I was in Amsterdam riding in a new Tesla Taxicab. My driver told me his company had just bought 167 of the expensive, fully electric cars as part of a sustainability project with the airport. Elegant, comfortable and responsible, reminding me of the incredible common sense of the Dutch.
It was News Years Eve. For the past three days, the Dutch had been buying fireworks, which are illegal the rest of the year. From dark till dawn people in city squares, along narrow streets and on boats in the canals, shot off fireworks. There were no policemen; no yellow tapes holding people back. The packed streets were good natured and friendly.
It is the epitome of the Dutch approach to sinful and excessive behavior. Don’t forbid it. Contain it. People are always going to buy sex so make it legal and keep it in one small part of town. People are always going to look for natural and synthetic ways to get high, so make the safest of them legal but contain them sharply. (No drugs in public places, steep fines for smoking in hotel rooms, can’t smoke and drink in the same place.) The Dutch even try to protect those who break the rules, by posting signs warning tourists to avoid heroin being sold as cocaine.
Common sense is, unfortunately, rare and it makes Dutch common sense stand out. After World War II the Dutch were determined to prevent the conditions that created the great depression of the 1930’s and the war that followed. After five years of intense negotiations, labor, management and the government agreed to a governing structure that essentially requires the consent of all three groups on major national decisions.
The Social-Economic Council (SER) has three main goals: balanced and sustainable growth; full employment (unemployment is only 4.4% at the moment); and a fair income for everyone (minimum wage is the equivalent of US $19 and hour)!
You rarely hear about this side of Europe in the American press. Our headlines proclaim that austerity and social benefits are being drastically cut, as Europe rushes to embrace American capitalism. Maybe in Greece. In the Netherlands, their austerity talks are about nibbling at the margins, increasing the retirement age from 65 to 67 over eight years for example.
Not on the table are current unemployment benefits of 70% of your last-earned salary for up to three years; a state pension for every citizen over 65 roughly equality to a full-time minimum wage salary ($19.00 an hour) (compare that to social security); generous support for the arts; strong commitment to public transportation and a sustainable future, universal free health care and education. The poor American public has no idea. No wonder 75% of the Dutch turn out to vote. They know they are all in it together. It’s just common sense.
Final Thoughts. What if the United States had ended up as a Dutch colony? They settled here in 1613 and eventually claimed territory from just south of Cap Cod to well into Delaware and Pennsylvania. This was the Dutch Golden Age when their empire was already known for their multiculturalism and religious tolerance. Accepting refugees from all over Europe. Native Americans, French Huguenots. Scandinavians, Germans, English and African slaves all lived together. Even with slavery, the Dutch were more lenient than most. African slaves could testify in court, sign legal documents and bring civil actions against whites if they thought they were being mistreated. Some slaves worked after hours and made as much as white co-workers.
Woops, I didn’t mention food! Most of it was great!