Exceptional times, exceptional measures

Nieuws | de redactie
16 februari 2009 | While some countries are taking unorthodox anti-cyclical investment measures to counter the economic crisis by injecting billions of dollars in infrastructure and education, the Dutch cabinet still seems to be hesitating about what to do. They should take a close look at examples such as in Australia, USA, Japan, Canada, Finland and Germany.

For instance, Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced his second major injection. In 2008 he had already spend an extra $4 billion on infrastructure and knowledge. The bulk of the new Australian $42 billion-dollar stimulus package will be allocated to education infrastructure and public and defence housing. Almost $15 billion will be injected into primary school buildings and in maintenance for both primary and secondary schools.

The money will be used to upgrade large infrastructures such as libraries, to build 500 new science laboratories and language centres and to provide $200,000 for each school for maintenance. $2,5 billion will be made available to reduce school dropout numbers. Furthermore, almost half a billion will be spend to stimulate and support lifelong learning programs.

According to Rudd, the program represents the single largest modernisation of schools in Australia’s history. In an address to the nation he declared, “This investment in every one of the nation’s 7,500 primary schools is designed to build the primary schools we need for the 21st century.”

Deputy secretary general of the OECD, Aart de Geus agrees. He warned Australia could be one of the hardest hit economies by the global financial downturn because of steep falls in commodity exports. De Geus said at a forum at Sydney University “the Federal Government’s stimulus packages have strengthened the economy without threatening financial sustainability.”

Canadian universities and their aging infrastructure recently have received a promised injection of C$2 billion (US$1.65 billion), part of a five-year $85 billion stimulus package announced by the Canadian federal government. In Europe, Finland presented an ambitious EUR 760 million injection in R&D. A similar knowledge boost helped Finland to get out of a recession in the 1990s. Therefore, while money is scarce, and savings need to be made, the Finns believe that an investment in research will pay off and eventually help counter the crisis. Moreover, according to think-tank Sitra’s ‘Transforming Finland working group’ led by Helsinki University rector Ilkka Niiniluoto, ‘the current crisis is exactly the right time to transform the Finnish economy.’

Furthermore, while Japan is pumping 580 billion in the economy, German chancellor Angela Merkel declared that she is willing to inject an extra € 50 billion in the economy. In her investment plan the educational infrastructure and R&D both take a prominent place.

And last but certainly not least there is now Obama’s $800 billion stimulus package. But even that might not be adequate. Harvard Business School professor and strategic finance guru Michael Porter for instance has emphasized that he supports this investment plan, but said he wanted Obama to put an even stronger emphasis on R&D investments and less on individual tax reductions.

‘The Hague’ is thinking about a plan to counter the recession, but fears budgetcuts will be necessary as well. In order to help ScienceGuide, Dutch think-tank Knowledgeland and student organization ISO already designed a ‘quick impact’ stimulus package: The Knowledge Boost 2009.

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