Manifesto for a More Sustainable and Fairer Netherlands after Corona

We can make the Netherlands radically more sustainable and fair: five proposals for the Netherlands after Corona, signed by 170 academics.

COVID-19 shakes the world to its foundations. The corona pandemic has already cost and disrupted countless lives, while aid workers work hard to care for the sick and prevent further spread. The struggle to limit the enormous personal and social losses deserves our appreciation and support. At the same time, it is important to place this pandemic in a historical context in order to avoid a repetition of past mistakes in the future.

The fact that COVID-19 has now had major economic consequences is partly due to the dominant economic model of the past thirty years. This neoliberal model requires an ever-increasing circulation of goods and people, regardless of the numerous ecological problems and the increasing inequalities it causes. Over the past few weeks, the weaknesses of this growth machine have been painfully exposed. We are witnessing, among other things, large companies demanding state aid when the demand for their goods and services falls, precarious jobs are being lost, and health systems are under increasing pressure.

Remarkably, the government is now labelling those very professions as ‘crucial’ which, not so long ago, had to fight for recognition and better pay: medical care, care for the elderly, public transport and education.

Another weakness of the current system is the link between the current economic development model, the loss of important functions of ecosystems and biodiversity and the potential for diseases such as COVID-19 to spread rapidly. The dramatic consequences of this could be drastically exacerbated if we do not switch to another form of development, beyond ‘business-as-usual’. The World Health Organization estimates that 4.2 million people die each year from air pollution, and that the effects of climate change are expected to cause an additional 250,000 deaths per year between 2030 and 2050. Experts warn that in the event of further damage to ecosystems, there is an increased risk of new and more powerful virus outbreaks.

All of this calls for decisive action and the earliest possible initiation of a post-COVID-19 era. While the current crisis has also had some positive consequences – such as increased collective action and solidarity, reduced pollution and greenhouse gas emissions – these changes will prove temporary and marginal if a broader political and economic transformation is not achieved. It is therefore important to consider how the current situation can be transformed into more sustainable, fair, healthy and resilient forms of coexistence and development.

This concise manifesto, signed by 170 academics working in the Netherlands on international development issues, presents, based on existing research and knowledge, five proposals for the Netherlands after Corona:

1) Replacement of the current development model aimed at generic GDP growth, by a model that distinguishes between sectors that are allowed to grow and need investment (the so-called critical public sectors, clean energy, education and care) and sectors that need to shrink radically given their fundamental lack of sustainability or their role in driving excessive consumption (such as the oil, gas, mining, and advertising sectors).

2) Development of an economic policy aimed at redistribution, which provides a universal basic income, embedded in solid social policy; a substantial progressive tax on income, profit and wealth; shorter working weeks and job sharing; and recognition of the intrinsic value of healthcare and essential public services such as education and healthcare.

3) Transition to circular agriculture, based on the conservation of biodiversity, sustainable, mostly local food production, reduction of meat production and employment with fair working conditions.

4) Reduction of consumption and travel, with a radical decrease in luxurious and wasteful forms, towards necessary, sustainable and meaningful forms of consumption and travel.

5) Debt cancellation, mainly to employees, self-employed persons and entrepreneurs in SMEs, but also to developing countries (to be carried out by both the richer countries and international organizations such as IMF and World Bank).

As scientists and concerned citizens, we are convinced that these steps will contribute to more sustainable and equal societies; societies that are more resilient to the shocks and possible pandemics that await us. As far as we are concerned, the question is no longer whether we should take these steps, but how we are going to do so.

We cannot ignore the fact that this crisis is hitting some people harder than others. But we can do justice to the hardest hit groups by implementing policy reforms that will ensure that future crises hit these groups – and all of us – less hard and lead to less fear, or possibly even prevent another crisis. We urge politicians, policymakers and our fellow citizens to help make this transition a reality.

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