“Help, staff wanted!”, was the headline NRC (6/8) . But we are not only short of staff. We also see it in the housing market and in the race for corona vaccines. It is all very logical from an economic point of view. The good news is that political solutions are up for grabs. Then we just have to get rid of our neoliberal grocery mentality.
The suitcases remain at Schiphol, fewer trains run, schools are switching to previously unthinkable emergency measures such as a four-day school week and overtime has become the norm in healthcare. All this while a record number of jobs were lost during the corona pandemic and the government is still providing wage support.
In the event of a shortage of personnel, the market should ensure that prices (in this case wages) rise until equilibrium is restored. But the government itself is the largest employer in the Netherlands, and has deliberately kept the wages of teachers, nurses and police officers too low for years. The result is the large shortages that we now see. The solution is politically simple. Provide fair pay and decent, permanent contracts. Instead of a race to the bottom, real progress is created for everyone.
There is a dramatic shortage of affordable housing. House prices are rising faster than ever. If we ‘build, build, build’ at all, it’s only for the rich. And that while half of a new-build complex in Haarlem is empty because the rents are too high. In addition, wealthy investors who buy up homes on a large scale further spoil the market by stealing homes before first-time buyers, families or the elderly can bid on them. And speculators often hold back new construction, because waiting longer gives them more profit.
Also read: The staff shortages are back, so how do you bring in people?
Here too, the situation is economically very logical. When there is a shortage in the housing market, prices rise. And by putting plasters on, the government has only made the problems worse. Take the stretching of the lending standards or the tax-free donations. The government should therefore also be guiding here. Build affordable housing, provide stronger rent protection, reduce mortgage interest deductions and tackle speculators, slum landlords and pawnbrokers.
If we ‘build, build, build’ at all, it’s only for the rich
Developing countries are unable to vaccinate their populations because pharmaceutical companies have a monopoly on the corona vaccine. Pharmaceuticals Pfizer and Moderna have increased the prices for their corona vaccines, because their vaccines are said to work better than those of competitors. At the same time, they are calling for a third shot.
Again, completely explainable from an economic perspective. When there is scarcity, the price goes up. And so, Big Pharma is taking advantage of exclusive monopolies on crucial vaccines by inflating prices. Worse, intellectual property legislation promotes this. And that while most of the necessary basic research for corona vaccines is funded with government money. The political solution is therefore available. Disconnect the development and sale of vaccines, temporarily cancel patents, make unnecessary patent extensions impossible and give pharmacists and other companies the opportunity to cheaply imitate expensive vaccines.
It is a misconception to think that markets will restore the balance on their own. The market prefers to provide expensive housing, low wages and inequality. It is the government’s core task to promote public interests. A strong and effective government is able to monitor market conditions, combined with a competitive policy to prevent abuse.
But the key political question is: do politicians want to impose conditions on the market? One thing is clear, the will of the outgoing cabinet is lacking. Over the past four years, our public values have come under further pressure from policies aimed at facilitating the capitalist market economy. A government with guts can train the market in the service of the public interest.