation of a chief executive who they believe is manipulated by Beijing and a truly fair democratic election with candidates not previously vetted by Beijing. They strongly believe that a “true democracy” will correct current issues in Hong Kong and prevent any future dysfunction or crises. But the reality is not that simple.
Hong Kong has bigger problems that democracy can’t solve. Before the attention shifted to the election reform that could potentially deprive Hong Kongers of the freedom to nominate a candidate for their chief executive, people in Hong Kong were already worried. For example, economic inequality had caused many people to lose the ability to support a family. Similar to the United States, the wealth in Hong Kong is also mainly controlled by the elites. A stock broker could earn 10 times more than a skilled worker. The cost of living in general had also increased dramatically ever since the 2008 financial crisis. The average real estate price reached $1373/square foot while the average income stayed at $3716 per month, according to globalpropertyguide.com and Census and Statistics Department HK SAR, respectively. That means that without further changes, the average worker will work about 12 years without spending a penny to make as much money as a 400-square-foot apartment costs.
Clearly, democracy is not the sole answer. It might smooth some ongoing tensions between the government and the people. But given the other problems facing the city, a chief executive completely of the people's choosing certainly won't be a panacea.
The bottom line is that nothing is more important than a stable society with order. With a thousand problems yet to be solved, one thing that Hong Kong definitely does not need is chaos. Ever since the protest started, the stock market has gone down and large amounts of revenue from tourism have been lost. Thus, Hong Kong is jeopardized, ironically, by the very people who are supposed to help it.
No matter which government or what political system, the priority should be to react and make people’s lives easier and better. But there is clear evidence that the protesters aren't doing that. Not to mention, how sure can we be that they are representing the majority of Hong Kongers, as they claim? There are reports showing that some merchants and citizens have reacted negatively toward the protest. Some of them even physically engaged with the protesters. So the decision now goes to the citizens of Hong Kong: If a majority of them firmly believe that what they are demanding is worth sacrificing what they have now and will provide positive changes, then the protest will be unstoppable. However, if more citizens decide that the protest should be ended, then by all means, it should.
Chen is a psychology junior originally from Guangzhou, China.