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The Rich Have More

May 6, 2009

There is an article in the New York Times Magazine by an American expat living in Holland about how having the government take more than half your paycheck isn’t as bad as it seems. It’s a pretty good article, and if America is headed in a more social democratic direction (as I fear we may be) then we would do well to look more towards the sensible policies of some more socially democratic countries, rather than the sort of populist demagoguery that is sometimes popular on the American left.

Anyway, what caught my eye in this piece in particular was the following bit:

The Dutch are free-marketers, but they also have a keen sense of fairness. As Hoogervorst noted, “The average Dutch person finds it completely unacceptable that people with more money would get better health care.” The solution to balancing these opposing tendencies was to have one guaranteed base level of coverage in the new health scheme, to which people can add supplemental coverage that they pay extra for.

Note that the third sentence contradicts the second. The Dutch find it totally unacceptable that the rich should get better health care than everyone else; that’s why they designed their system so that the rich could get better health care than everyone else.

To quote Alec Baldwin’s character from a recent episode of 30 Rock. “Yes, important people get better health care. They also get better restaurant reservations, bigger seats on planes.” To which I might add that they get better police protection, better roads, congressmen are more likely to return their phone calls, and so forth. So yes, the rich have more. Also, there is no tooth fairy. I’m not saying you have to like the fact; but you should probably accept it and plan accordingly.

Nor is it much of an answer to say that we should build a society in which there are no rich people. Whether we’re talking about a socialist paradise like Sweden (where one family controls about a third of GNP) or a socialist distopia like North Korea (where, I hear, Kim Jong Ill manages to do quite well) every society will have its rich and poor, at least in relative terms. The rich you will always have with you. The main difference is that in Sweden (as in the United States) people generally get rich by meeting peoples needs, wants, and whims. In a free society rich people give us computers, cancer treatments, and Harry Potter, in exchange for which they get lots of money. Try and prevent people from attaining riches, and you very quickly find that everyone is having to do without.

This is why, despite all the rhetoric to the contrary, the Dutch have basically decided that it’s okay if people with more money get better health care, so long as everyone gets an adequate amount of it. In doing so they still face a trade off (as the article itself notes), and perhaps a better trade off could be designed. But at least they are going into it with their eyes open.

  1. May 6, 2009 9:24 am

    Ok. I’ll ask the dumb question.

    What exactly is an “adequate” amount of health care?

  2. Kurt permalink
    May 6, 2009 10:03 am

    The Timesarticle begins to touch on an often missed point. Without commenting on the merit of the Dutch social system, Americans really use the wrong term to describe it.

    Socailism is viewed favorably by many Europeans because it did the political heavy lifting in transforming most European nations into parlimentary democracies. Kim Jong Ill is not someone who comes to mind as an example of socialism to Europeans, but instead it is often the men and women who played the role of George Washington in thier respective nations. Remember, a mere hundred years ago, few Europeans lived in a democracy.

    But despite their primary and heroic role in winning parlimentary democracy, the Socialists were less lucky at then winning elections. That skill went to the Christian Democrats. And in the Netherlands and other Low countries, as well as Germany, Austria, Italy and elsewhere, it was the Christian Democrats who developed, designed and implemented the social welfare systems currently in place (with the hand of the Catholic Church very much in the mix).

    The author correctly observed “There is another historical base to the Dutch social-welfare system, which curiously has been overlooked by American conservatives in their insistence on seeing such a system as a threat to their values. It is rooted in religion. “These were deeply religious people, who had a real commitment to looking after the poor,” Mak said of his ancestors. “They built orphanages and hospitals. The churches had a system of relief, which eventually was taken over by the state. So Americans should get over ‘socialism.’ This system developed not after Karl Marx, but after Martin Luther and Francis of Assisi.”

  3. jonathanjones02 permalink
    May 6, 2009 10:14 am

    This model strikes me as extremely problematic for the future. I’ll probably do a post on this if I ever have time, but I’d like to see someone address Bruce Bawer’s points:

    He puts up, for instance, some numbers that really strike me as unsustainable (especially if one professes to care for people coming together for the common good).

  4. blackadderiv permalink
    May 6, 2009 10:23 am

    Ok. I’ll ask the dumb question.

    What exactly is an “adequate” amount of health care?

    I attempted to address this question (or, perhaps just asked the same question using a lot more words) here.

  5. blackadderiv permalink
    May 6, 2009 10:26 am

    in the Netherlands and other Low countries, as well as Germany, Austria, Italy and elsewhere, it was the Christian Democrats who developed, designed and implemented the social welfare systems currently in place

    Yes, and at least in the Netherlands a lot of those Christian Democrats were Calvinists!

  6. digbydolben permalink
    May 6, 2009 11:46 am

    blackadderiv, here in Germany I know a few of those European “Calvinists,” and they’re NOTHING like the American “Calvinists” that Morning’s Minion is always going on about: their “Calvinism” isn’t watered-down American-style fundamentalism and exceptionalism; they don’t divide the world into the “sheep” and the “goats” in any practical way.

    As a matter of fact, they don’t even bother trying to apply their religion to their politics, because they seem to believe that the political is entirely removed from the spiritual realm, and that politics ought to be governed by a reasonable, practical “law for man,” and spirituality to be governed by something entirely quietist, if you will.

    “Calvinists” in Germany mostly SUPPORT “gay marriage,” birth-control, and limited abortion-rights.

    Believe me, your conservative American politics have NOTHING in common with European “Calvinism”! And, in truth, if you want to intellectually confront Morning’s Minion with what TRUE “Calvinism” looks like, you should have him look at Northern European Protestant religious culture; it’s a “dualism” that leads directly to the kind of political and economic system he’d seem to prefer.

  7. May 6, 2009 12:15 pm

    I like this post. I think you need to say what it means to accept what I agree to be a sound assumption (rich get better stuff). In other words, “yes” but what does that mean?

    Thanks for being interesting…


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