Douwe Osinga's Blog: November 2005

Monday, November 14, 2005

Moving out the grey masses

The old Europe is getting older. Not only the old, apparently the New Europe isn’t quite that fresh anymore either. The simplest solution to do something about the coming lack of young people in Europe would obviously be to import more young people from countries where they have rather too much of them. Unfortunately the popularity of this solution has decreased quite a bit the last years, making for example the Netherlands for the first time since the years just after World War II a country where more people emigrate from than emigrate too (how that reflects well on the current government is another question of course). If we can’t import young foreigners, the other solution to stabilize the population pyramid is of course exporting the old locals.

It should be simple enough. There might be a pension crisis, but the total of pensions and private savings should surely be enough to make for a comfortable old age in a cheapish Third World Country, shouldn’t it? Right now it seems a lot of doctors educated in the Third World don’t stay around due to lack of career opportunities; moving millions of European pensioners around should create a nice market for these guys. And these poorer countries tend to have warmer climates, which is nice if you have a lot of free time on your hand. Sure, they’d want to see their children and children’s children, but in these days of cheap telecommunications and air tickets that shouldn’t be that much of an issue anymore.

And while the old enjoy their well deserved rest on the beaches from Ghana to Sri Lanka, their old home countries can focus their energies on keeping up the wealth that allowed them to send their retired oversees. I’d like a place in Goa, I think.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Collective ownership of the land

There was a time when a lot of land was commonly owned. Not because people back then were all communist; it just made economically and socially sense. I think we're approaching a time, at least in the EU where it would make sense to reinstate this situation. That's why the state should nationalize the land.

The fact that one can own land, is actually quite surprising. You can't own the air, nor the water (not personally, not yet), so why the land? Even if you own land, you usually own it only up till a certain depth. And if the government needs the land, they can take it back, for a fair price, but nevertheless.

When food is scarce and a farm can be run by one family, then it makes sense for society to allow farmers there own land. If they own it, they will do their best to make it as productive as possible and that's good for society. In post industrial society this of course no longer the case. We could produce enough food for our population on a relatively small area used for agriculture. We should in fact important most of our food; it just makes more sense to grow it in countries where the climate is better (plus of course these countries tend to be the poorer countries that could do with the trade).

At the same we have a growing need for recreation and a desire to try to restore our forests, swamps and what have you to something closer to their former glory. The Netherlands are the most densly populated country of Europe, but still only about 30% of the are is used for industry, roads and living. I'd say, let's put the rest in a government run foundation.

The foundation can still lease out land for agriculture, should a need for that arise, but should mostly just put the land to use that gives the population of the country the most pleasure; typically restore forests and wetlands and make them accessible for people to enjoy. Licenses and leases for tourist infrastrure will have to be given out, but that doesn't need to entail ownership of the land.

Private ownership of land was useful for a while, but it is time to get over it and start enjoying what there is. And who knows, maybe even restore the ecosystem a little. 

Monday, November 7, 2005

The high cost of free education

I used to think that university education should be free. As luck would have it, for me it was. Better than that, our government back then even paid students a small wage to study, i.e. they paid us to increase our future wage potential. I don't think university education should be free anymore, which admitedly is easier to say after you've gotten one. But here's the thing. There is no such thing as a free lunch and there is no free university education either.

I mean this in two senses. First of all, it might be free to the student, but somebody is paying, because it costs money. That somebody is Joe Taxpayer of course and all things the same, he'd like to keep his money. Or to put it in a more liberal/left wing formulation, the same money could be spend on other things. Lower education for example. Lower education is for everybody, university education tends to end up with the people that will have lots of money later anyway.

The other sense I mean it in is that the whole thing distorts demand and supply for university graduates. We end up with too many people studying English because they like it and not enough engineers, because people tend not to like it. For a lot of this oversupply becoming a teacher is pretty much the only option, which drives down the paylevel for teachers and which makes teaching in general a less attractive option, i.e. if you have studies philosophy you will only become a teacher if Google does not offer you a job. Making students pay for university and then put this money in making the salaries for primary and secondary school teachers higher could break this cycle.