From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Sat Sep 01 2007 - 07:14:37 EDT

The Dutch Marxist and senator Geert Reuten has argued (in the theoretical journal of the SP) that (for the sake of longterm economic viability), total taxation in the Netherlands ought to be reduced. And I agree with him about that. The Dutch state doesn't, and it has just increased the total tax levy, for example raising VAT to 20%. Taxation can technically be reduced, if tax collection methods are made more efficient, if state services are made more cost-effective, if subsidisation is rationalised, and if there is an overhaul of the Byzantine tax legislation we have. 

However, this is a highly politically charged issue affecting jobs and incomes, it is difficult to get a broad mandate or consensus for any policy, and therefore it is likely to occur only in the course of future economic crises. All that the SP really can do, as regards economic policy, is to take a strong partisan stand in favour of social equality and in favour of a strong, wellfunctioning public sector.

That aside, you need a coherent social vision about what kind of socio-economic behaviour you are prepared to reward, and what kind you penalise, and this is also lacking in the Netherlands. In cynical moments, I therefore think of resource allocation in the Netherlands as an amoral, nihilistic pork barrel in which people just grab what they can get, based on the power they happen to have. Managers are then hired for exhorbitant pay to reorganise things, but even before the reorganisation takes effect, they have departed already for the next lucrative opportunity. That is to say, at the very apex of the polity, the leaders mostly take no responsibility for the effects of their own policies. The question then is, why then should anybody else take that responsibility?

This is not completely accurate of course, since a complex of laws does enforce some basic moral consistency, but the legal system also strangles many good policies and creates perverse effects (many social commentators agree, that the Dutch are obsessed with rule-making to solve social problems - the result being rules of such complexity and scope that, if they don't make sense in practice, they are not even followed). 

The overall result is, that people support the law when it serves them, and attack or resist the law when it serves their purposes, i.e. de facto, they believe in the law, mainly insofar as it benefits them (an instrumental approach), and not mainly because they think it is just (a principled approach). Enormous profits can be made simply from being in a position of being able to pronounce on what the law is, and legal transparency is so badly lacking, that beyond a rudimentary legal knowledge, most people haven't even a clue about all the laws they are subject to and have to obey. It takes specialists to know that, in which case each new rule begets a fresh crop of specialists.

Roughly speaking, the Dutch state veers to the Left in situations when people make more money (the state gets more generous, redistributive and progressive), and it veers to the Right when people are making less money (the state gets more stingy and conservative). In a wellfunctioning economy, however, state policy should be exactly the other way round, i.e. it should build up reserves in good times, to be able to offer extra assistance in bad times, in the interests of all citizens. This principle of the oikos was already known to statesmen in Antiquity, but in modern capitalism it is flouted everywhere. 

The main reasons (apart from degeneracy) are that the whole system is more and more oriented to short-term gain and based on access to credit ("live now, pay later"), and because the greater integration of a deregulated world economy makes it less possible to predict what will happen, even within one parliamentary term. Needless to say, this also often makes a coherent environmental policy practically impossible, because that concerns the permanent values of the oikos as a whole, regardless of any short-term gain or loss ("pay now, live later").


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