香港在美国传统基金会（Heritage Foundation）2103年经济自由度指数（Index of Economic Freedom，衡量各个国家和地区经济自由程度的指标）排行榜上再次占据首位。这个指数的考察重点是现行法律和政府监管的覆盖范围。香港在后一点上表现得特别好，商业自由度得分为98.9，而美国和中国大陆的成绩分别为90.5和48.0。
当然，希望完全不受监管的企业极少——毕竟，这种情况可能导致过度竞争。长期以来，业内人士一直都想实现行业封锁，或者说，通过接受监管来防止圈外人抢走自己的饭碗。米尔顿•弗里德曼在他的著作《资本主义和自由》（Capitalism and Freedom）中这样描述此类行为：“要求立法机构为某个行业颁发许可证的压力极少来自公众……相反，这种压力总是来自这个行业自身。”
Again in 2013, Hong Kong placed first in the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, which measures its view of the economic freeness of various countries. The index focuses on the presence of the rule of law and the absence of government regulation. On the latter point Hong Kong does particularly well, scoring 98.9 in Business Freedom compared to 90.5 for the United States and 48.0 for China.
Of course, business rarely wants no regulation – after all that might lead to excessive competition. The professions have long sought closure – blocking outsiders from the work of the profession in exchange for regulatory oversight. Milton Friedman in Capitalism and Freedom observed this behavior: “the pressure on the legislature to license an occupation rarely comes from the members of the public . . . On the contrary, the pressure invariably comes from the occupation itself.”
The accounting profession secured a particularly sweet deal in Hong Kong. They blocked access to their lucrative market to accounting firms from outside Hong Kong while convincing regulators to allow them to regulate themselves through the Hong Kong Institute of CPAs (HKICPAs).
That deal is coming to an end. The world called B.S. on the accounting profession’s self-regulation after Enron, and most of the world has separated accounting regulation from the profession. But not in Hong Kong. Hong Kong made a symbolic move towards regulating accountants with the Financial Reporting Council (FRC), but made sure that the FRC was underfunded and toothless. The financial world has called Hong Kong out on this, the most serious blow being the removal of regulatory equivalency by the European Union. So reforms are once again in the winds.
The proposed reforms, however, seek to perpetuate regulatory capture. A proposal advanced by the SFC and HKICPAs would transfer the important function of audit inspections from the HKICPAs to the FRC, funded by levies on investors. But the HKICPAs wants FRC to outsource those inspections back to the HKICPAs, leading once again to the profession reviewing its own work, but being paid for it this time.
Outsourcing audit inspections to the inspected firms is a horrible idea, and I have written a piece for Forensic Asia on it. Effective audit regulation is important for investors, and investors should be speaking up loudly to make sure the profession does not keep the FRC in captivity.