Opinion pieces, columns and insights into Dutch news and current affairs from key commentators


‘Uber and its like are not hip and innovative’

‘Uber and its like are not hip and innovative’

We shouldn’t hail Uber as a model of innovative entrepreneurship. WalMart should be a warning to us all, writes Daan Brouwer.There are quite a few politicians and economists who are in favour of total entrepreneurial freedom for businesses, investors and speculators. Eager to point out the pros, any harmful long-term cons this might have for a majority of citizens are overlooked.Advocates are outnumbering objectors, that much is clear from the current trend towards low wages, the scrapping of rules and regulations, the paring down of redundancy rights, the side-lining of unions and the holes that are appearing in the social safety net for the unemployed, the sick and others who, for some reason or another, depend on benefits.All this is primarily in aid of allowing these companies, and their exceedingly rich owners, to pay fewer taxes.Cheap taxis‘Businesses’ like Uber fit this bill perfectly. Uber uses cheap fare prices to tempt the public into using their taxis. Bona fide taxi drivers are the first to suffer but ultimately the great majority of people will be seriously affected by the consequences of such a development too.Low cost companies such as Lidl, cheap mail order companies and Uber will have the same effect on Dutch society as supermarket chain WalMart in the United States. The disastrous effects of this commercial giant’s success not only on the economy but society as a whole have been eloquently painted by Clinton’s Labour minister Robert B. Reich in his bestselling Supercapitalism.The company, exploiting unemployment and the powerlessness of workers to the full, pays absurdly low wages. It forces suppliers into selling at such low prices that they, too, lower wages or move production to low wage countries. Competing supermarkets are left with no other choice than to follow suit. Inner cities are depleted because one by one traditional shops are forced to close their doors.InequalityWalMart is now the single biggest cause of the outrageous inequality between rich and poor in the United States. The Walton family, who own WalMart, are worth 152 billion dollars and the richest in the world by far.Businesses like WalMart and Uber are seducing people as consumers but screwing them as workers, self-employed people and citizens. Uber is portraying itself as hip and innovative but look closer and you’ll see a handful of American investors making bucket loads of money on one side and a lot of desperate would-be taxi drivers struggling to make a few euros on the other. It’s the sort of shabby set-up you might expect in Albania or Bulgaria, but not here.Is this the kind of innovation we need in the Netherlands? Self-proclaimed experts can spout nonsense about ‘the new economy’ and ‘the dynamic internet society’ as much as they like, but the fact is that Uber and its like will pull down society and make paupers of most of us.Daan Brouwer is author of 'Waarom de mensen balen van de politiek' (Why people are fed up with politics).This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant.  More >


Bureaucratic maze stifles small businesses

Bureaucratic maze stifles small businesses

The social insurance system is confusing and expensive for small firms, says entrepreneur Annemarie van Gaal.Unemployment is down slightly, but with over 633,000 people out of work we are still nudging our old 1980s record. Add to this the enormous number of self-employed and entrepreneurs who, while not unemployed, are struggling to make ends meet and you realise that we are facing a very big problem. The economy is recovering but this is not reflected in the employment figures.Government policy has concentrated too much on protecting existing jobs and too little on stimulating growth. It has gone too far in its protection of workers: redundancy pay, social insurance rules, bureaucratic procedures and collective labour agreements cover all businesses, whether they employ a thousand workers or ten.ResponsibleIn both cases, employers remain responsible for a sick worker for a period of two years. That not only means they have to set in motion a re-integration process and pay the worker’s salary during that time, they are also forced to immerse themselves in hundreds of pages of incomprehensible jargon to find out exactly what is expected of them. And they had better not make any mistakes or they’ll be paying out an extra year’s salary.And here’s the difference. A big company has a personnel department to navigate the bureaucratic maze. A small entrepreneur has to do it all himself. This is time and energy he can’t put into the running of his business. Every small entrepreneur who has experienced the nightmare that is an unwilling or dishonest worker will never employ anyone again.We seem to forget that economic growth is propelled by small and medium-sized businesses. Even multinationals such as Philips or ASML started out small. The rules are stifling growth. Small companies can’t grow because they are fearful of hiring people.Two-tierWhy don’t we devise a two-tier system? Big companies follow the rules imposed by the government and the unions. Smaller businesses, of up to say 20 workers, are exempt from collective labour agreements and will apply a less stringent form of social insurance law. Of course, smaller businesses will still be obliged to pay the minimum wage and social insurance contributions, but that is all.For them there would be no distinction between long-term contracts or temporary or variable contracts, and no sick pay or previously determined severance pay. Workers who want security can choose to work for a large company, while the more adventurous can opt for a smaller company. This could bring down unemployment and be an incentive for growth at the same time.Annemarie van Gaal is an entrepreneur and investor.  More >


What did our elders ever do for us? They spent more on education for one thing.

