While at work today, I got the annual return form for my Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) scheme. For those who don't know, all Hong Kongers who are legally employed have to pay a percentage of their income each month into the MPF, an obligatory pension fund that can be cashed in once you reach retirement age or leave Hong Kong. The employers also have to pay into the scheme, and a larger amount at that. Sounds good so far. But it is not any remotely accountable or transparent unit that operates the MPF system... instead, our money goes into large, private banking institutions, which then keep the money as their own short/medium-term capital, or invest the money as they see fit.
Again, the 'M' means that this is a MANDATORY scheme which we have to pay into by law. Sure, we get some say as to where our money goes, into the 'risky' or 'not-so-risky' funds. But as to where specifically it is actually invested... well, we lose sight of our hard-earned cash by that point. So essentially, all legally employed people are required by law to subsidize banks and corporations with a percentage of their income every month.
To take an example of perhaps the worst case scenario, a Hong Kong worker could choose, for example, to put a percentage of his MPF contribution into the 'Global Equity Fund'. Despite the increased risk of loss, this fund promises higher returns than the default 'Capital Preservation Fund', and the worker can be encouraged by the prospect of making a tidy profit to add to his retirement nest egg. It's certainly an enticing idea, especially when one considers the horrible situation that elderly people who have to live off government welfare in HK are faced with.
Well, where the hell does this money go? Turns out I was just informed of the top ten investments under the Global Equity Fund by my employers' MPF managers, the Bank of China:
1). Cash & Deposit
2). General Electric Co
3). Exxon Mobil Corporation
4). Citigroup Inc
5). Bank of America Corporation
6). Microsoft Corporation
7). BP Plc
8). Pfizer Inc.
9). Int'l Business Machines Corporation (IBM)
10). Intel Corporation
So, with one's hard earned money, they would be subsidizing one of the world' s largest weapons makers (General Electric), two of the largest and dirtiest oil companies in the world (Exxon Mobil and BP), the kingpin of Big Pharmaceuticals (Pfizer), two of the largest and most nefarious banks in the world (Bank of America and Citigroup, of which the latter has an ongoing campaign against it and was called the "world's most destructive bank" in 2000) and THREE US high-tech industry corporations (IBM, Intel, and Microsoft) which are the prime beneficiaries of that country's military-industrial complex.
Other recepients of our money could include the US and Japanese reserve banks (so we can underwrite the US/Japanese economies and their deficits, presumably) ; land-ownership cartels such as Cheung Kong, Sun Hung Kai, and Swire Properties (so we can contribute to their almost total control over the city); private banking institutions such as Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, and HSBC...
To me it seems patently illogical to operate a pension scheme that invests in the institutions of corporate capitalism and militarism. The logic of the former is to save for the future, while the ideology of the latter is to never think beyond the notion of short term gains, thus destroying any chance we have of a future. Moreover, forcing working citizens to contribute to this destruction by law seems to me the height of immorality.
According to my return, I made HK$0.80 profit off this year's MPF scheme. I shudder to think where even such a paltry sum came from. So, an in-depth investigation into how our money is used would be vital, and if anyone knows of existing studies, I'd be grateful if you let me know! Also, if there are 'alternative' MPF schemes that I could change to tomorrow, I'd also love to hear about them.
Meanwhile, the question we should be asking ourselves, our bosses, our co-workers, friends, families, and any and all concerned is: what the hell are we funding? And why?