Flat and flatter


We’re a very flat country –  the Netherlands, that is. A fact brought home to me once again in the last two weeks, which I spent driving up and down the UK. On my way to and from Elizabeth Brooks, who is design director at the new Digital Health Institute in Inverness. Where there are no straight lines to be had, apart from the line of the horizon across the sea. I do miss flatness when it is not there, the opportunity to see for miles and miles . I would feel very shut up if I lived in a valley.  It is a question of what one is used to, I think.

Back home my daily newspaper had spotted another way in which us Dutch are flat: we are, it seems, very ‘Piketty-proof’.  This refers to the  french economist Piketty who is making us think again about rich people and poor people and the gap between them in terms of income. He’s written a bestseller about this, stating that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. In other words: income is very unevenly distributed and likely to be more so. The big idea of Capital in the Twenty-First Century is that we haven’t just gone back to 19th-century levels of income inequality, we’re also on a path back to “patrimonial capitalism,” in which the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties.

The Netherlands, however, merits the following headline: “It is and remains a flat land next to the sea”. We score a very low Gini, which I learned is a number between 0 and 1 that is a measure for income (un)equality. A Gini of 0 means that everyone has the same income, a Gini of 1 has all the income go to 1 person. We score a Gini of 0,275  calculated over a 10 year time zone by economists from the University of Leiden. Which puts us on the list of ‘most equal’ countries, right next to Scandinavia.

Probable causes: progressive taxation, housing and other allowances, pension schemes. We flatten via the taxman. A good thing, or not?  We are also number 4 on the UN list of ‘happiest countries’, after Denmark, Norway and Switzerland. Any relation between the two?

Wiki: Taxman is a song written by George Harrison released as the opening track on the Beatles’ 1966 album Revolver. Its lyrics attack the high levels of progressive tax taken by the British Labour government of Harold Wilson


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