Today, the mathematicians of the Central Planning Board present the calculation of the election programs. They did so for the first time in 1986 and now, 35 years later, it is an almost indispensable aspect of the campaign. But how useful is this tradition?
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This year, 10 parties voluntarily made use of the CPB’s math skills: VVD, CDA, D66, GroenLinks, SP, PvdA, ChristenUnie, SGP, Denk and 50Plus. 2000 measures taken by the parties have been calculated and this shows that these parties mainly want to spend more money. This increases purchasing power, as does the budget deficit and the national debt. Our children and grandchildren will pay for this, the CPB said this morning. The PVV, the Party for the Animals, and the Forum for Democracy do not do this for several reasons.
“The calculations are useful for indicating direction, but should not lead to discussions,” says Sweder van Wijnbergen, an economist at the University of Amsterdam. During Kok’s first cabinet, he was also secretary-general at the Ministry of Economic Affairs. He explains that the parties are now using the calculations in debates in order to find a better solution themselves. “Since the first calculation years ago, politicians have been using those statistics as a foundation for the discussion. Then, for example, in such a debate a politician brings up that his party will provide 2,000 more jobs. Those numbers are not important at all,” he said. it must be about the content. ”
There is an enormous margin of uncertainty about the calculations of the CPB. “The models used for the calculation are so large that they contain many estimates. The CPB itself indicates that, by the way.” The advantages in numbers that politicians stroll with during these debates are therefore not at all accurate or relevant, says Van Wijnbergen.
In addition, the models used for the calculation are not completely public. “I don’t like that about the calculations. I think it should be more transparent, now the calculations cannot be checked.” Van Wijnbergen thinks that this is because the calculations will probably be criticized. “They are not waiting for that.” Another disadvantage of the calculation, according to Van Wijnbergen, is that sometimes abuse is made of the calculation. “The parties now know what they need to respond to. The parties then coordinate their measures in such a way that they get the desired results from the CPB calculation. That is good for the campaign.”
Apart from adjusting the measures, it is almost never the case that the calculation actually had an influence on the outcome of the elections, says Van Wijnbergen. The parties that decide not to participate in the calculation will not notice this much in the long term either. But that parties that do not do it, such as the PVV and the Party for the Animals, are viewed critically when choosing not to participate, Van Wijnbergen does not think so. “You can go to a party for that. If a party says: ‘I am not participating’, it actually shows that the plans may not yet be concrete enough and that sends the signal that the party does not know what they are going to do.”
The most important argument for the calculation is that it forces politicians to make the election program concrete. “That is a big plus of the calculation. The parties have to make realistic plans, otherwise, it will become clear during the calculation.” If it were up to Van Wijnbergen, the tradition of calculating can therefore remain. “But more emphasis should be placed on the fact that they are just numbers, and that those numbers are only an indication, which can certainly be wrong.” Incidentally, we should not expect that from politics, says Van Wijnbergen. “We can continue to expect them to pay attention if, according to the calculation, their party really does generate more jobs, whether that is an indication or not.”