What did our elders ever do for us? They spent more on education for one thing.

What has distinguished one Dutch cabinet from another over the years? Economist Mathijs Bouman goes down memory lane.Last Thursday Piet de Jong became a centenarian. The submarine commander turned prime minister took the helm between April 5 1967 and July 6 1971. In the year he stepped down, Mark Rutte and Jeroen Dijsselbloem went to kindergarten. Halbe Zijlstra celebrated his second birthday. Diederik Samsom was born four days later and Lodewijk Asscher wasn’t even a twinkle in his father’s eye.The toddlers and babies of those days have grown up and are governing the country. Are their priorities any different from those of that earlier generation? Has government expenditure grown or shrunk in the intervening years?Public spendingIn 2015, Dutch public spending will end up marginally higher than in 1971: 45% of gdp compared to 43% in De Jong’s final year as prime minister.At 45% it is at its lowest since the start of the credit crisis in 2008, and well below the average percentage since 1971. Under Labour prime minister Joop den Uyl public spending shot up to 49% of gdp, and in spite of a programme of reforms, successor Dries van Agt and his prudent finance minister Onno Ruding, both CDA, saw it go up to 57%. In 1987, CDA prime minister Ruud Lubbers set the record with 58%.Under controlLubbers eventually managed to get public spending more or less under control. In 1994, his final year as prime minister, public spending was reduced to 51% of gdp. It wasn’t until 1999, when Labour leader Wim Kok became prime minister (and Gerrit Zalm his finance minister) that public spending was brought back to the Piet de Jong level of 43%.Under CDA prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende’s four cabinets the percentage varied little. The credit crisis pushed it up to 48% in 2008 and at 45% in 2015 we’re back to what it was in 1971.PrioritiesBut that is where the similarity ends. The priorities of the present cabinet of Mark Rutte and Lodewijk Asscher couldn’t be more different from 34 years ago. We are spending much more on health care, a well-documented but still astounding increase. Public spending on health tripled from 2.9% of gdp in 1971 to 9.6% in 2015.An aging population, developments in medicine and greater public demand for higher standards are developments which take place largely outside of the political arena. But the often heard story of relentless cutbacks on health care is groundless, at a macro-economic level at least.Spending on social security, however, has taken a hit: currently at 12.7%, it is just a little higher than De Jong’s 11%. In 1983 it stood at a whopping 20% of gdp.EducationWhat else? In 1971 defence spending was 2.8% of gdp, now it is less than half. Infrastructure accounted for 2.9% under De Jong, now it is 1.4%. Subsidies for companies are down significantly too. And shockingly enough, this cabinet is now spending quite a bit less on education: 5.3% compared to De Jong’s 6.4%.The low interest rate is advantageous too. De Jong paid an interest rate of 2.5% of gdp on a much lower national debt. Rutte’s bill comes to 1.3% of gdp, the lowest percentage of the post-war years. However, we don’t have a Dutch prime minister to thank for that but the Italian president of the ECB.Mathijs Bouman is a macro economist.This column was published earlier in the Financieele Dagblad.  More >


