A Moral Question During This COVID-19 Crisis


During this COVID-19 crisis more than a few moral questions are finally out in the open. Here’s one that sparked many a heated debate here in the Netherlands.

Before we go into the question, a quick background.

To help keep companies afloat during this economic crisis, which according to many publications, is only just beginning, the Dutch government has instituted the so-called temporary emergency measure NOW (a Dutch acronym for Temporary Emergency Measure Bridging for Employment). The principle of NOW is brutally simple: entrepreneurs can be reimbursed up to 90% of their wage costs if they expect to lose at least 20% turnover over 3 months due to the corona crisis. ‘Pay first, ask questions later’ is their motto during this crisis. A rather radical departure from the usual red-tape.
So far, some 92,000 entrepreneurs have file a request for NOW, according to various newspapers. 92,000 companies, big and small have requested this emergency support from the government (/the Dutch taxpayer). And there is, in principle, absolutely nothing wrong with that.

When things get murky…

I deliberately said in principle… Because among those 92,000 entrepreneurs is Booking.com ceo Glenn Fogel, who saw 85% of bookings of his world’s leading travel site just wiped out. According to a leading newspaper: ‘In over ten years, Booking.com has expanded from 1,000 to 18,000 employees, 5,500 of whom work in the Netherlands. The exact terms of the state aid to Booking.com are not known. The average income at Booking Holdings is almost 47 thousand euros per year. If the Netherlands pays up to 90 percent of the wages of the 5,500 Booking.com employees in our country via the NOW scheme for three months, the damage could amount to tens of millions of euros.’ In this context it might be noteworthy that the average income in the Netherlands is €36,500 per year. So the average booking.com employee is a rather well paid one.

In (the unlikely) case you’ve never heard of Booking.com, here’s an overview. The company is in debt. Booking Holdings, the US-based holding company, has against the US$6.3 billion in cash (!) a debt of US$7.6 billion. The company made €3,5 billion (US$3,500,000,000) profit last year, which it spent largely on a stock buy-back scheme. There are many that accuse the company of buying back shares to prop up the value of its shares, which would only benefit existing shareholders and employees whose bonuses are for a large extent a certain number of shares.

Averting lay-offs

As stated, the Corona pandemic caused bookings at the company to drop by 85%. Disastrous by anyone’s standards. Depending on how long this crisis will last before things go ‘back’ to a (new) normal, and how that new normal will look for Booking.com, measures will have to be taken.
Fogel has already made a first atoning sacrifice by handing in a whopping 20% his salary. At the same time, the Works Council noted, Fogel’s salary is only a fraction of his fee: in 2018, his fixed wages were $ 750,000, but thanks to bonuses and shares, he was able to add a total of $ 20.5 million to his bank account that year. So this atonement was ‘lead round scrap iron’ as we say here.

Stop the (now much less) expensive share buy back scheme, which cost Booking US$14 billion in the last two years, is another demand from the Works Council in order to minimize the number of forced lay-offs among their 5,500 strong workforce.

The latest measure is applying for the NOW-scheme…

A moral question…

The question basically is to what extent this is the classic trick of business in an economic crisis: privatize profits, socialize losses. Let the (Dutch) taxpayer pay to prevent lay-offs.

In the previous crisis, banks did this incredibly well. Billions of profits disappeared into the pockets of employees and shareholders, the losses came to taxpayers worldwide.

The other way

Now, let me the first to paraphrase the ceo of Shake Shack who stated on CNN that ‘in this pandemic no company is unsinkable’ and that every company has the obligation to care for their people. Exactly why Shake Shack initially requested the emergency loan. The above linked article opens with:

Shake Shack (SHAK) is returning a $10 million loan it received from the US government under an emergency program that was touted as a way to help small businesses pay workers and keep their operations running during the coronavirus crisis.The burger chain was awarded the loan as part of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The $349 billion stimulus package, overseen by the Small Business Administration (SBA), ran out of funding last week. Over the last few days, there has been a growing backlash over the distribution of the funds. Several media outlets have revealed how large chunks of the package were taken up by chain restaurants, hoteliers and publicly traded corporations, rather than small, local businesses

Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti and chairman Danny Meyer revealed their decision to give back the funding in an open letter Monday, saying that the NYSE-listed company no longer needs the money because they are “fortunate to now have access to capital that others do not.” The company said in a filing Friday that it expects to be able to raise up to $75 million from investors by selling shares.’

Now, there’s a novel way, selling shares to get the cash-infusion the company needs to pay its employees.

