Safety above freedom – Closed economy
The EU proved unable to manage the pandemic. Different countries used different approaches and applied a different pace to ‘reopen’. It was essentially ‘each country for itself’. There were new waves of outbreaks. Countries kept closing their borders to neighbours or to people and goods from countries where the virus flared up again. However, the Dutch Government Institute for Public Health and Environment (RIVM) was able to deal with new outbreaks effectively.
Many European countries witnesses a strong tendency towards nationalism and populism. Trust in the national government increased, as long as it focused above all on the national interest. Especially the government intervention when pharmaceutical companies appeared to profit from the pandemic and large multinationals tried to gain public support, made a huge impression. The strict and controlling approach adopted by the government received broad support.
Now that internal trade has fallen and countries compete with each other, even within Europe, the national government took on a bigger role in a more closed economy. We try to favour our national industry with tariffs. We first want to have enough of certain raw materials and finished products for ourselves, before we export them. Autarky and redundancy are the new virtues, we no longer want to depend on other countries and national employment takes precedence. Within that context, the ambition to realise a new ‘Delta project’ makes perfect sense, giving the energy transition and circular economy a considerable boost. Large projects that benefit the entire country are popular. Vital products and semi-finished products have to be produced in the Netherlands. Other European countries adopt a similar approach. As a result, our economy is nationalised to a greater extent. The Dutch innovation policy looks a lot like industrial politics. Each sector lobbies to become a vital ‘top sector’. The government supports sectors and companies with special ‘niches’ that are distinctive on a global scale. We try to be as competitive as possible through robotization, especially now that cheap foreign labour is less readily available. However, our economy has taken a severe hit and has shrunk considerable.
The government tries to support the economy with hefty investments. The new delta plans are carried out based on the Chinese model, managed by a new central overarching planning agency. Dutch companies have to compete with each other in these master plans. The government supports the best contestant to make headway on the international market. All that costs money, and in a shrunken economy that means giving up certain benefits of the welfare state, for instance the right to look for fitting employment when one becomes unemployed. People have to accept any job offer, even if it is below their education level. This benefits the healthcare sector, where foreign employees are banned and there are labour shortages.
In our daily lives, we have to depend on our country and our immediate environment. We have a lasting fear of the virus, which benefits anti-vaccination movements, supported by powerful populistic political and social forces. We are only allowed to cross the border with a (digital) corona passport. We live in physical separation. We are okay with some locations being off-limits to some people, so that the rest of us can enjoy them. Those without a health declaration in their government app are stigmatised and can even be fined. The government emphasises the importance of solidarity and connectedness, but finds it hard to get people on board. Consequently it also uses fines rather than trust, and this is increasingly accepted because of power rather than inherent legitimacy. Many people don’t really mind, however, they accept that they are living in a society based on social control and government intervention, because, frankly, there aren’t that many realistic alternatives.
Carlo (52), Prime Minister
At the press conference of March 9, 2020, my predecessor abolished the handshake. I’m sure you remember: it was when he accidentally shook the hand of the director of the RIVM at the Corona press conference. Two weeks later, everybody started tackling odd jobs and home renovations. Today, it is again March 9. It is with pride that I announce that, as of March 18, 2021, international Recycling Day, we will have a new national pride. The mail company PostNL has been nationalised and will provide from that day forward a unique service! The logistical sector is one of the vital sectors that we are noticeably reinforcing. Via a digital platform, consumers can borrow or trade products via a logistical hub in the neighbourhood. Within 24 hours, things are collected for next-day delivery. We contribute to a second or third life of your stuff to cut down on waste. “Haalenbreng.nl” (Collectanddeliver), Made in Holland.
The many vital infrastructures in the Netherlands, from transport systems to waste processing, from electricity to the Internet, from food sector to water management, are subjects that receive a lot of attention in education. Especially in combination with national crisis management, these subjects are very popular in higher education. There is no vocational education institute or university that does not have a broad infrastructure programme. The country is convinced that these subjects are crucial. They fit well with the country’s large master plans and students expect to earn a very good living with them in the future. As well as with subjects like virology and epidemiology.
Computer technology is not very progressive. Available systems and programmes that still suffice are not replaced by ‘new-fangled stuff’. The free videoconferencing software in the cloud works just fine, and the advertising is seen as a necessary evil. As long as we are able to see and hear each other remotely, it’s fine. A reasonably innovative application is ‘geo-fencing safety’: an app that allows everyone to see whether there is or has been a stranger in their geographical vicinity.
The corona virus has created an ‘each man for himself’ mentality and convinced people that we can only really solve problems inside our national borders. This autarkic attitude leads to a growth in national energy production, including solar and wind parks at sea and on land. And when it’s really cold during the winter, we still have our natural gas reserves. We’re even thinking aloud about expanding our nuclear energy capacity. Our greenhouse gases, nitrogen and noise emissions are monitored and enforced strictly. The country has no problem meeting the global agreements of the Paris accord. But, for the country’s protection, climate adaptation projects, like the elevation of the Afsluitdijk (the important Dutch closure dike), are accelerated and adjusted to higher safety levels. International mobility is highly undesirable and all kinds of quarantine rules – outgoing and returning – make travelling not impossible, but very unappealing.
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