MARK TURIN Distant Neighbours



© Mark Turin, 1997

Nothing is given without something being taken away. That's the beauty of tax. And it appears that the Dutch government, in their infinite sagacity, have decided to levy tax on the world's oldest profession, namely working women. I can't say I'm particularly surprised, this being Holland after all. But I do have a slightly disturbing image in my head of a sex tourist sidling up to one of those red-lit cabins in Amsterdam and asking the price of a particular service. "100 guilders" comes the reply, "plus tax".

Coming from a country which has 21% basic rate tax, and the remains of a burnt-out National Health Service all-included, I sometimes wonder what the Dutch government, in their infinite sagacity, do with all that tax that they collect, especially since you all have to pay health insurance contributions as well. The Dutch word 'belasting', with all of its associated meanings, seems to accurately describe the Netherlandish approach to tax. In a way, that's hardly surprising when every time you sneeze, Uncle Sam snatches at least 37.5% of what you have in your pocket.

Anyway, while I'm sitting here wondering where all that tax money goes, I make a timely effort to remember that I am one beneficiary of the high level of taxation. In the UK, as I'm sure you have gathered by now, our Research Councils have been bled dry to the extent that natural sciences are more or less the only field for which there is still money to do PhD. research. Here in Leiden, however, I am working as "beurspromovendus" (a beautifully un-translatable term), and not on the next AIDS vaccine either. And I receive my monies "bruto" (another perfect word, only equalled by English "gross") and then watch about half disappear before I even have time to appreciate the numbers, let alone feel the crisp notes in my hand. Those new . 10 notes, I love them. I mean, I must be the only PhD. student in the world with an accountant. But at least I am on a par with the rest of the working population. Tax is a kind of levelling and equalising force. I feel grown up, just as all those tax-paying prostitutes and unemployed must feel part of a greater social order.

Having said that, being a "beurspromovendus" is definitely as near to the bottom of the social heap as one could possibly get. In comparison with our AIO and OIO peers, we have our fair share of disadvantages and few of the benefits. It's an uncomfortable position, 'twixt boy and man. You see, a "beurspromovendus" is not a student, so gets no free transport, but also has no contract with the university, and so has no rights. I could go on for hours, but I think I've grumbled enough for today.