Insurers, start looking after patients instead of agonising over budgets

Insurers, start looking after patients instead of agonising over budgets

District nurses are hurrying from one patient to another, frantically consulting overlong checklists. Labour leader Diederik Samsom tells insurers to stop agonising over budgets and concentrate on providing appropriate care.For six months now I have been working alongside home healthcare workers on a weekly basis. I experienced at first-hand the dedication and professionalism with which they do their jobs.I also watched with bated breath the revolution that is taking place in care. The checklists and government protocols which determine who is eligible for home care are on the way out. From now on, the district nurse can make his or her own assessment. It’s as if the old choked-up system is being revived with a blast of oxygen.People not numbersAt last it’s people who matter, not numbers.It’s that man who had a stroke and can no longer handle his insulin pen and who, under the old rules, would have been allocated ten minutes home care a day which would not have helped him at all. Instead, he now gets half an hour of ergotherapy to learn how to manage his pen and give himself injections again. It seems a no-brainer. But it was the exception. This is the kind of home care we want.I also listened to the discussions about which diagnostic system to use. I heard about the difficult talks with patients whose care regime is changing. I saw the frustration with failing computer systems and the pitfalls surrounding the cooperation with local councils. These are all challenges that come with change and can be overcome.But there is also the real danger that the new care system will be crushed under the weight of the rules and regulations of a new bureaucracy. Strategic manoeuvring and rigid behaviour from insurers, care institutions and authorities are threatening to endanger the new system and it’s time to raise the alarm.Complicated demandsInsurers are still imposing demands that are constantly changing and becoming increasingly complicated. This excessive need for control is threatening to paralyse the whole system. One example is the insurers’ demand that all registered patients must be diagnosed again before May 1. This means that the best visiting nurses have been stuck behind a desk doing administration when they could have been out and about looking after people. This demand should be scrapped immediately.The excessive accountability insurers demand from staff is also incompatible with a care system in which we trust the professionals who run it. Registers of care needed by patients and care given to patients are already in place. Insurers can manage on a simple extract from these registers instead of detailed care plans.Rushed staffAnother thing insurers and home care organisations should stop doing is rushing staff. I see examples of so-called ‘cutback targets’ of 20% which rigid managers translate to the time staff spend with patients. This can effectively turn an hour of care into 50 minutes. This is completely wrong. What we need is a different approach to home care.Bringing back the care of a grossly overweight man who can’t look after himself from 25 minutes a day to 20 is not the way. This man needs extra care to regain the self-confidence he needs to change his lifestyle so he won’t need care in the longer term, a win-win situation for patients, care staff and taxpayers alike.District nurses would like nothing better than to work in this way. At the moment, they can. But they won’t be able to if the focus remains on financial risks instead of providing the most appropriate care for patients.FragmentationAnother danger is fragmentaton. Too many care providers in one district is a recipe for disaster. I have seen how important it is for the family doctor, the district nurse and other care givers to be able to know and communicate with each other without problems. A family doctor who has to deal with seven different home care organisations will be in trouble.One day, on leaving the home of a client, I saw a district nurse from another organisation enter the house of a neighbour. That is a waste of call-out time and, moreover, the family doctor will end up with reports from two different organisations. Integral care it is not. It’s important for people to choose their own care provider but the ensuing perverse incentives should be limited.Community care is not a market. This is why the government has stipulated that first line care, the family doctor and home care must be financed differently. Instead of so much for one minute or action, finance will be based on good results, such as fewer hospital admissions and patients choosing a healthier lifestyle. Only then will family doctors and other care givers be free from the interference and negotiating power of the insurers. The cabinet must now make haste with the implementation of the agreement.Insurers must be stoppedIt took guts to finally introduce this reform. It will take more guts to implement it successfully. We can’t do this without confronting the insurers. They need to be told in no uncertain terms to stop over-managing their own risk and start concerning themselves with the needs and complaints of their care staff and patients.I have seen at first-hand how important it is to allow staff more space so both staff and patients benefit. We have given them that space but we must see to it that vested interests don’t snatch it from them again.Diederik Samsom is leader of the Dutch Labour party PvdA and an MP.This article appeared earlier in the NRC.   More >


