'We have viewed prosperity through an economic lens for too long'

Interview with Sander Schimmelpenninck and Martin de Jong
sun set with people on ledders on a hill
Sander Schimmelpenninck holding a presentation

On Tuesday 31 October, Erasmus University Rotterdam organized the Inclusive Prosperity Conference in Rotterdam. What exactly is inclusive prosperity and how do you achieve it? Sander Schimmelpenninck was the moderator of the event and created the series "Sander en de Kloof" on inequality of opportunity in 2022. Professor Martin de Jong, as director of the Erasmus Initiative 'Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity', is much concerned with inclusive prosperity. In this interview, both share their views.

What is inclusive prosperity to you?

Sander: "To me, inclusive prosperity is about distributing prosperity better, but also defining prosperity differently. At the same time, it's also quite a broad and vague concept. That's why it's good to give it concrete content and reflect on it together during the Inclusive Prosperity Conference. In any case, I think we have viewed prosperity through economic glasses for too long."

Martin: "Exactly. To me, inclusive prosperity is about a view of prosperity that goes far beyond material prosperity. Think about well-being and the quality of the lived environment, but it is also about the quality of education and healthcare, for example. To get a grip on broad welfare, you also need other indicators. Science can help develop those kinds of indicators."

You are scientific director at the Erasmus Initiative 'Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity'. What are you working on?

"That is very broad. We work on a social and political agenda. Our role can also be very practical, for instance we also give advice to the government. In my hometown Vlaardingen, we help think about how to tackle Westwijk, a neighbourhood that is seen as a problem area. We advise the municipality of Helmond on digital accessibility, and in Almere we are looking at how to make waste collection points more accessible. So inclusive prosperity is about inclusiveness; making sure you don't exclude anyone."

The Netherlands is a prosperous country, why is it problematic that not everyone shares in that prosperity?

Sander: "I think a lot of people get frustrated by this. It makes them feel that it doesn't matter how hard they try. Consequently, opportunity inequality also creates a lot of untapped potential. During the filming of the Kloof, I saw this with my own eyes. People who try very hard live in houses full of mold and rotten window frames. Nobody deserves that, but ultimately it is a problem that concerns the whole society."

Martin: "If a significant part of the population cannot join in the benefits, you also see that crime becomes more attractive and insecurity increases. The elite also notice this. In the United States, on the one hand you see more and more people living in tents out of necessity, and on the other hand the rich seek refuge in gated communities. In the Netherlands, it is not as extreme, but people do feel more unsafe. In parks of big cities, for example, because more and more junkies are hanging around and drugs are being dealt."

In 'Sander and the Burg', one of your main points is reforming education. Is there something wrong with our school system?

Martin: "Our education system puts too much emphasis on theoretical education and practical professions have little status. Do you know how hard it is to find an installer or plumber now? There is a stigma attached to working with your hands and we need to get rid of that. I think this is why we need to invest much more in primary and secondary education. Without a good foundation, it's harder to do well."

Sander: "I live in Sweden and there you see many more young people choosing a practical profession and that this is much better valued, also financially. Pupils of one age group all share the same classroom until they are fifteen. As a result, they are more likely to choose things they like. I therefore advocate a middle school, i.e. that you extend the bridging class by two years. That way you also avoid a VWO bubble and polarisation between different levels of education."

What else is needed for inclusive prosperity?

Martin: "The basis for inequality lies in our capitalist system. SMEs and employees pay neat taxes, while multinationals siphon off billions to the Cayman Islands. If you tax those companies just a few percent more, you can do very good things. Think about making housing more affordable, for example."

Sander: "Agreed, I think work should pay more and you should tax wealth more. The rich and the multinationals are good at paying less tax. You also see countries now competing with each other when it comes to favourable tax rates for companies. That 'race to the bottom' has to stop."

Are you optimistic about the future?

Sander: "Well, no. The tenor remains right-wing. I think many people are doing too well and are not aware of what is going on. This group doesn't know what it's like to have to make ends meet. It apparently has to hurt even more first."

Martin: "The reassuring thing is that in the Netherlands, uneasiness does grow about the fact that more and more people are living below the poverty line. Nobody likes that. Even a party like the VVD wants a higher minimum wage and to invest in practical training. Ultimately, I think solidarity is a prerequisite for keeping society liveable."

About Sander and Martin:

  • Sander Schimmelpenninck
    Sander Schimmelpennick is an entrepreneur and journalist. He studied at Erasmus University and was editor-in-chief of the Quote-500 for many years. It was there that his conviction grew that there is little equality of opportunity in the Netherlands. He created the series "Sander en de Kloof" and provided solutions in his book "Sander en de Brug".
  • Martin de Jong
    Professor Martin de Jong (Erasmus School of Law and Rotterdam School of Management) has a public administration background and is scientific director at the Erasmus Initiative 'Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity'. This Erasmus Initiative focuses on gaining knowledge about groups in society that are poorly heard. In this way, they aim to contribute to the public debate.

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