“Well,” Auke starts out saying. “To a certain extent, money does make you happy. If you can’t afford a roof over your head or don’t have enough money to buy food, having money makes a huge difference.”
Studies show, according to the sustainability expert, that people who earn about two to four times the average income are the happiest people around. “Exactly how much that is, varies from country to country, of course. But with that kind of income, you don’t have to worry about anything and you can live a pretty relaxed life.”
Auke is bothered by the fact that extremely wealthy individuals are getting richer and richer while inequality is going up and up. “We now act as if making a lot of money and getting richer and richer is the pinnacle of happiness. Look at America. There, people who are already rich practically see it as their God-given right to get even richer. You made that money, so it’s your money. Period. And then the tax authorities come and take some of the money you’ve worked so hard for, that’s theft, right?’
Rigging schemes to pay less tax
“But that pretty much sums up the prevailing mindset,” he continues. “The ultra-rich do their best to pay as little tax as possible, just look at Trump. Or companies that rig all kinds of schemes to keep as much money as possible. This happens in Europe as well.”
In Auke’s opinion, this mentality is woven into the capitalist system. “Once you’re rich you can – as you have a lot of money – use all kinds of tricks to keep your taxes down. Do you have a private jet? That’s work-related transportation and deductible. You put your house mortgages into company accounts and because you can pay for it anyway, you hire the best lawyers to advise you so you can keep more money in your pocket. So it kind of becomes a degressive system where you pay less tax if you earn a lot.”
Although not everything is as bad as that by a long shot, Auke emphasizes. “There are plenty of companies that do not work this way. Where they recognize that the growing inequality between the top end and the bottom end is skewed. They are actually thinking about how money can be better apportioned. For example, in these companies, a boss is not allowed to earn more than ten times than a cleaner. Those are definitely steps in the right direction.”
Why is having more and more money such a major goal for a lot of people?
“I honestly don’t understand why having more and more money is such a major goal. If you already have two houses, a third one really won’t make much difference. It doesn’t make you any happier. The more money you have, the less added value it offers. For someone working in a cobalt mine in the Congo, an extra euro means so much more. It can make his day. But if you already have billions of euros, you will shrug your shoulders over that single euro.”
Which is why Auke advocates for a fairer distribution of wealth to reduce inequality. “I am striving for a happier world. Everyone has the right to food, shelter, and a reasonable form of healthcare. Lately, you can see that poverty is declining, but inequality is only getting worse. The ultimate goal – a happy life for everyone – will never be achieved this way. It has gotten so out of hand that the top few percent have most of the wealth. While at the bottom, people are still starving to death because they have no money.”
Tax the ultra-rich more and using those funds to pay a universal basic income is what Auke believes is the solution. “Actually, it’s not such an earth-shattering new idea at all. I favor a progressive system. Earning more equals paying more tax, plain and simple. That’s not very exciting, is it? But once again: we have got to realize that happiness begins to drop very sharply once you get more and more money. As a wealthy person under this higher tax rate, you can still live a fine life without any cares. Whereas for poor people, this money really does make a difference. If you accept that every person has a right to happiness, then everybody will actually benefit from that.”
A universal basic income doesn’t just make the world a fairer place
Auke himself would not mind paying more tax either. “I used to earn maybe five times the average. Not anymore, but I still have nothing to complain about. My wife also works and I don’t have any children, maybe that makes a difference too. But still, I’m very laid back about it all. In principle, I would be fine with falling into a higher tax bracket. If something useful is done with that tax money, then why not?”
A universal basic income, in other words? “Yes, an amount that you always get. Whether you lie in bed all day or make yourself useful, you should be able to make ends meet with such an amount. By doing that, you would likely eliminate the need to check for fraud and, I think, the risk of benefit fraud. Of course, even with a universal basic income there are bound to be all sorts of debates. What about a single parent with three children, for example? But the way things are going at the moment, people are pretty narrow-minded – how do you say that in Dutch? The hoarding of riches? – when others don’t have enough, while there is enough for everyone.”
Auke is convinced that this will not only make the world fairer but also more thrifty. “We are constantly being brainwashed that buying more is good. The economy is geared towards producing more and more. When we know that the way we deal with raw materials will come to an end. This is demonstrably out of control. It would be nice if, through the introduction of a universal basic income, we started enriching and developing ourselves in other ways. That people spend more time with their children, writing, learning new things, or doing other things that they find important. That’s also a luxury, but then in the form of more time and less damaging to the earth.”
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