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CARNIVAL SEASON in the southern Netherlands is a week-long spectacle of Rabelaisian debauchery. On February 28th Leon Elsjan of Wipper, a freelance sound technician, was running the sound system at the carnival-ending dance party in the town of Uden, watching costumed revellers consume vast amounts of beer. It would be his last gig for some time. This year’s carnivals were super-spreader events that introduced covid-19 to the Netherlands. In Uden, the death toll rivalled those in northern Italy, and the national government cancelled all public festivals until September.
Mr Elsjan of Wipper did not fall ill, but as a freelance, he was vulnerable in another way. To cope with the economic fallout from covid-19, the Netherlands introduced a wage-support programme similar to Germany’s Kurzarbeit system. The state pays 90% of the salaries of workers at hard-hit firms. But self-employed workers (12.5% of the labour force) are not covered. For them, the government created a bare-bones programme. Mr Elsjan of Wipper gets the maximum: €1,050 ($1,170) per month.
For decades, Europe’s vaunted welfare states have kept inequality relatively low. The covid-19 recession threatens that success in three ways. First, it…