What about the Belgians?

Written By: - Date published: 12:58 pm, June 14th, 2011 - 18 comments
Categories: International - Tags:

[Unfortunately, the hyperlinks in ianupnorth’s guest post were lost in sending.]

In recent weeks there have been the usual responses to various topics on The Standard from right wing posters, denouncing any form of ‘socialism, decrying income tax rates and generally offering a case for the argument of ‘you reap what you sow’.

In offering some balance I looked up a few stats on here – I find it a pretty easy to search and reliable source of comparative information. Anyway, why pick on the Belgian’s? Why not? They tend to be the butt of much of Europe’s collective humour – the French and Dutch treat those from Benelux in a similar way that the Aussie’s mock Kiwi’s. Need more? Well, for many years they have had one of the most convoluted and pluralist government systems, not unlike the NZ system, similar numbers of small parties and frequent coalitions.

Add to this they have three languages (OK so one of our official ones is NZ sign language), lots of regional factions, including protections for the minority Francophile community and you have a smallish country that has similar problems to NZ.

OK, so there are big differences – they are connected very well to mainland Europe and are part of the EU, but the differences don’t end there..

So what did I find out in my half hour play session comparing NZ and Belgium.

1. We have no equivalent of Inspector Cluseau, have 2000 more prison in-mates despite having double the population; their classes in their schools have approx. 4 less per children, their, their infant mortality is far less, they spend 25% more per capita on health than NZ.
2. We are near the bottom of the table for welfare paid as a percentages of GDP; but conversely those countries like Belgium, where income tax is considerably higher and the welfare paid is much higher
3. Despite having well over double the population, they only have 25% more people in prison
4. Their schools have approx. four children less per class
5. Belgium’s child abuse stats are half of NZ’s
6. Their infant mortality is far less
7. They have just 11% of their population classed as obese, compared with nearly 21% here
8. They spend 25% more on health care than NZ
9. They have 1000 less teenage pregnancies, despite having double the population (of course according to the right that is because we have the DPB)
10. Now here’s the clincher, and where the current “use the markets to correct the problems’ ideology doesn’t stand up; the stats show NZ is 7% more efficient than Belgium – yet Belgium out performs NZ on an array of societal measures.

So the logic goes that if you go for a low tax model it is proven that you deprive those in need from the things that actually improve the well-being of the whole country. If you remove safeguards you create other problems. Better education equates to better health – fact; if you have better education your earning potential is improved – fact. And guess what if you are more employable you are more likely to be in demand, have a job and guess what, you end up paying more tax. So consequently the government’s revenue is improved and they are able to provide robust, evidence based services for all (a la Prof. Peter Gluckman).

18 comments on “What about the Belgians?”

  1. John D 1

    The Belgians have been without a government for over six months.

    • fatty 1.1

      We’ve been without a government for about two and a half years

    • Dan 1.2

      Yea it’s not really the most politically stable country in Europe. Also, they have a similar sized services percentage of GDP to ours, but their agriculture only accounts for 2%.

  2. Rolling 2

    Yep I can see what your saying and I agree we need a better, more progressive tax system, but Belgium isn’t a good comparison. The export of Raw Materials is one of it’s major earners, the economy is built on the back of extensive foreign investment and the discarding of state owned assets. It’s major trading partners on it’s doorstep, and it’s welfare system is similar to the one described by the Welfare Working Group, with an added measure of paid insurance thrown in for good measure.

    • Colonial Viper 2.1

      Big on assertions, short on links, Rolling.

      and it’s welfare system is similar to the one described by the Welfare Working Group

      What a crock of shit.

      Belgium has far higher levels of benefits than NZ, which the Welfare Working Group deliberately avoided looking at.

      Go away.

      • Colonial Viper 2.1.1

        Belgian Economy

        From wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belgium#Economy

        The economy is characterized by a highly productive work force, high GNP and high exports per capita.[72] Belgium’s main imports are raw materials, machinery and equipment, chemicals, raw diamonds, pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, transportation equipment, oil products. Its main exports are machinery and equipment, chemicals, finished diamonds, metals and metal products, foodstuffs.[73]

        You’re just another systematised astroturfer, Rolling.

        Get it into your head that a society which looks after its people and which promotes higher levels of income equality is a happier more involved society.

        • ianupnorth

          And as I have posted elsewhere (here, Red Alert), we need to be just like Belgium – not just exporting things but actually making our resources into things; that’s how you actually make money!!

