When people cite Northern Europe’s high standard of living, low poverty rate and high taxes that pay for excellent health care, education and transportation, it’s often dismissed as something the U.S. could never do. We’re too large, diverse and conservative they say to go with single payer health care or legal prostitution. There’s some truth to that, but Holland is an extremely diverse (and capitalistic) country that is closing prisons at a record clip and solving other very thorny social issues.
The Netherlands is famous for it’s “coffee” shops and red light districts, but it’s a mistake to assume these exist because of some deeply entrenched liberalism. One Dutchman told me the approach they take to these issues is threefold: Does it make money? Does it hurt anyone? Can it be done discreetly? And indeed their policies on drugs and prostitution generate lots of tax and tourist dollars while mitigating the harm to drug users, prostitutes and the public when it comes to vices that no society has ever managed to eradicate. Ever.
Besides that, the place is a joy to visit. The ubiquitous bike lanes along impossibly picturesque canals are in almost every city.. not just Amsterdam. The usual European magnificence of architecture and history are there in abundance and food and art and beer and ethnic food yada yada yada. And the ability to walk into a store and buy a joint doesn’t seem to have unraveled their society as some claim it would do here.
The Netherlands ain’t perfect. It’s below sea level in a world of rising seas for one thing. But in typical Dutch fashion, they’ve brought energy and ingenuity to the task of reclaiming and holding dry land. In fact, Dutch engineers are involved in flood control efforts in New York and Louisiana because of their expertise. Let’s see some pictures, eh?