As Financial Secretary of colonial Hong Kong from 1961 to 1971, Sir John Cowperthwaite was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the Hong Kong miracle.
He died a few days ago at 90. Here's his obituary from the Telegraph: Sir John Cowperthwaite:
Sir John Cowperthwaite, who died on January 21 aged 90, was Financial Secretary of Hong Kong throughout the 1960s; his extreme laissez-faire economic policies created conditions for very rapid growth, laying the foundations of the colony's prosperity as an international business centre.
Cowperthwaite was a classical free-trader in the tradition which stretched from Adam Smith to John Stuart Mill and Gladstone, rather than a modern monetarist. He was also a seasoned colonial administrator, with a strong streak of common sense....
Cowperthwaite himself called his approach "positive non-intervention". Personal taxes were kept at a maximum of 15 per cent; government borrowing was wholly unacceptable; there were no tariffs or subsidies. Red tape was so reduced that a new company could be registered with a one-page form.
Cowperthwaite believed that government should concern itself with only minimal intervention on behalf of the most needy, and should not interfere in business. In his first budget speech he 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 centralised decisions of a government, and certainly the harm is likely to be counteracted faster."
From 1961 to 1971 Cowperthwaite exercised almost complete control of the colony's finances under successive governors, Sir Robert Black and Sir David Trench, who were sympathetic to his philosophy and content to give him his head....
The measure of that success was a 50 per cent rise in real wages, and a two-thirds fall in the number of households in acute poverty. Exports rose by 14 per cent a year, as Hong Kong evolved from a trading post to a major regional hub and manufacturing base.
The whole obituary is worth your time.
I learned about this story from Alex Singleton at the Globalization Institute's blog: Sir John Cowperthwaite (1915-2006) . Singleton links to and quotes some text from an interesting column on the Hong Kong acheivement by Milton Friedman.