As President Obama and his fellow ultra liberals pursue their plans to increase government spending, effect a Robin Hood style redistribution of private wealth and nudge the US toward becoming a secular socialist society what will America look like in the future? Can we in the new world learn anything by observing the old world?
Hopefully we will never get in as bad economic shape as Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain or Ireland, but how good a predictor of a future USA would the Netherlands be? It might be fun to take a look.
Holland is perhaps the arch-typical European secular social welfare state. Their armed forces have recruited gays (along with straights) for some time; prostitution and drugs of all kinds are completely legal there all of which seems to reflect the path the US is steering.
Economically, according to Bloomberg Business News, the Netherlands’ productivity per capita is about $44,000 per year; the United States’ is about $50,000; 10.5 percent of Holland’s population is below the poverty level; that figure is 14.8 percent in the US. Further, 7.1 percent of Dutchmen are unemployed, compared to 6.6 percent in the US.
The Netherlands’ national debt as a percent of GDP is 71 percent while the US’ is 103 percent; its current deficit as a percent of gross national product is 4.10 percent, the US’ 8.34 percent. All in all the two are fairly comparable although percentage-wise the Netherlands appears a little stronger than the US.
So if the Netherlands is a microcosm of the future United States what does it look like? Currently Dutch political leaders are fixated on the 4.10 percent budget deficit. European Common Market nations are held to an annual budget deficit standard of 3 percent or less.
The Dutch have had small surpluses until the international financial crisis struck in 2008 and have struggled ever since. Their center-right Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, has pushed budget cuts and tax increases but still can’t quite close the gap.
And so it was that Dutch King Willem-Alexander announced to his subjects last fall: “The classical welfare state is slowly but surely evolving into a participation society. Everyone who is able will be asked to take responsibility for their own lives and immediate surroundings.”
He defined: “participation society” as a place where, in the interests of both community and government belt-tightening, its members do more to help each other before turning to the state for aid.
There are many examples of the participation society concept. They include family or friends taking responsibility for the care of older people — driving them to medical appointments or helping them clean their homes — before seeking out state support at later stages.
The unemployed are being asked to clean streets and parks in exchange for their benefits, a program which may become national law this summer. New proposals include asking the elderly and chronically ill, to the extent possible, to also volunteer in exchange for their social security payments.
Critics allege that the scheme is nothing more than disguised budget cuts but a former Bush economic advisor praised Prime Minister Rutte’s plan saying: “They deserve a . . . salute for innovative reforms that governments world-wide might usefully emulate in the interest of maintaining a targeted, effective and affordable safety net.”
Does this mean the US is on a path to become a do-it-yourself welfare state? Well, everyone who thinks America can continue incurring huge deficits and not eventually look like Greece and Italy, raise your hand. What? No one?
I thought so.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates, and has served on the Washoe County and Nevada state GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.