America Going Dutch

The New York Times recently published an article “Going Dutch” by Russell Shorto. Shorto’s raving article about the benefits of living in the Dutch welfare state became the most emailed story of the week and is currently in contention for the most emailed story of the month.

Russell Shorto has been playing the part of the American in Holland, alternately settling into or bristling against the European way of life.

Russell Shorto sounds the praises of the Dutch welfare state. He raves about the ‘kinderbijslag,’ or child benefit, he receives quarterly and the annual check to cover the expenses for his children’s schoolbooks. Should America follow the model of the Netherlands on taxation and regulation? Absolutely.

The Netherlands has “succeeded” by greatly reducing state intervention into the economy and, in bargaining with the powerful Dutch labor unions, scaling back generous sick leave and unemployment benefits.

Shorto argues that the top Dutch tax rate of 52 percent might seem high, but when all of the various taxes in this country are tabulated the differences melt away.

Shorto also focuses on the wonders of the Dutch system of universal health care, while neglecting to mention that in 2006 the government undertook a series of market-based reforms in an effort to save what was once a sclerotic and expensive system.

Russell Shorto is rather disingenuous in portraying the Dutch welfare state as a fairy tale come true and has Dutch natives begging to disagree with his article in The New York Times.

There are indeed lessons to be learned from countries like the Netherlands. Which means that supporters of the “European model” must acknowledge that most of these successes are the result of a significant overhaul of base social democratic assumptions about government control of labor markets and health care systems. America is the land of the free, but the Dutch know how to work and how to live.

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