The gospel of the free market…

Over the last twenty years we had a wave of privatisation going trough the Netherlands.

Public institutions, like retirement homes, hospitals, mental healthcare, schools, universities, public transport, mail, water-, power-, telephone- and cable companies, were sold to, or transformed into, private organisations. The idea of the Dutch government was that opening the markets for other companies would be good. Because these companies would have to compete with each other the quality would go up and the price would go down. The consumers would finally have more choice and could pick the company they liked best.


Well, this didn’t really work out…

By this change the institutions got a different goal. Instead of one company providing good quality healthcare, education or infrastructure these fields became scattered over a variety of smaller and larger companies. All of these made their own little product. And where the goal of the early public institutions was to provide a good product and customer satisfaction, the focus of the new companies shifted to profit.

For the consumer it hasn’t become easier. They have to compare the different products from different brands to see which one suits them most. But the companies don’t make it easier on them, by making the products vague and wrapping them in a veil of empty marketing terms, the average consumer doesn’t understand. And even fake companies, that live by this marketing, selling second-rate service at a premium price…

What are the implications?

Instead of one mailman we now have three of them, walking from door to door. All of them underpaid and working under an immense pressure. The same with package delivery.

In retirement homes and healthcare facilities they introduced the scientific management system. More work has to be done in less time.
Managers stand next to the bed with a stopwatch. “Oh, it takes an estimate of five minutes to put on orthopedic stockings? Well you can do 12 patients in an hour…” What they forget is that care givers are people, not robots. And the people they take care of are also humans.
In many places they calculated that putting old people in diapers would save the time needed to bring them to the toilet. The diaper gets changed once a day…

The same in education; schools get paid by the number of students they let pass. A couple of schools lowered the bar for their exams, so more students would pass…


This system favors quantity above quality. But the people who advocate this system are not the victims. They are the people at the top of the pyramid. The victims are the workers down the line and in the end the consumers. Pinching pennies and putting them under pressure to work faster.

Some things are just too precious to leave to the whims of the free market economy. The neo-liberalist assumption that the ‘free market’ will regulate this by increasing quality and lowering prices is wrong. It causes the people at the top to go for short-term profit, not for longterm quality and success. If we go on like this everything we hold dear; education, health care, culture and heritage, will be hollowed out. People tend to forget that solving large problems that have been built up by neglect, will cost more time and money than doing something right the first time.

I hope we will find a way to counter this trend, but fear for the worst…

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