Annemarie van Gaal: Ministry of Simplicity

Society is too complex says Annemarie van Gaal, who is willing to take up the post of simplicity minister.

Our society is much too complex. A fortnight ago I visited a food bank and last week I spent a day at the special management mortgage department of one of our banks. I came away feeling depressed on both occasions.

In spite of all the good intentions of the folk at the food bank and the mortgage people, I couldn’t help but feel deeply sorry for the people who were there. What are we doing to each other? How are people who are struggling supposed to know the meaning of terms such as ‘protected earnings level’, ‘summons’ or ‘taxation at source’, which department they should turn to and what wsnp, gkb and cvz stand for?

I could see the desperation in their eyes and for the first time in my life I felt ashamed of our complicated society. Mark Twain once wrote: ‘I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.’ To write a simple text or instruction may well be more difficult than to serve up an incomprehensible spaghetti of complex concepts but we should still strive for simplicity. Rather than exclude people it will give them a chance to participate.


Most readers will have no trouble recognising government goobledegook when they see it. You know, those reports which start with ‘synchronising the strategic policy compass’ and end with ‘a first step towards the development of policy framework structures’.

It’s like wading through mud. I usually avoid reading them but sometimes needs must. After about a hundred pages I invariably realise that one simple paragraph would have sufficed. It would take a bit of effort but it could be done.

Is it fair to blame people for not responding to questions they don’t understand? Every person in the land is supposed to know about countless procedures and rules. Every abbreviation, every bit of jargon, every nook and cranny of our bureaucracy has to be familiar to us. And instead of becoming more manageable, the world is getting ever more complicated and complex.

Ministry of simplicity

I never thought it would happen but here goes. I am available as minister for a new department: the ministry of simplicity. My first act would be to find out what would happen if we made every family with an income up to €24,000 totally exempt from paying tax. They wouldn’t pay a thing. 0% tax.

At the same time I would abolish all allowances, special arrangements and tax refunds: no child benefits, no care allowance, no childcare subsidies, no rent allowance. I am convinced it won’t affect the budget. The systems needed for all these rules and regulations are costing a fortune, not to mention the cost of the salaries of the thousands of civil servants who are coordinating and executing them.

But more importantly it would simplify the lives of people who find life difficult enough as it is. Let these people put their energy into building up their lives instead of dodging things they don’t understand.


This country appreciates long-windedness more than brevity and clarity. It should be the other way around.

It is easier to maintain a complex society than to create one that is easy to understand. I fear I will never become the minister for simplicity but one thing is certain: we need to spend more time to simplify this before even more people fall by the wayside.

Annemarie van Gaal is an entrepreneur and head of publishing company AM Media. She is also a writer and television personality

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