October approaches its end, and the economy fails to take off. Yet, there is a persistent sense of nonchalance. Often, we see and listen to people – public and officials alike – talking about the economic situation, or the possible ways out of it, in a very casual manner.
Pervasive approach, it may seem, but illusory and misleading.
Calmness and measured declarations are both welcome at all times. They are possibly more needed and justified than ever in times of severe crisis, for which the current one fully qualifies. Indeed, symptoms may not be too apparent yet. There is superficial tranquility in most social segments and an absence of visible signs of alarm in the public sphere. But look below the surface, and problems are brewing.
The existing conditions are weakening the pillars and ties that bind this economy and society together. Should the present circumstances persist, as it seems likely, and what now may appear as calmness may seem carelessness or indifference. Sometimes, it just takes one bubble at an unexpected place to put others in motion, and undercurrents may reach the surface where none seemed to exist before.
This much can be said about many places worldwide. Macau is not an isolated case of acute economic stress. Here, the abundant public reserves may provide an added sense of protection, but they cannot substitute for a vibrant economy. Income and livelihoods are and will be increasingly at stake.
The words and numbers we choose to highlight will be ever more judged not only by their relevance and pertinence for what they describe, as for what they let us anticipate, and the attitude they reflect.
The National Day Golden Week brought more people to Macau and an increase in gambling revenues. More, of course, than the preceding and disastrous times. However, the central fact is that they stood well below the expectations and very far away from representing the breakthrough this economy so badly needs. If they convey any tangible message, it is underlining how far away we are still from anything approaching normalcy.
In the absence of changes that almost miraculously would bring about the dreamed-about diversification at short notice, gambling revenues will be the bellwether and engine of this economy for a long time. It is possibly time that balanced statements about the facts combine with vigorous actions searching for alternative paths out of the present predicament.