A once liberal party is now known for money-grubbing

A once liberal party is now known for money-grubbing

It’s been a changing of the guard for the VVD since the provincial elections, but why are so many of the party's prominent politicians involved in grubby dealings? asks Nicola Chadwick.Firstly the new minister of justice Ard van de Steur and his junior minister Klaas Dijkhof were installed. They were reportedly not the first choice as apparently a number of candidates turned down the honour. Was it because they did not want to burn their fingers on the wasp nest that the liberal party has become in recent months?No sooner was VVD politician Ard van de Steur sworn in as the new minister of justice, replacing Ivo Opstelten, than questions were raised in parliament over €400,000 in subsidies for the restoration of his castle.Apparently, Van de Steur lives in an apartment in the stately building, but subsidies are not normally given for residential buildings, although exceptions are made. It’s not likely to really dent his reputation. Van de Steur is described as a 'classical man' (read old-fashioned and a stickler for protocol) by health minister Edith Schippers. He studied law in Leiden, is an expert in etiquette and a champion debater.Klaas Dijkhof has replaced junior justice  minister Fred Teeven. His first good deed was to grant 11 children (and their families) residential status.The children had failed to receive asylum status and narrowly missed (on a technicality) the general amnesty for children who have spent more than eight years in the Netherlands. So it looks like he may be prepared to be a little more lenient than his hardline predecessor.The two hardly match the crime fighter reputation of the Opstelten-Teeven duo. They have a tough job ahead as they take on the ramifications of the Teeven drugs money deal, serious crime trials of Holland’s self-styled mafia, the aftermath of the MH17 plane crash, the problem of jihadis leaving for and then returning from Syria and a major police reorganisation.Persona non grataIn the meantime, there are VVD seats to be filled in parliament. One returning parliamentarian is less than welcome. Former VVD MP Johan Houwers was forced to stand down after he was accused of mortgage fraud back in 2012.Now convicted and having paid a fine, he is still eligible to take up the newly vacated seat left behind by disgraced Limburg politician Mark Verheijen. The latter had to leave parliament for wrongfully declaring expenses and for arranging a free VVD party at the Floriade during his time as alderman in Venlo in 2012.Houwers has not been allowed back into the VVD parliamentary party, as leader Halbe Zijlstra says there is no room for fraudsters. Ahem… Mr Houwers is now a one-man party, bringing the grand total of parties in parliament to an all-time high of 16.Houwers says he holds his own principles on integrity. His inauguration was held in an empty parliament as MPs boycotted the ceremony. They consider him to have stolen a seat belonging to the VVD. At present there are five one or two-man splinter parliamentary parties in the lower house.The presidium which runs parliament is currently considering removing the rights of dissidents to form splinter parties as of the next general election. Instead they would be regarded as independents with limits on speaking time, funds and staff.Ins and outsFred Teeven has returned to parliament after standing down as junior justice minister. When it became clear his boss Ivo Opstelten had misinformed parliament over a 4.7 million guilder deal with a criminal, Teeven had to go too. The intriguing thing is why Teeven – who made the deal in the first place as public prosecutor - didn’t inform his boss about the amount.  Ironically, as an MP he will now be expected to draw conclusions on an inquiry into the deal now named after himself.Meanwhile elsewhere, former VVD senator Jos van Rey has been elected to the provincial council of Limburg on preference votes for his new party Volkspartij Limburg.He put his name at the bottom of the list to attract voters, but as often happens, the popular name at the end received many preference votes. Usually politicians decline the honour, but not Van Rey.In spite of being on trial for corruption, he seems to be holding onto whatever political power he can. As a result, he has been promptly kicked out of the VVD for 'damaging the party'. Amazing!You would have thought he would have been thrown out when he set up the Liberale Volkspartij Roermond last year, which took VVD seats in the local council elections. However, the VVD would not be the VVD if it had not waited first to see whether the renegade liberal would vote for the VVD in the upper house in May.And remember MP René Leegte, who was overheard in the train on the phone saying he’d avoided journalists during a visit to Groningen where gas extraction has caused earthquakes?He was forced to give up acting as parliamentary spokesman on gas because of his careless words. Well, now it turns out he failed to declare a conflict of interest and has also had to give up his parliamentary seat. Although he has also not declared what his conflict of interest was.Now prominent VVD politician Ton Hooijmaijers has been sentenced on appeal to a two and a half year prison sentence for corruption. Hooijmaijers is convinced that he did nothing wrong. He saw it as his duty as provincial governor to facilitate businesses. Although he was acquitted on a number of counts, he has been found guilty of 13 counts of fraud and 11 counts of bribery and money laundering to the tune of €260,000. The appeal judge showed some leniency because of the publicity generated by the case.Liberal principles?It is a sorry record for a party which has tightened scrutiny through its integrity policy. The question remains why so many VVD politicians or former VVD politicians are so unscrupulous.Maybe it has something to do with its close relationship with big business. While the party strongly condemns any kind of benefit fraud at the bottom of Dutch society, it seems to have a softer approach to money grabbing at the top.Former VVD finance minister Gerrit Zalm,  who now heads ABN AMRO, had to be reined in by the current finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, after he awarded the nationalised bank’s executives a €100,000 pay rise shortly before it was due to be floated on the stock market. As a former politician you would think he would still have a political antenna for what might not go down well with the public. Apparently not.Nor is it to do with the party´s beginnings. According to De Correspondent journalists Rutger Bregman and Jesse Frederik, the original liberal ideas of the VVD party now read like a Marxist manifesto.Prime minister Mark Rutte himself appears to have abandoned the party´s founding principles. One hundred years ago, the party would have shunned speculation or inheritance as so-called 'unearned income'. Now Rutte, the Dutch prime minister note bene, refers to the taxman as the 'blue danger', inheritance tax as a 'death tax – the most unfair tax', and taxes on the rich as 'jealousy tax'.Originally Liberals, according to De Correspondent, valued earnings for hard work, but not the ill-gotten inheritances of billionaires like Paris Hilton, who has never had to work for a living. So where did it all go so terribly wrong?Nicola Chadwick is a freelance translator/journalist/editor who regularly blogs on Dutch current affairs and politics    More >


