Drieu Godefridi, the Director of the Institut Hayek, looks at plans for a “new Marshall Plan” for a region of Belgium with incredulity
Politicians in Wallonia, the southern part of Belgium, think their region needs “a new Marshall Plan”. Excuse me? The Marshall Plan was designed to help Europe rise from the ashes of World War II. Surely there has not been any war in Belgium since then. So what is the point?
This plan would benefit the socialists who govern Wallonia by helping their lagging economy to recover. But to recover from what? Basically, from sixty years of socialist governance.
Truth be told, Wallonia does need an urgent boost to its economy. With an unemployment rate of 18% and almost nil growth for years, Wallonia is now on the verge of being outclassed by Poland and Slovakia, countries that started from zero in terms of their economies just 15 years ago.
This “Marshall Plan” consists of massive public investments in some parts of the Walloon economy duly selected by the government. But it will not work any better than other plans the socialists have come up with over the last three decades. (Some years ago, the same socialists said that one of their plans at that time would turn Wallonia into a “Wallifornia”).
What is comforting to learn is that the main goal of the Walloon government is now to encourage the creation of new businesses and to help to develop existing ones.
But these socialists need to understand that the creation and growth of companies are not only a question of political will. For businesses to be created and to grow, some basic conditions have to be put in place.
Probably the most important two conditions sine qua non for economic vitality currently do not exist in Wallonia: reasonable taxes and a reasonable level of regulation.
Belgian taxes are among the highest in the world, second only to France. Not every tax can be lowered by the Walloon government, but many of them could be. Unfortunately, Walloon politicians do not seem to understand the link between low taxes and economic prosperity. The Cour d’arbitrage, Belgium’s Supreme Court, recently struck down a Wallon law raising the rate of the inheritance tax at 90%.
The amount of regulation in Wallonia is ridiculously high. In every jurisdiction that it has inherited from the Belgian federal state, be it urbanism or environment, the Walloon Parliament and government have enacted several new regulations to restrict business, often developing new controls in new areas. The idea that the burden of such regulations should be measured, and compared with their merits, is foreign to the socialist elites.
That the politicians of French-speaking Belgium understand the need to create new businesses for their economy to thrive is good news. But to expect that anything like would happen without a plan that entails the drastic lowering of taxes and the abrogation of complete areas of nonsensical environmental and city planning regulations? That is just another Belgian joke.