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Sir John James Cowperthwaite


1915 - 2006

Economist, responsible for creating Hong Kong's dynamic economy. Born in Edinburgh, Cowperthwaite was educated at Merchiston Castle School, read classics at the University of St. Andrews and Christ's College (Cambridge) before returning to St. Andrews to study economics, under the influence of Wilkie Nisbet (1903-74).

He joined the Colonial Service in Hong Kong in 1941, but spent three years in Sierra Leone while Hong Kong was occupied by the Japanese. He returned to the Asian colony at the end of the Second World War to assist in economic recovery, rising to become Financial Secretary in 1961. A champion of laissez-faire economics, he removed import and export controls, and balanced the colony's budget, while reducing taxes and encouraging the natural entrepreneurship of the Hong Kong people. His lack of intervention and promotion of free enterprise has been criticised principally because of growing corruption, poor social services and the lack of housing for immigrants, although the export success of Hong Kong's businesses certainly reduced poverty.

After his retirement in 1971 he served as an advisor to Jardine Fleming, the Hong Kong-based investment bank, until 1981. Thereafter he returned to Scotland, settling in St Andrews. He was awarded an OBE in 1960, a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in 1964 and knighted in 1968.

He died in Dundee, widely credited as the architect of Hong Kong's prosperity.


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