‘Turn ABN Amro into a consumer bank which will benefit society’

‘Turn ABN Amro into a consumer bank which will benefit society’

 ABN Amro is still owned by the state; it is time the government did something useful with it, write Reinier Casteleijn, Erik Hallers, Adjiedj Bakas and Wim de Ridder.Finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem has decided to postpone the flotation of ABN Amro for now. A wise decision, not only because of the ill-advised salary hike for the bank’s top executives but because ABN Amro should be a bank at the service of Dutch consumers and entrepreneurs.As long as ABN Amro is state-owned the government can force it to make innovations which will turn it into a consumer bank. This will increase the bank’s market value and make it future proof. It will also compensate the Dutch taxpayers somewhat for having paid the bank’s hefty bail-out bill.The banks in this country, including ABN Amro, have let down consumers and small and medium-sized businesses alike over the last few years. It’s not for lack of money: the European Central Bank is printing it as we speak. Consumers and businesses are losing out nevertheless and it’s time for a re-think.Client friendlyThe Netherlands needs a bank which serves clients looking for finance in a modern and client-friendly way. It needs a bank with vision; innovative, socially-minded and not at the beck and call of shareholders.The state should have demanded ABN Amro fulfil this role when it took ownership of the bank in 2008. Politicians, the Dutch Central Bank and financial services regulator AFM may have put in place a comprehensive organisation to control banks, but they haven’t shown any vision or insight when it comes to the commercial potential of a modern, socially-engaged bank.The result is that small and medium-sized companies are looking elsewhere for finance. Google, Apple and Amazon are getting into banking and Microsoft has developed a digital platform which can turn any organisation into a bank. Crowd funding, credit unions and peer2peer banking are on the rise.Digital ageIn the global marketplace all banks want to be top players. But what good will that do us, the owners of ABN Amro? Flotation doesn’t guarantee good service to citizens and entrepreneurs.In the past, government intervention in banking resulted in important innovations and new financial tools. The Rijskpostspaarbank, for instance, introduced the national giro-based payment system Girotel, the first form of electronic banking. The government also introduced a highly successful credit facility guarantee via the Nederlandse Middenstandsbank for small and medium-sized businesses.Now technology is here to prepare banks for the digital age. Banks are mainly concentrating on digitalising traditional functions, such as payments and administration. They are neglecting to digitalise their commercial function. Many companies are looking for new business models which will make them more flexible. Banks should facilitate this by providing finance.Social relevanceSocial relevance is a form of success that we think ABN Amro and its workers should be very happy to achieve. Many prominent companies in the digital world, such as Tesla and Google, think social relevance is a key variable in their commercial policy. Car-maker Tesla allowed its patents to be used by anyone and called on businesses to develop a new generation of batteries because ‘all cars should run on electricity'.The kind of bank we would like ABN Amro to become would formulate robust goals regarding its function in society. This can only be done if the government turns (part of) the bank into a disruptive, client-orientated bank, shows vision and demands socially-relevant innovation, as it did earlier in the case of the Rijkspostspaarbank.The postponement of the ABN Amro flotation should be used to create a bank that will make a difference. Parliament should call on the Dutch Central Bank and the financial regulators to develop a plan for a game changing bank, a bank which would ultimately be of much greater value to society and the state coffers than is now thought.Reinier Casteleijn is chairman of De Unie, Erik Hallers is owner of Sublime FM and Adjiedj Bakas is a trendwatcher, Wim de Ridder is a professor of futures studies at the University of Twente.This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant.  More >


