Former political correspondent Ton Planken thinks it’s about time the government started giving those who have been hardest hit by the crisis some hope for the future in the shape of a rise in salary.
‘Creating a broad consensus’ is the current buzz word in The Hague. But what none of our work-weary leaders can explain is how this consensus is supposed to be achieved. People are clamouring for more security and clarity. Talk of ‘tightening the belt’, ‘biting the bullet’, ‘putting our shoulders to the wheel’ and ‘this wonderful country of ours’ will not give it to them and it most certainly won’t perk up consumer confidence.
The political tool box needs a new tool. May I make a suggestion? Give those groups in society which have been hardest hit by the government’s austerity measures a clue as to when things will get better for them. Say it’s the police or healthcare staff who have suffered most or have waited the longest for a raise. Once identified, these groups should be told under which circumstances they will be the first in line for a hike in salary.
Of course this can only happen once the government has made significant strides towards a nil percent budget deficit but whether that point is reached in 2017 or 2020 is immaterial. If the cabinet and Olli Rehn can demonstrate that government spending in the Netherlands is structurally under control, they can also spot possibilities for income improvement.
In other words, the tempo of reducing government spending will slow down slightly in exchange for more security for large groups of citizens whose income will go up. I.e: consumers who are slowly beginning to have more faith in the future and who will consequently start spending.
With the recession wreaking havoc in the Netherlands and prudent citizens hedging their bets, a change in spending patterns would be a boon for the tender green shoots of economic growth.
The government’s macro-economic planning agency CPB is perfectly capable of calculating the price of every percentage of wage increase for different groups in the public and semi-public sectors and when it would be suitable to ‘slot’ them into the expenditure decrease. Based on these calculations, the government can present their promises to the public and semi-public sectors.
No one, including the CPB, can tell what the future will bring. That adjustment at least can be discussed openly and transparently. The advantage – even in the case of an unwelcome adjustment – is that citizens can then relate these macro fluctuations (such as a slowing down of the reduction of government spending) to their own income.
Politicians need to stop uttering hollow phrases and announce who is getting what when. Undoubtedly, there are those politicians and parties who will continue to have hidden agendas and think lower wage costs are not so bad. But if they really want to increase consumer spending and avoid a further increase in the political instability, they will have to give people security.
There are many more factors that determine how insecure people are feeling at the moment. Rising unemployment, mortgage tax relief, rent increases, student loans, local taxes, etc. But there’s still the private sector. So our political and social leaders have their work cut out and it will be a hard slog. Every bit of security counts, however. Or call it the light at the end of the tunnel.
I think my suggestion makes sense and can be fitted into the bigger picture of policy changes. It would make the social partners happy. Parliament can debate which groups are eligible for compensation. The ‘man in the street’ will finally get a chance to understand what the politicians in The Hague are on about.
Ton Planken is a communications advisor and media trainer
This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant
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