Hong Kong: City of Immigrants

Below are the top ten countries in the world by per capita GDP in US dollars at purchasing power parity, according to Wikipedia:

1. Qatar 102,891
2. Luxembourg 84,829
3. Singapore 59,936
4. Norway 53,376
5. Brunei 49,517
— Hong Kong 49,342
6. United Arab Emirates 48,597
7. United States 48,147
8. Switzerland 43,508
9. Netherlands 42,330
10. Austria 41,805

I think Americans still assume that the US is the richest country in the world. America does have the largest GDP, of course. In per capita terms, it is not #1, but notice who is ahead. Only (a) oil producers like Qatar, Norway, Brunei, and the United Arab Emirates, (b) tiny Luxembourg, with half a million people, a tax haven and financial center in the heart of Europe, and most interestingly, (c) Hong Kong and Singapore. European nations, except Norway and Luxembourg, are still behind the United States.

Of Hong Kong, Wikipedia writes that:

Under British rule, the population of Hong Kong island had increased from 7,450 Chinese residents, mostly fishermen, in 1841 to over 115,000 Chinese and 8,754 Europeans in Hong Kong (including Kowloon) in 1870.[67]


Hong Kong’s population recovered quickly as a wave of migrants from China arrived for refuge from the ongoing Chinese Civil War. When the PRC was proclaimed in 1949, more migrants fled to Hong Kong for fear of persecution by the Communist Party.[69]

In other words, Hong Kong is a city of immigrants. Since the country that most of its population comes from, mainland China, has about one-fifth the GDP per capita of Hong Kong, it’s hard to explain Hong Kong’s prosperity in cultural terms. Hong Kong is a story of the value of institutions (in this case, the British tradition of free markets and the rule of law). But it is equally a story of migration, of people flourishing because they were able to move and live under better institutions, and achieving dazzling success. Too bad that doesn’t happen more often.

Nathan Smith is an assistant professor of economics at Fresno Pacific University. He did his Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University and has also worked for the World Bank. Smith proposed Don’t Restrict Immigration, Tax It, one of the more comprehensive keyhole solution proposals to address concerns surrounding open borders.

See also:

Page about Nathan Smith on Open Borders
All blog posts by Nathan Smith

3 thoughts on “Hong Kong: City of Immigrants”

  1. Interesting post.

    In the Free To Choose series back in 1980, Milton Friedman, in Volume 1 of the series, compared Hong Kong as it was then, with its free markets and immigration from China, to the US in the late 19th and early 20th century, with pictures of immigrants getting off the boats at Ellis Island.

  2. Obvious response: Both culture and good institutions are needed for success. I think that history supports this.

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