November 2, 2013


THE DUTCH RETHINK THE WELFARE STATE (Nima Sanandaji 11/02/2013, New Geography)

During the beginning of the 1980s the Netherlands ranked as a top spender in terms of welfare policy. Whilst the US and the UK allocated some 22 and 27 percent respectively of GDP to welfare spending, the Netherlands spent fully 40 percent - the same level as the famously generous Swedish public system.  But since then the pattern has been to reduce the welfare state. Indeed as most OECD-countries public spending rose significantly from the 1980s a  report from the OECD notes that the Netherlands, alongside Ireland, gradually scaled theirs down. A combination of economic growth, tightening of welfare state generosity and privatization of sick-pay led to a decline in public social spending in these two countries. In 1980 public social spending was 25 percent of GDP in the Netherlands, much higher than the OECD-average of 16 percent.

In the beginning of the 2000s the average OECD-country had expanded its welfare state, so that public social expenditure had reached 21 percent of GDP - whilst the Netherlands had reduced its share to the same level. According to another study, benefit expenditure was reduced from 27 to 22 percent of GDP in the Netherland between 1980 and 2001, compared to the EU15 average which rose from 21 to 24 percent during the same period.

Although the Netherlands does not lie in Scandinavia, there are significant similarities between this advanced European nation and the Nordic countries. The similarities go beyond the fact that the Dutch are tall and blond, and live in a small trade-dependent nation. Shared cultural traits and political beliefs can explain why the Dutch adapted similar welfare policies as the Nordic nations. Similarly to as in Denmark and Sweden, the Netherlands has with time reformed its system, for example by introducing legislation which increases employer's responsibility for the provision of sickness benefits. In some ways the Dutch have been even keener to reform than the Nordic countries.

Privatisation of social security and a shift from welfare to workfare have been coupled with the introduction of elaborate markets in the provision of health care and social protection. Not only other European welfare states, but in some regards even the US, can learn much from the Dutch policies of combining a universally compulsory Social health insurance scheme with market mechanisms. Netherlands has, similarly to Denmark, moved towards a "flexicurity" system where labour market regulations have been significantly liberalized within the frame of the welfare system. Taxes in the country peaked at 46 percent of GDP in the late 1980s, but have since fallen to ca. 38-39 percent. The Netherlands has moved from being a country with a large to a medium-sized welfare system, something that still cannot yet be said about culturally and politically similar Sweden and Denmark. The Dutch seem to have been earlier than their Nordic cousins in realizing that overly generous welfare systems and high taxes led to not only sluggish economic growth, but also exclusion of large groups from the labour market. 

Posted by at November 2, 2013 8:06 AM

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