In the past few weeks I have turned on Dutch television twice, and both times it showed a tear-jerking story of a mother on welfare who can no longer pay her bills. She didn’t want to work, because then she wouldn’t be able to give her school-age children the attention ‘they needed’. It will probably be a coincidence, but the picture that is painted is clear: in the Netherlands large groups of people can no longer pay their bills, and the government has to step in immediately. That is what the government is doing, with a package worth more than 17 billion.
But that is a classic example of panic football, as the Council of State also noted. Such as the reduction in excise taxes on petrol, which mainly benefits the rich, which already was. First of all, because the current inflation and purchasing power figures give a distorted picture: that calculation incorrectly assumes that all Dutch people conclude a new (variable) contract every month and therefore pay the top rate. But more importantly: ‘The hasty process stands in the way of careful decision-making on other topics, such as the distribution of wealth.’
People do not want to hear that there is also another side to the purchasing power story. “A growing group of Dutch people is struggling to make ends meet, but together, Dutch households still have tens of billions of euros in corona savings,” tweeted Peter Hein van Mulligen of CBS. A truth as a cow, but blind anger was his share: how did he get it in his head to downplay the enormous suffering of many Dutch people? And if you put your head in the oven and your feet in the freezer, the thermometer in the middle also reads 37 degrees; that doesn’t mean anything, does it?
Dutch citizens and companies suffer from a persistent compensation and declaration reflex: all risks must be covered by the government. They have copied that from the big boys, who are allowed to keep their profits, but can often pass their losses on to the collective. The government always gives in under populist pressure, they know. When the NOS news releases the welfare mothers, you know what time it is.
But there is more than enough bacon on the bones in the Netherlands, especially with the burger itself. In the insanely large pension pot of 1,800 billion, for example, which incidentally is managed for the absurd amount of 16 billion per year by asset managers who, as a thank you, annually hand the Netherlands the WC-Eend award for the world’s best pension system. But also in the equity value of all those own houses, which has sometimes increased by tons in corona time.
So the problem is not so much on the expenditure side, but in the way we divide and tax our fat piggy bank. And in our lack of liquidity, which avenges itself in crises. In the meantime, the cabinet would rather pay the receipts from the bodyshop than to properly asphalt the road. All this under pressure from populist voices that exaggerate the suffering of the common man and thereby force the cabinet to make short-term plans, where long-term plans are needed.
Fortunately, against the background of the now folkloric slander of the extreme right, there were also good ideas that came through the House this week. For example, the bonus for part-time workers who go full-time, the free childcare and the free school lunches in ‘difficult’ neighborhoods are pure progress. Now that the plasters are on, can we finally start talking about the long term?