Booking.com might well take a look at this and think again what they will do with the $4 billion in loans they claim to have secured. Now is the time for some ‘caring capitalism’ instead of the ‘savage capitalism’ where shareholder value has been King.

If You Think Artists Are Useless • Monday Mural, 20 April

If you think artists are useless • Monday Mural

If You Think Artists Are Useless • Monday Mural, 20 April.

If you think artists are useless • Monday Mural
If you think artists are useless • Monday Mural

This mural was sent to me by an opera singer who saw all of her planned performances cancelled. As did do many other artists. The Dutch government has allocated €300 million to help all artists. Whereas their real damages in terms of lost income due to cancellations is at least four times that.

Entry in Sami’s challenge April 20.

For more Monday Mural entrees, click here.

My View From The Couch • Monday Window, 20 April

My View From The Couch • Monday Window

My View From The Couch is my entry in Ludwig Keck’s challenge Monday Window, 20 April. It is exactly that, the view I had when I was lying on my girlfriend’s couch.

My View From The Couch • Monday Window
My View From The Couch • Monday Window

Click below to see what fellow bloggers cooked up for this Monday Window, 20 April.

monday window-badge-2

If you’d like to see more of my Monday Windows, click here.

Fandango’s Friday Flashback • Insane51 Berlin Mural

Berlin Mural • Monday Mural 16:9

Fandango’s Friday Flashback • Insane51 Berlin Mural. I’ve not been a blogger nearly long enough to be able to go a year back. So this re-post of Monday Mural on #FFF is from February 17.

Insane51 Berlin Mural • Monday Mural

We found this mural at the foot of the Oberbaumbrücke in Berlin.

Berlin Mural • Monday Mural

With the help of scooj (https://scooj.org/ and see his comment below) the artist is a Greek by the name Insane51. It is kind of a 3D mural, with a blue lens you get to see the woman, with a red lens her skeleton.

Sami then pointed this YouTube video out:

That also led me to his video of how he makes his art:

How Insane51 works…

Discovered on December 3, 2018. Entry in Sami’s challenge February 17. For more of my entries, see for instance this.

All-in-all I find this ‘collaboration’ of an Insane51 fan for this Monday Mural post truly great!

Advertising On Top • April Squares

Advertising on top of a building

I don’t see them that often anymore. These remnants of advertising ‘brands’ of a foregone era on top of buildings. A sense of nostalgia when advertising was still great.

On top of the wall • April Squares
On top of the wall • April Squares
Advertising on top of a building
Advertising on top of a building

For BeckyB.‘s April Squares challenge.

COVID-19 Door • Thursday Doors

COVID-19 door • Thursday Doors

For Norm’s Thursday Doors is this rather disturbing photo of what I’ve dubbed a COVID-19 door. I’ve thought about whether to post this photo or not, long and hard. But the relaxed way more than a few of us treat the quarantine rules and advice called for a hard confrontation in my case.

I never got to know Johan really, merely greeted him with a smile or a nod when I was passing by. But for me he was anything but an abstract statistic and his passing away due to Corona hit me harder than I had ever imagined. Johan is the first victim of this virus that I could actually put a face to. And suddenly this feeling of ‘it’s bad out there…but it won’t touch me’ was no longer there. I was an untouchable no more as it had reached the outer rings of my own little world.

COVID-19 door • Thursday Doors
COVID-19 door • Thursday Doors

On Top of the Bollard • April Squares • Mid-Week Monochrome

On top of The Hague Bollard
On top of The Hague Bollard
On top of The Hague Bollard

Tourists in Amsterdam and the Hague notice them immediately, the bollards with the city emblem on top of them. For locals they’ve become a blind spot unless you’re trying to park your car that is. Whereas the bollards in Amsterdam are painted in burgundy red and have the city’s emblem of the three crosses near the top of them, in the Hague they are dark green. Which makes them all the harder to notice them when you’re backing into a parking space at night.

They are adorned with a stylized stork holding an eel in its mouth, the Hague’s emblem.

Where does this symbol come from?

According to this site the birds are the heraldic symbol for The Hague adopted, according to tradition, because so many white storks nested in the city in medieval times drawn by the rich pickings of the fish markets. Today the stork can be seen across the city on buildings, atop church spires and on a bewildering array of souvenirs and artworks.
If you’re really interested, On It’s Tall Legs and Looking Down It’s Nose: A History of The Hague’s Stork is a fascinating read.

On the front of The Hague's City Hall
On the front of The Hague’s City Hall

Joint submission for BeckyB.’s April Squares challenge and Brashley Photography’s Mid-Week Monochrome.