It won’t take too long before I can start writing a blog about the ‘Dutch Revolution’. The newspapers have been announcing it for weeks: Holland is the new Greece. And since yesterday, when the figures came in, it’s official.
I’ll try to give you an idea.
Before the crisis started, Holland had three-and-a-half big banks. One of those collapsed and was nationalised in 2008. Another one could only be saved with a massive injection of public funds. The third is a cooperative bank, still pretty safe, and the half bank was nationalised a month ago. This one had always been specialised in savings accounts, but when the economy went through the roof in the early 2000s they decided to compete with the big banks and started building castles in the air.
The bank massively invested in real estate, mostly in Spain, in 2008, which turned out to be neither the time nor the place to make a lucrative investment. They were able to creatively mask the fact that they were broke for almost five years, but when a run on the bank began to take shape the state decided to take over.
It’s a curious thing. For the last twenty years or so, EU legislation has outlawed public support of national industries, but obviously for banks one can make an exception. They are, practically, above the law.
A very reasonable Dutch law says that no public servant should earn more than the prime minister (about 200k euro per year). Fortunately there are ways to circumvent this. Over the last few decades the government has outsourced much of its tasks to semi-public entities, whose managers have the advantage of being able to fill up their pockets with bonuses, without the disadvantage of having to respond to the public.
These are the modern ‘regents’ as they say in Holland, an urban oligarchy that divides lucrative jobs among each other, without possessing any capabilities to speak of.
Now, what goes for semi-public entities, doesn’t go for the nationalised bank. The bank is public, but the social-democrat minister of finance still hired a banker for over twice the allowed pubic salary, while stressing that all employees will see their pay checks and pensions cut.
Of course, with the banks being exceptions, you can break the law, if you’re a minister. Because you need a good banker, and you won’t find one for less than 50,000 euros a month. It’s not me who says so, no, it’s the market, and the market is always right.
You’re allowed to doubt, sure, but doubt is ridiculous. I would say: why a banker? Weren’t they the ones who caused this mess in the first place? Are we absolutely sure we can’t find a capable person that will cure a bank for less than half a million per year? And instead of a banker, can’t we find a renowned economist, a professor maybe? Someone with enough self-esteem to lack the need for an exuberant pay-check?
Sure we can. But we have to convince our so-called representatives to make it happen. They still have the nasty habit of listening to the priests of high finance who keep predicting doom and destruction if their advices are not put into practice to the letter.
Well, if it’s going to be doom and destruction, we better make sure it’s going to be fun as well.
One Dutch columnist wondered, ‘Why haven’t the windows of the banks been shattered yet? Why haven’t they been burned to the ground?’
He was smart enough to add that he wasn’t instigating anyone to do anything. He was just wondering.
Me too, I’m just wondering what it’ll take. In 2008 the whole economy collapsed, and yet, nothing was done to punish those responsible, or to avoid it would happen again. The high priests could keep harvesting their bonuses while the rest of us were asked to make sacrifices. Then in 2011, occupying all over the globe, people tried to make a change, peacefully. But nothing happened. The high priests are still there, they are laughing at us from their ivory towers.
So what will it take?
A demonstration? Or two? Three?
A riot? Or two? Three?
A molotov? A bomb? Or ten?
An armed insurrection?
Hell yeah, all of it. And you know why? Because we are humans goddamned. We might be sedated by comfort, but deep down we realise that we are being screwed over every day. Deep down we’re longing to be free, waiting for the moment when it all explodes and we will smash up the ivory towers of power.
Remember, this is Holland. The fucking best place in the world to be born in. And it’s sinking.
How come? Why Holland? You want to know more? Alright, listen. I’ll teach you a word of Dutch, a very important word. No, it’s not ‘apartheid’. You already know that one. It’s ‘hypotheekrenteaftrek’.
Got that? No? Okay, once again, slowly: ‘Hy-po-theek-ren-te-af-trek’. It means tax deductability of mortgage interest.
Holland is maybe the only country that still gives this type of incentive to stimulate people to buy a house. It made real estate prices rise much faster in Holland than in other countries. Especially because many people took a mortgage that they didn’t bother to repay, because prices were rising anyway. A house was an investment, a chicken with golden eggs.
Or at least, that’s what it used to be. Now it turns out it was only a bubble. New laws state that if you take a mortgage, you have to pay it back. The hypotheekrenteaftrek will be phased out. The result of this is that hardly anyone can afford a house at the current inflated prices. Those prices are starting to fall. And they will fall further, they will readjust at normal levels of the countries surrounding us. Which is what, half the current price? A third?
The real estate bubble in Holland, like in Spain, has been the motor of the economy for years. Now people find the value of their assets going down every month. They are reluctant to spend. The economy is in recession, unemployment is soaring.
So, we have a country which is ruled by ventriloquist bankers, and politicians sitting on their lap. We all have to pay. Not only the home-owning middle classes, also the students who no longer get subsidised to study, but who will have to indebt themselves American style before joining the ranks of the unemployed. And the elderly of course, the people who built up this great country and its once admireable welfare state. Right now, while the baby boom is reaching the pension age, the government has decided to close almost half of the elderly homes. They can die at home, agonising on the floor for days, there’s no money to take care of them, or let their offspring do that, like the days of yore. Come on! We need three billion to buy a bank, another ten billion to buy the latest generation of super cool jet fighters! We can’t take care of our elderly! They’re useless anyway.
So what’s left? Maybe the last traces of the famed Dutch tolerance? Hardly. We are decent people, we don’t do drugs, we don’t do hookers. So we don’t want others to do it either. Foreigners can get their weed from a dealer in the alleys. We don’t want them in the coffeeshops anymore. And the social-democrats prefer the prostitutes of the red light district to return out of sight, to the shabby parking lots on the edge of town, to get fucked for a shot of heroine without any health care at all.
It’s a lot better this way. The real estate value of the red light district is (still) huge. The brothels can be turned into a luxury shopping district with classy restaurants. Hell yeah! Let’s be proud of ourselves. We are such decent people.
So, let’s get back to the big question.
‘How long will it take?’
We tried to be reasonable, a few years ago, when we occupied. We can also be unreasonable. After all, we are the 99 percent. We are too big to fail. If the powers-that-be are deaf to our most reasonable demand of an economy that serves the people and not the bankers, then there is no reason to talk to them anymore.
All we can do, at that point, is to bring them down with whatever means necessary.