Party-of-one MP is a waste of taxpayers’ money

Party-of-one MP is a waste of taxpayers’ money

As ABN Amro bankers are actually renouncing their pay rise, some politicians keep raking it in, writes Annemarie van Gaal.The installation of Johan Houwers as MP and chairman of brand new parliamentary party-of-one Houwers has come and gone. It didn’t get much coverage and the general opinion seemed to be one of complete indifference: ‘What can you do, those are the rules.’ It deserves another column at least.An expelled member of the VVD sits on the bench for two years and, for the simple reason that it is his turn, it falls to him to occupy an open seat. Houwers doesn’t see it this way: ‘I was voted in,’ he says. It’s very odd. Houwers didn’t get enough preferential votes to assume he was voted in.After he was – rightly - made to leave in 2013, he was awarded severance pay. The payments into his MP’s pension never stopped as they would for ordinary mortals who have been given the sack. Not a bad deal.Houwers’ pay-out extended over a period of 38 months. More than half of that time has now passed, but now that he is an MP once more he will get a nice little extra on top of his already generous income of €120,000. And as party chairman he is also allowed an annual €150,000 budget.Suppose this cabinet manages to complete its term. That means that in March 2017 Houwers qualifies for another 38 months of severance pay. He will be coasting towards 2020 on a very comfortable monthly income, with a great pension to boot. Houwers will be 63 in 2020. ‘I’ll take it from there,’ he says.The VVD is talking of ‘a shameless case of seat robbing’ but I’m sure Houwers will vote for any VVD proposal that comes along. What surprises me is that this sort of thing is still allowed to happen. It’s money and talent down the drain. We’re saddled with a useless MP who will cost the taxpayer over two million euros over ten years when we could have had someone worthwhile in his place.Suppose you’re a football player and you end up on the bench. If a player is injured during a match would you expect the substitute to be the one who was there longest? No, you would want the best player to go in, one who will win the match for you.The rules are making us waste money and talent. I hope this particular mismatch will irritate parliament into changing them. Then Houwers will have been good for something after all.Annemarie van Gaal is an investor   More >


‘Europeans are too chicken to enter into a free trade agreement with the US’

‘Europeans are too chicken to enter into a free trade agreement with the US’

Here’s an historic opportunity to create the world’s biggest free trade zone in the world. So why is Europe chickening out? asks economist Mathijs Bouman.The Americans are coming and they are going to poison you. They want you to eat chlorine-sprayed chicken. They also want to stick hormone-ridden cow meat in your sandwich. You will sprout horns within a week. They will force their Frankenstein food on you, made from plants whose dna is manipulated in sinister labs so our tortured earth can be exploited even more.Should we want this? No, but there’s really not much we can do about it. The new trade agreement with the United States will open the door to every biological aberration the Americans can think of for putting on the market.Pure chickenEurope doesn’t want chlorinated chickens. Europeans only want to eat certified unchlorinated European chickens. Give us pure chicken meat with all its living bacteria, we say. The thriving colonies of salmonella and campylobacter on our European chicken breast prove it hasn’t been anywhere near a disinfecting chlorine bath.Do remember to wash your hands after you handle this meat. Use separate cutting boards and knives and heat the meat thoroughly (use a meat thermometer; it needs to be at least 75 degrees). These preventative measures are quite important. Forget and your stomach and your intestines will remind you. Oh, and if you do get infected, make sure those pesky bacteria don’t enter your blood stream. They will do unpleasant things to your organs and joints. You could become dehydrated, your kidneys could pack in and you could die.But at least your European chicken will not have been doused in diluted chlorine – you know, the stuff we let out children swim in every summer. Americans eh?DaredevilsThey eat genetically modified corn and soy as well, solely on the basis that there is no scientific proof of their harmfulness. They’re such daredevils! Fortunately here in Europe we are strictly led by fear-mongering about the unproven dangers of GM foods. It’s called the precautionary principle.Even if Europe were to enter into a free trade agreement, countries would still be able to apply their own food safety rules. But opponents prefer to play the poisoned chicken card and frighten European consumers into a full-blown chlorine phobia.And thus Europe – not for the first time – spoils its own chances. Here’s an historic opportunity to create the world’s biggest free trade zone. But we don’t want free trade. We prefer chickens with bacteria.Mathijs Bouman is a macro-economist.This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad.   More >


