John Cowperthwaite, a young British colonial officer was sent to Hong Kong in 1945 to oversee the colony’s economic recovery. “Upon arrival, however,” said a Far Eastern Economic Review article about Cowperthwaite, “he found it recovering quite nicely without him.”
Cowperthwaite took the lesson to heart, he strictly limited bureaucratic interference in the economy. He wouldn’t even let bureaucrats keep figures on the rate of economic growth or the size of GDP.
The Cubans won’t let anyone get those figures, either. But Cowperthwaite forbade it for an opposite reason. He felt that these numbers were nobody’s business and would only be misused by policy fools.
Cowperthwaite has said of his role in Hong Kong’s astounding growth: “I did very little. All I did was to try to prevent some of the things that might undo it.”
He served as the colony’s financial secretary from 1961 to 1971.
In the debate over the 1961 budget, said:
In the long run the aggregate of decisions of individual businessmen, exercising individual judgment in a free economy, even if often mistaken, is less likely to do harm than the centralized decisions of a government; and certainly the harm is likely to be counteracted faster.
Even Newsweek has been forced into admiration: “While Britain continued to build a welfare state, Cowperthwaite was saying ‘no’: no export subsidies, no tariffs, no personal taxes higher than 15 percent, red tape so thin a one-page form can launch a company.”
During Cowperthwaite’s “nothing doing” tenure, Hong Kong’s exports grew by an average of 13.8 percent a year, industrial wages doubled, and the number of households in extreme poverty shrank from more than half to 16 percent.
extracted from ‘Eat the Rich’ by P. J. O’Rourke