          We have some of the best techie types in the world, or should I say, did have – most have left.

        • Rolling

          Your right, I should have given you a link, here is a quote and a link:


          “The fine tuning of the benefit system is at the same time its weakness. Indeed, it
          goes without saying that this necessitates strict controls of the beneficiaries’ family
          situation, their informal activities, their job search behaviour, their availability for
          work etc. These administrative controls cause a lot of interference in their private
          lives and are sometimes accompanied with heavy sanctions, including permanent
          suspension of benefits (Van Rompaey et al., 1999). For the long-term unemployed,
          such interventions tend to have a paralysing effect: instead of boosting their efforts
          to re-enter work, they prevent them from taking odd jobs or even voluntary work
          as stepping stones towards regular work (ATD-Quart Monde, 1998).”

          • Rolling

            The other link you might like is:


            Page 12 is interesting. Also to get the record straight, I just think that Belgium is a bad example of where we should head, in the same way Ireland is the poster child for everything that’s wrong with the free market.

            Why do we have to try and emulate these other countries, why can’t we just figure out what works for us and run with it. All this talk of who we should emulate is just distracting us from being New Zealand.

            • ianupnorth

              I wasn’t necessarily saying we should model ourselves on them, just comparing key stats, e.g. benefits, tax, education, crime, health etc.
              NZ goes lock stock and barrel for comparisons with Aussie, probably based purely on Commonwealth colonial heritage.
              We get lots of ‘we need to do this’ but instead don’t really do anything. It was merely an exercise in offering a different comparison.

  3. Adders 3

    Good article. Thanks.

    A few pedantic bits:

    Inspector Clouseau was a French police detective.

    (Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s invention, was a Belgian private detective.)

    NZ does actually have an Inspector Clouseau, bumbling, unintelligible and clueless clown equivalent. Unfortunately, it’s the Prime Minister.

  4. ChrisH 4

    And what’s more they’ve got better trains than Britain: http://neilclark66.blogspot.com/2011/05/put-britains-trains-on-right-track.html#more . As for NZ of course, no comparison.

  5. ianupnorth 5

    Thanks for the corrections folks; I have all the links in a word version at home; I picked most of the stats from here (this one is for welfare paid as a %age of GDP)


    But you can happily compare and contrast on lots of info.

  6. Peter Kunta 6

    Last I heard was Belgiun was in possible need of a EMU bailout, next in the line after Spain/Italy.

  7. nadis 8


    Public debt to GDP 98%
    Budget deficit -4%
    Unemployment rate 7.7%

    They have a seriously unsustainable public debt problem. Like all of Europe (and the US, and Japan)

  8. A.J 9

    Honestly, and I hate to say it because I love to drink more than ALAC would like, I think NZers do dumb things when they drink too much (myself and others I know not excluded) and we have large segments of society that are on long-term welfare who have no ambition. What NZ needs is a welfare system where the goal is short-term help whilst one actively searches for employment. One should be able to/compulsorily have to help in the community for x amount of hours a week to encourage routine which I believe is crucial to a productive life while searching for a job which I acknowledge is difficult, espiecally in NZ.

    BUT….and a key, key, key but: This is not the issue!!!!!

    The goal of full employment should not be a goal, it should be the standard.

    Education is key.

    People in NZ in low wage jobs don’t earn enough to be part of society, ie. to spend $, min wage here is almost 20 aussie dollars. I’m currently in Aus on holiday and see better values, better harmonisation between all races in society (seriously, I know ppl think Aussies are super racist but I have seen far less segregation between races, which I also believe is key to a happy, healthy, wealthy society).

    Oh and it doesn’t help we are super ripped off for many goods in NZ, quick example, schweppes drinks here are 1.25 litre (all drinks around this size are, 1.5l doesn’t exist) and cost $1.30 aus, whereas a 1.5l in NZ costs over 3 nz dollars. AND the aussies feel shafted for consumer goods, in the sydney herald today there was huge talk about the difference in price for many consumer goods compared with US inet prices, even taking into account shipping.

  9. David 10

    God help us if we end up like Belgium. Thanks to Clark/Cullen we paid down debt and had a strong government. Belgium is a cot case, hasnt had a proper government is a decade, its swimming in debt, uncompetetive and unsustainable. Its arguable if the country will actually survive or get absorbed into its nieghbours.

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