Bonuses for bankers? Sure but only for those with a working moral compass

Bonuses for bankers? Sure but only for those with a working moral compass

Good bankers aren’t paid nearly enough, says Errol Keyner.Top Dutch bankers are fobbed off with a pittance these days. Yes, that’s right, a pittance. And no, I’m not looking for a job at a bank nor do I have any sympathy for top bankers.All I’m saying is that competent bankers whose moral compass is not permanently out of whack are few and far between.We want banks to develop a sustainable business model and a manageable risk profile. In order to do that we need clever people, preferably clever people who are more honest than the average citizen. They also need a thick skin. Bankers will not be popular for a while yet.The pay rise, from €600,000 to €700,000 a year, for ABN Amro executives caused a storm the other day. €700,000 is a lot of money. So is €600,000. But a truly competent executive at ABN Amro would be worth many times that amount. Everybody is looking for top talent, as the owner of ABN Amro (i.e. the state) should know.The executives at ABN Amro are a sorry lot anyway. As long as the state has a stake in the bank they are exempt from receiving bonuses. Not that remuneration will rocket once the bank is floated on the stock market. As is the case with competitor ING, bonuses can’t exceed 20% of wages.The Netherlands is a little more tight-fisted in this respect than other European countries where variable remuneration can go up to 100% and it’s a perfect Scrooge compared to the US where the sky is the limit.The salary hike is nothing more than the Dutch way around this limit. It’s understandable but wrong because it rewards executives even when their performance doesn’t warrant it.And how can it be that top executives are getting more money while most staff have not had a raise for years and are even in fear of losing their jobs?The answer is clear: many people who work in banks are just as superfluous as the branches they work in. Unions say bank staff deserve as much compassion as cleaners who do a dirty job for hardly any pay.The truth is that a wage slave at a bank earns at least 20% more than workers in other sectors. Middle management is bursting with people on two to three times the average wage, with little or no added value to customers and the bank.A competent executive wouldn’t be afraid of getting rid of hugely overpaid staff and finding people who really add value. That executive can have a great big bonus as far as I’m concerned. A variable one.Errol Keyner is deputy director of Dutch shareholders' association VEB.This article appeared earlier on Z24.  More >


Local councils are getting creative: work participation through humiliation

Local councils are getting creative: work participation through humiliation

Councils are becoming creative when it comes to work participation and using methods such as humilation to make people find jobs, says economist Marcel Canoy.There is quite a creative buzz going on among local councillors in the Netherlands. Now that budgets for sheltered workplaces have been cut, lots of local councils are coming up with bright new schemes to revive them.Local councillors in Apeldoorn thought it would be a waste to let all the knowledge and skills of sheltered workplace staff go to waste.The thinking in Apeldoorn is that people on unemployment benefits are basically a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic so why not make them tighten nuts and bolts for a couple of weeks? With a bit of luck they will feel humiliated enough to go out and find a job. Hey presto: the sheltered workplaces are humming and the number of benefit pay-outs go down.StickersI wonder what the next step will be. Putting stickers on the foreheads of people on benefits and showing them off at street markets? While we’re at it we might as well put the PVV’s idea into practice and bring some colour to our streets by introducing pink clad criminals in chain gangs.Hoofddorp councillors are getting creative too. Hoofddorp happens to be home to AM group, one of the most successful sheltered workplace providers in the country. In 2011 it was given an ‘Investors in People’ reward for its approach. AM group managed to place 60% of people with a work-limiting disability in regular jobs, a result not many sheltered workplaces can equal.MistakeThe director of AM group made an important mistake. Instead of spending the money on frippery or useless real estate he created a sturdy buffer of a couple of million euros. Oh dear. The board, comprised of the fiercely competitive local councillors of the five local councils involved, had a brainwave: why not fire the entire staff and divvy up the millions?What was left was a number of very distressed people looking at the smoking remains of what was once a great sheltered workplace. What a coup! A more blatant case of daylight robbery has yet to materialise, but perhaps it will.FarceThe work participation law for the disabled will turn into a farce if councils approach vulnerable people with demonstrably ineffective methods. The decentralisation of social security will only work if councils don’t behave like Apeldoorn or Hoofddorp.From Rotterdam to Enschede too many local councils like the sound of medieval measures like humiliation and stigmatisation, destroying successful initiatives and spending as little as they can get away with. If we have to go down the sticker road I propose we slap one on the councils saying: Humiliation is the new participation.Marcel Canoy is an economist and lecturer at the Erasmus School of Accounting & Assurance.This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad.  More >