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Door Wouter Koolmees
The Berlin Wall fell when I was 12 years old. Ahold ceo Anders Moberg lowered his bonus in 2003. And the Arab Spring was two years ago. Very different events, of course, but all good examples of changes brought about because people came together and actively fought for common goals in society. Pure expressions of what I call ‘liberal citizenship’. Citizens who are independent, but also feel a shared responsibility for the fate of others and for society as a whole. To me, this is a realisation of one of the pillars of D66: Trust in people’s own power. The Arab Spring shows that, however repressive a state might be, and how difficult problems might seem, if the group of individuals is large enough, their power is ultimately unstoppable. As a social-liberal I would like to enable people to actually take on their responsibility.
Paul Schnabel, sociologist and Director of the Netherlands Institute for Social Research, often tells us about the state of affairs in the Netherlands. It turns out that people say: ‘I am doing fine, but we are doing badly.’ How is this possible? Almost everyone thinks the government is not nearly doing enough to fulfil their needs. And the secret is: the government simply cannot accomplish this. Politicians should therefore state more often: ‘You yourself have abilities, capacities and possibilities!’ Look for example at the Brent Spar affair. The debate about the outdated Shell oil platform that needed to be demolished, finally resulted in companies trying to take more corporate social responsibility. This is also liberal citizenship: rising up to the challenge, thinking through how things could be better and then realize those ideas. It is not the state that fixes things for us, but society itself that feels responsible.
From here it is now only a small step to the thoughts of Robert Reich, former Minister of Social Affairs and Employment under President Clinton. Reich is the author of the book Supercapitalism,
in which he argues that people can manifest themselves in society in three different ways. As ‘citizen’, as ‘consumer’ and as ‘investor’. For actual liberal citizenship, it is of great importance that the values of these three roles are neatly lined up. Take for example child labour. Someone can reject this as a citizen, but as a consumer wear clothes made by children, and as an investor buy invest in child labour via his pension fund. Here lies an opportunity for us as a social-liberal party, to let people see these imbalances, to make people aware of the role they have , and encourage their personal strengths.
The call for ‘moral leadership’ is heard again and again. And of course, politicians must set the right example. This is something on which also the less action oriented parties should focus more. But as a politician, I see it as my main task to ensure that people themselves can realize their own ideas and ideals about change. For example by giving them insight in and control over the investments made with their pension fund. Or by making sure that people can easily switch to another bank – without losing their personal bank account number - when they believe their bank pays to much salaries and bonuses. By doing so, we provide people with the possibilities to take matters into their own hands and actually act upon their personal ideals. It sure feels better to have put necessary changes in motion yourself, rather than to have waited passively until the government has done the job for you.
is a member of Dutch parliament for D66.
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Dit artikel verscheen in idee nr. 6 2012: Trust in people’s own power
, en is te vinden bij het onderwerp participatie.