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Friday, 30 September 2011

Quarterly review of the Dutch citizen’s perspectives by the Dutch Social-Cultural Planning Bureau contains depression-like data

In The Netherlands, there is, next to the Central Bureau of Statistics, another national bureau that is involved with the economy and society: the Social-Cultural Planning Bureau (

Where the CBS focusses on ‘hard data’ like unemployment, industrial data and consumer trust, the SCP digs deeper into the moods and minds of the people towards economy, politics and other topics.

Today the SCP presented its Quarterly review of the Dutch economic circumstances, the so-called Continuous Investigation Citizen’s Perspectives’.

And as could be expected after the economic moodswing that took place in the middle of this year, the data were depression-like. Here are the pertinent snips of this report, accompanied by my comments:

·     Less positive mood: optimism on the situation in The Netherlands drops to 26% from 32%
·     Concerns on economy: 41% expects deterioration (was 26%)
·     Growing concerns on the cutbacks in national healthcare
·     An increasingly negative view on the EU, due to the Euro-crisis
·     Own responsibility? Ample support for the principle, but serious doubt on everyday practice.

Positive mood of early 2011 vaporized

In the first half of 2011, the mood in The Netherlands was a little more positive than in the previous years, but in Q3 this positive mood vaporized. The share of people that thinks that The Netherlands is developing in the right direction, is back at the old level of 26% (compared to 32% in the first half of 2011)

Since the inauguration of the Cabinet Mark Rutte I, the trust in the government rose. But this quarter the positive trend stalled. However, there is no significant drop in trust yet; the political trust is well above last year’s figures: 54% has sufficient trust in the government, 57% has trust in parliament. Remarkable is that the trust in the labor unions dropped to 61% from 70%. This drop is probably caused by the unrest within the unions on the pension agreement.

It is my opinion that the positive mood at the beginning of this year was based on quicksand. The Dutch economy hardly suffered from the biggest crisis since 1929, while more recent economic crises (1981, 1994 etc.) always gave reason for massive concerns and rising unemployment.

The government postponed the inevitable deflationary period with the part-time unemployment benefit and other subsidies and assignments (f.i. for building new (and unnecessary) government accomodation) that should fire-up the economy. This will now be backfiring, in a quick return of the recession (i.e. depression).

And concerning the labor unions: these are growingly obsolete organizations that are clutching at straws to remain influential in society. Every union leader needs to defend his reason for existence, even against his colleagues. This leads to political battles that scare away union members and non-union workers.

Concerns on economy grow

Last quarter, 26% of the Dutch citizens expected a deterioration of the economic situation in the coming 12 months, but this number has risen to 41%. The share of people that gave the Dutch economy a ‘satisfactory’ note, dropped to 69% from 73%. In the summer of 2011, the concerns on the economy were not yet accompanied by worries on the own financial situation, but it is well possible that this is going to change as a result of government cutbacks and continuous news on the euro crisis.

I don’t belong to the group of people that thinks that societal mood is shaped by the economic and political situation. It is more the other way around. But the fact remaining, is that EU and US politics failed in every aspect during this year.

People that had an already shaky mood, are firmly pushed in the ‘negative’ corner; while their personal financial situation isn’t reason for concerns, they see politicians mess up the political process on the Euro and consequently worry on their future financial situation.

Growing concerns on the cutbacks in national healthcare

Healthcare rose from sixth to second place on the list of most important societal issues. This increase is totally attributed to rising concerns on the cutbacks in national healthcare. Cutbacks on the so-called ‘Personalized Budget’ [PGB; a personal budget that enables chronically ill people to purchase necessary healthcare, home care and additional resources at the free market – EL] are mentioned most often as a source for concerns.

The aging process in The Netherlands (i.e. the grey tsunami) and the soaring healthcare costs originating from this, is an enormous reason for concerns. Even healthy families with children worry on the soaring costs for healthcare (hundreds of euro’s more expensive every year), while the coverage of their insurance is depleted.

Very cost-effective, but nevertheless expensive measures like the PGB, are replaced by central purchasing of healthcare for 90% of the chronically ill, which will be even more expensive eventually and leaves many ill people in a much worse medical situation.

More negative on the EU as a consequence of the Euro-crisis

Satisfaction with European policy drops to 39% from 46%. The share of people that agrees that Dutch membership of the EU is a positive factor, drops also to 42% from 48%. People worry on the euro-crisis, the financial position of other EU-countries and the contribution of The Netherlands in helping these countries. People fear that Dutch people must foot the bill for financial mismanagement in other countries.

I have said anything I wanted to say on the ridiculous puppet theatre around the euro-crisis. Dutch and European politicians showed their incompetence at numerous occasions and scared the European citizens sh*tless. Instead of finding a definitive solution, politicians kicked the Greek can down the road. And the Dutch citizens know and understand this.

Substantial amount of people support  ‘own responsibility’ as a principle…

Just like most Europeans, the Dutch rather want people to take more responsibility for their own life, than that the government should take care. People call it more pleasurable to have their lifes in their own hands. 47% of the interviewed supports this principle (varying from 25% of the Socialist Party to 78% of the liberal-conservative party VVD).

…but are doubtful on concrete proposals

When there is a concrete shift of responsibilities from the government to citizens, people are more sceptical. Citizens think they already have many (and increasing) responsibilities and that the government is failing. People fear an ‘American society’ of bigger unequality between societal classes (Rich vs middle class and the poor) and too heavy burdens for weak groups in society. People cling on to the concept of good, affordable and accessible basic facilities in healthcare and education.

My American readers must understand that The Netherlands is a social-democrat, pro-solidarity and pro-government country to the backbone. Everybody wants to have more own responsibility, but nobody wants that people, unable of shaping their own lifes (due to mental/physical handicaps or poverty), suffer from this policy.

People noticed that ‘own responsibility’ for the Dutch government is often a euphemism for draconic cutbacks on social/healthcare programmes, while leaving the ‘residence subsidy’ (the Mortgage Interest Deduction) of which the upper class benefits most, untouched.

This makes people angry and mistrusting about politics.

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