Friday, May 08, 2009

Going Dutch

I'm a little late to the party in commenting on it, but this article in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine is worth reading, for a fascinating and detailed look at what it's like to live in the Netherlands and participate in a high-tax, welfare state economy. The Dutch system is an interesting mix of public and private elements, and it has its good and bad points, but for many people, particularly families, it sounds like you get your money's worth! It's hard to sum up the article in a quick quote, as the whole point is that the usual stereotypes don't apply and the system is full of surprising contradictions:

American perceptions of European-style social welfare are seriously skewed. The system in which I have embedded myself has its faults, some of them lampoonable. But does the cartoon image of it — encapsulated in the dread slur “socialism,” which is being lobbed in American political circles like a bomb — match reality? Is there, maybe, a significant upside that is worth exploring?

Let's focus first on the slur. 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?
Read the rest of "Going Dutch" to find out!


Anonymous said...

That was a great article.
Reading about their healthcare model was pretty cool (I am in healthcare and worried what a US model of "universal hc" would be; pretty scary regardless). The Dutch model seemed pretty good with a parallel setup in significant ways to the current US system. However, a close friend of mine lived in Holland for two years after marrying her Dutch husband: she said it is a nightmare system that operates in a severe restricted HMO kind of fashion - but way worse than US HMOs. She's worked for a HMO (kind of an unethical crappy one too)for 20 years, so that is saying a lot.


Jerry said...

I don't know what to think about the Dutch system. I am living and studying in SE Europe right now, and we know some Dutch diplomats who are quite complimentary about their health insurance system in Holland. I think that whatever we do in the US (and somehow, the future will lead to some changes) we should at least learn from what works and what doesn't in other parts of the world.