Thursday, May 7, 2009

Socialism in Amsterdam...

I read one of the most interesting articles last night and want to share it with you. You'll need to register with the New York Times (it's free) in order to view it but I promise, it's well worth it. The article is written by an American who has lived in Amsterdam the past 18 months and his observations on life and *socialism* as practiced by the Dutch. Here are a few snippets from the article:

I spent my initial months in Amsterdam under the impression that I was living in a quasi-socialistic system, built upon ideas that originated in the brains of Marx and Engels. This was one of the puzzling features of the Netherlands. It is and has long been a highly capitalistic country — the Dutch pioneered the multinational corporation and advanced the concept of shares of stock, and last year the country was the third-largest investor in U.S. businesses — and yet it has what I had been led to believe was a vast, socialistic welfare state. How can these polar-opposite value systems coexist?

There is another historical base to the Dutch social-welfare system, which curiously has been overlooked by American conservatives in their insistence on seeing such a system as a threat to their values. It is rooted in religion. “These were deeply religious people, who had a real commitment to looking after the poor,” Mak said of his ancestors. “They built orphanages and hospitals. The churches had a system of relief, which eventually was taken over by the state. So Americans should get over ‘socialism.’ This system developed not after Karl Marx, but after Martin Luther and Francis of Assisi.”

So here is a little epiphany I had through the experience of living in Europe. Maybe we Americans have set up a false dichotomy. Over the course of the 20th century, American politics became entrenched in two positions, which remain fixed in many minds: the old left-wing idea of vast and direct government control of social welfare, and the right-wing determination to dismantle any advances toward it, privatize the system and leave people to their own devices. In Europe, meanwhile, the postwar cradle-to-grave idea of a welfare state gave way in the past few decades to some quite sophisticated mixing of public and private. And whether in health care, housing or the pension system (there actually is still a thriving pension system in the Netherlands, which covers about 80 percent of workers), the Dutch have proved to be particularly skilled at finding mixes that work.

The author of the article outlines both the positives and negatives of the Dutch system in such a way that really challenges the view we tend to have of socialism in this country. Again, well worth the time to read. Click here for the article, "Going Dutch" (it will direct you to register first).

1 comment:

Lisa Sharp said...

Here is a good video to watch-