the good and the bad news is that economist design futures now 10 times faster
one must recognize that the official ‘macro’ indicators that all point to recovery hide a more complex and less sunny reality on the ground. For one, fiscal austerity, while effective in bringing down the government budget deficit, has meant a continued underfunding and understaffing in healthcare, old-age care and education; a trimming of support schemes for the disabled; cuts in public spending on R&D; and insufficient investment in public transportation, renewable energy systems and affordable (social) housing. These outcomes are in direct conflict with traditional social-democratic values, as the austerity-induced scarcities and rationing in healthcare, education, transportation and housing make daily life more difficult, costly and insecure for the majority of the population—even when these scarcities are not immediately ‘visible’ in the macro indicators. An even bigger unmentioned factor is unemployment. The official Dutch unemployment rate is 5.4% of the labor force (December 2016), but this number does not include the underemployed workers who work part-time, are often self-employed and want to work more hours, nor the so-called ‘discouraged workers’ who have given up looking for a job as there are none.
Recent estimates by the Dutch central bank show that if the underemployed and discouraged workers are included in the counting, the ‘broader’ and more appropriate unemployment rate would be 16% of the labor force—three times as high as the ‘official’ unemployment rate. The fact that about one in six potential workers is without a job or not working the desired hours is just another important example of the austerity-induced weakness of the Dutch economy, not visible in official political discourse. What is left unmentioned as well is that job insecurity in the Netherlands has increased significantly in recent times: the percentage of employees with a ‘secure job’ declined drastically from 56.8% in 2008 to 30.5% in 2014. More than one in five workers is in a temporary job, and about 17% of Dutch employees are self-employed and have to fend for themselves.
The heightened job insecurity is correlated with a higher incidence of mental depression and sharp increases in the usage of anti-depressants and medication. No wonder that Dutch voters, including those from the middle classes, are most anxious about their financial position, their job and economic prospects. These anxieties, when combined with the austerity-induced scarcities, create a fertile feeding ground for anti-elitist right-wing scapegoating, putting the blame on some ‘Other’ (in this case: second-generation migrants from Morocco and recent refugees), while at the same time conjuring up some notion of a shared national purpose and ditto identity (mostly voiced in terms of reclaiming ‘sovereignty’ in opposition to the Brussels’ EU hegemony). The Dutch Labor party (PVDA), which can be seen as the Dutch equivalent of Germany’s SPD and British Labor before Corbyn, is obviously implicated, as it is part of Rutte’s coalition government, sharing the responsibility for the debilitating consequences of its austerity economics.