Opinion | Government, take back your guiding and distributing role

According to Mark Rutte, this insanely cool country is the result of thirty years of neoliberal market fetishism, and these are becoming more visible than ever now that the Netherlands is indirectly involved in a war. This is not due to a natural disaster, but to conscious political choices, which have meant that a wealthy upper class has for years been willingly served with tax evasion constructions, while poor foster parents got a vengeful tax system on the roof.

Adequate food, heat and a home are the most basic necessities of life. The latter has become unattainable for ever-larger groups due to exploding rents and housing prices. Partly because of Putin’s war against Ukraine, there is widespread energy poverty. And we may soon also feel the consequences for the price of bread if wheat exports collapse.

It requires far-reaching government intervention to prevent many citizens from ending up in misery, while the upper echelons are not bothered by anything, because they can easily continue to meet their most absurd desires, even when prices have risen sharply. There is no real market function here, namely that supply and demand balance each other. It works well for TVs: no long waiting lists like in the GDR. Demand can always be met and the price has a real relationship to the cost of production.

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Where there is great scarcity, that connection is lost. This is how it is now with housing and energy. House prices are independent of construction costs, rents are independent of maintenance costs. They have not increased significantly. And gas is not suddenly that much more expensive because wages have risen alarmingly. Price has less and less to do with corporate spending, and more and more with the misuse of mishaps being played out against each other.

Rents have risen to absurd heights in the free sector, investors are stealing owner-occupied homes to rent them out much more lucratively. Key money has become common again. Wealthy people have found that if you buy a few houses and then rent them out, you can catch enough to stop working. The really hard-working average Dutchman that some politicians are so eager to talk about at election times is standing in the cold. Sometimes literally, because the same is increasingly true of energy bills: unaffordable.

There is therefore no need for another edition of Rutte, but another Den Uyl. It dared to intervene in an earlier moment of scarcity – the oil crisis in 1973 – to prevent petrol from becoming unaffordable for the poorer part of the population, because the richer part buys everything up.

The current war situation in Europe also includes a form of ‘war socialism’. This requires preventive government intervention and rationing based on the principle of distributive justice. In other words, the courage to make the right choices that this cabinet continues to postpone. What are the basic needs that need to be addressed first; what is luxury to which the basic needs of others should not be sacrificed?

Also read Floor Rusman’s interview with Merijn van Oudenampsen: The free market has always been crucial in the Netherlands

Specifically: a ban on patio heating and other nonsense due to the lack of gas. That everyone can cook is more important than that a few can also eat strawberries in the winter thanks to energy-intensive greenhouses. In case of oil shortage: no fuel for private jets and mega yachts, which for the benefit of the few, swallows the petroleum that would otherwise benefit many. To intervene in the fake market in the “free rental sector” by maximizing rent; allocation based on urgency, not on corruption, which means that certain sections of the population are inevitably lagging behind.

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In the late nineteenth century, when liberals were still sensible people, gas, water and railways came into government hands because they were considered public supplies and there was not a market but a monopoly. Tracking competition? Trains really can not overtake each other on their own, and if I want to go from Arnhem to my aunt in Ede, I do not take the train to Winterswijk because the service is better at Arriva.

Freedom of choice is a fiction when every citizen basically wants the same thing. No one wants their neighbors’ dishwashing water at half price as drinking water. And everyone wants the same power so their TV works effortlessly. I once heard a marketing apologist declare during an election debate that one could finally choose the energy company ‘that suits you’. Well, the energy company that suits me is a company that supplies 220 volts AC day and night. Would there be anyone who does not think this is the energy company that ‘suits him’? That the energy company ‘that suits him’ is a company that delivers 220 volts in the morning, 110 in the afternoon and nothing at all in the evening? If so, move to Afghanistan: you will be taken care of there. If not, then this is nonsense.

Nonsense: This also applies to many other neoliberal assumptions, and therefore it is necessary that the government, after thirty years of catastrophic absence, finally resumes its old guiding and distributing role in crucial areas.

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