Posts Tagged ‘Netherlands’


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Sure, Swiss voters rejected a proposal to guarantee an income to all residents, whether or not they are employed.

But 23 percent did vote in favor of the idea, which itself is a victory given the full-scale campaign against the proposal—by mainstream economists and many others.

Critics have called the initiative “a Marxist dream”, warning of sky-high costs and people quitting their jobs in droves, to the detriment of the economy. “If you pay people to do nothing, they will do nothing,” said Charles Wyplosz, economics professor at the Geneva Graduate Institute.

And then there was the anti-immigrant argument by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP):

SVP spokeswoman Luis Stamm told the BBC: “Theoretically, if Switzerland were an island [basic income] would be possible.

“You could cut down on existing social payments and instead pay a certain amount of money to every individual.

“But with open borders it’s a total impossibility. If you would offer every individual a Swiss amount of money you would have billions of people who would try to move into Switzerland.”

Still, the idea of a guaranteed basic income continues to grow, with trials planned for the Canadian province of Ontario, Finland, and the Dutch city of Utrecht.

Interest in the United States is also increasing, although a proposal by the likes of Charles Murray is going to undermine what support the idea currently has among people who actually work for a living. That’s because Murray wants to use a guaranteed income not only to replace existing anti-poverty and corporate-welfare programs, but also to eliminate Social Security and Medicare.

The whole idea behind a guaranteed income is to decommodify areas of economic and social life, building on Social Security and Medicare, which are based on the idea that the larger community uses a portion of the surplus to take care of some of its members, outside commodity exchange. Murray (along with other conservatives who support a basic income) wants to do exactly the opposite: force people to use their basic income to purchase additional commodities, even after retirement.

That’s not a guaranteed basic income. That’s just more freedom to choose private commodities.


There is a wealth of data in the 2015 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report.

One series (which Credit Suisse began compiling last year) measures global wealth inequality. As the authors of the report observe,

The updated and extended series displayed in Figure 6 shows that the top 1% of global wealth holders started the millennium owning 48.9% of all household wealth. According to our estimates, the top percentile share fell every year until it reached 44.2% in 2009, a drop of 4.7 percentage points. The downward trend then reversed and the share rose each year, overtaking the 2000 level within the last twelve months. We estimate that the top percentile now own half of all household assets in the world.

The shares of the top 5% and top 10% of wealth holders follow a similar pattern. The share of the top 5% dropped by 3.8 percentage points between 2000 and 2007, then flattened out until 2010 when it began rising again. The share is now 76.6%, the same as in 2000. Meanwhile the share of the top decile declined from a peak of 88.3% in 2000 to a low of 85% in 2007, after which it has been climbing slowly upwards. We estimate the current share of the top wealth decile to be 87.7%, again close to the level at the start of the century.

Clearly, one of the drivers of this trend of increasing wealth inequality in recent years, especially for the top 1 percent, is the increase in the value of financial assets, especially corporate securities, since wealthier households hold a disproportionate share of their assets in financial form. That’s particularly true in the United States, where 68.8 percent of gross wealth is held in the form of financial assets—greater than in any other country except The Netherlands and South Africa.

So, an economic recovery program that has privileged the recovery of financial markets and corporate profits has fueled the increase in wealth inequality, in the United States and across the world.

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Every time I see an exhibit of paintings from the so-called Golden Age of Dutch art (or teach about them, especially Vermeer’s, in my Commodities course), I am struck by the extent to which they provide a window on the changing class nature of Dutch society at the time.

That’s why I am intrigued by the new show, at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, “Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer” (see also this review [ht: ja]). The content of the individual paintings, at least the ones I am familiar with, as well as the economic status of the painters themselves and the new art markets that developed (and ultimately crashed) during the seventeenth century can tell a rich story about the emergence of capitalism in a heretofore noncapitalist economy and society.

And, of course, here we are in 2015, when the United States is characterized by obscene and still-growing levels of inequality. Perhaps, then, we are ready to see and think about class distinctions, at least in seventeenth-century Dutch society.

So, I am intrigued by this show—but also worried. That’s because, according to what I have read, the paintings are arranged in separate rooms according to class. Low, middle, and upper-class, “a bit like airplane seating.”

The exhibit follows a logical sequence by grouping paintings of the wealthiest ranks in one room and then moving down the social strata in the following sections. The final room ties the exhibit together by depicting paintings of ferries and public squares where members of each class intersect.

The question is, what is the notion of class that informs the Boston show?

As I see it, you can’t have one class without the others. It’s a class system—the different classes are related to one another, through performances and flows of necessary and surplus labor—not just different displays of clothing, interior furnishings, and activities. And the emergence of capitalism within the Netherlands created a new pattern of performances and flows compared to what had existed before and what existed even at that time throughout much of the rest of Western Europe.

If the paintings of the period are going to be utilized to illustrate those new class relations, then perhaps it would have been better to group them differently—for example, to show within the same room how the surplus labor that was captured by some households, and then utilized to relinquish members of those same households from the need to work and, in addition, to hire milkmaids and other servants and to purchase items of conspicuous consumption from abroad, was also deployed to make sure additional surplus labor continued to be performed by the other members of Dutch society.

That’s the exhibit of Dutch paintings that, in my view, could have been organized in Boston.


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140116_600-1 Martin Rowson cartoon 15.11.2013

American exceptionalism has long been a contested notion.

But there is one area in which the United States has been exceptional from the very declaration of independence: the relative inequality of the distribution of income.

In 1774, the United States was much more equal than England and Wales (and more equal, it seems, than other western societies, such as the Netherlands). Today, more than 200 hundred years later, the United States is more unequal than any of the other advanced capitalist nations.

Thanks to recent research by Peter H. Lindert and Jeffrey G. Williamson, we know that in 1774 the top 1 percent of households had about 9 percent of income—compared to 17.5 percent in England and Wales, and 17 percent in the Netherlands.

Today, the top 1 percent of Americans have about 17.5 percent of total income—more than the 14 percent in the United Kingdom and 7 percent for Sweden.

There is , then, a kernel of truth in the idea of American exceptionalism—in terms of relative equality then and obscene levels of inequality now.