Dutch Wonderland!


Rembrandt by Ingrid Bouws

Rembrandt van Rhijn

Tolerance ranks high among the markers of being Dutch. In paint­ings of Rembrandt van Rijn one can possibly see that he was liberal and tolerant (Hoekveld-Meijer). Many scholars and politicians main­tain that the Netherlands has a tradition of tolerance that harkens back to the 17th Century, generated by the Dutch tradesman spirit.

‘It’s a misconception that the Dutch are essentially racist and that they discriminate’ (Derksen, 2005, 38; italics mine -ldj). Paul Scheffer, who coined the concept of ‘a multicultural drama’ in the Netherlands, up­holds his confidence in the Dutch: ‘Most people have essentially noth­ing against the presence of immigrants, and they want to live peace­fully with them (Hooven, 2006, 112; italics mine -ldj). These reassurances of the Dutch being essentially good people may be an indication that nowadays the Dutch tend to behave differently than in the immigrant era of the 17th Century, suggesting that the Dutch have temporarily wandered off from the correct Dutch course. This Golden Century, as it is called in the Netherlands, still serves as a rich source for Dutch identity construction.

Being Dutch is clad with undisputed and rather sturdy securities: the rule of law, individual freedoms, social and healthcare securities, free education and leisure time, and guaranteed subsistence levels. These securities and services are constantly scrutinized, subject to political debate and parliamentary decision, and balanced with a significant tax burden to maintain Dutch Wonderland, upgraded one day or downgraded the next. Dutch Wonderland did not just happen; it is a complex political construction that requires ideological drive and savvy political skills.

All told social solidarity has for decades been a cornerstone of Dutch politics. A hundred years ago free education and voting rights were de­fining issues on the Dutch political agenda, complemented with mini­mum wage; low premium health insurance (Amsterdam first, in 1846; Health Insurance Fund for labourers, in 1870); unemployment ben­efits; public housing (Woningwet 1901); rent subsidies (Wet Individuele Huursubsidie 1986); and old age pension (AOW, for residents 65 and over; since 1957). These rights and services are found in most West­ern European countries, though in varying degree. The Netherlands stands out in particular with regards to public housing, provided by Housing Corporations. As part of their building activities, these Cor­porations are bound to provide social housing, including its mainte­nance. At the end of the 1990s 36 % of all housing in the Netherlands was classified as social housing against a European average of just 18 % (Duijndam, 2009, 31). In 2004 the Netherlands’ social housing share had fallen to 34 %, yet the shares in other European countries were still much lower: Italy 5 %, France 17 %, Germany 5 %, Den­mark 19 %, and the United Kingdom 20 %. Over the years a politi­cal majority within the Dutch multi-party system agreed to keep this social edifice standing, financed with public funds, general taxes or specific premiums.

According to a recent study Americans spend twice as much as residents of other developed countries on healthcare, but get lower quality, less efficiency and have the least equitable system. The Netherlands ranked first overall on all measures of healthcare-quality, efficiency, access to care, equity and the ability to lead long, healthy, productive lives. Better than Britain, Canada, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and the USA.


The tax burden of Dutch Wonderland does not stand in the way of living well. A recent study by the Netherlands’ Central Planning Office compares the social and economic indicators of the Netherlands with those of other countries. These countries are grouped into the Scandinavian (government) model, the Continental (corporate or Rhineland) model, the Mediterranean (family-oriented) model and the Anglo-Saxon (free market) model. This study summarizes ‘that a high tax burden is quite compatible with a high level of welfare and prosperity. In nearly all respects, the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands outperform the Continental, Mediterranean and Anglo-Saxon countries. Poverty is low, older people are better off, there is less discrimination, and the level of health care and education is higher. These countries score high on the European Union “Lisbon” agenda (2009) of social cohesion, economic resilience and dynamism’ (Cnossen, 2009).

USA expatriates who live and work in the Netherlands are at first stunned by the maximum rate of the tax they have to pay on their income: 52% (Shorto, 2009). After a while they count the blessings of what government returns: monies for child benefits, school-materials, and children’s day care; vacation money on top of salary and a minimum of 4 weeks vacation; universal healthcare with hardly any co-payments. Shorto, himself an American expatriate for some years, observes: ‘The Dutch seem to be happier than we are’, quoting a 2007 UNICEF study of the well-being of children in 21 developed countries that ranked Dutch children at the top and American children second from the bottom (UNICEF, 2007). Nonetheless, vociferous dissidents argue that the Netherlands’ social safety net is in tatters because of the game of free marketeers that has replaced government care and provision. People, who are not fit to survive on their own, or who lack the merits to compete in free markets, the unproductibles (onrendabelen) as it were, are falling through the cracks (Dam, 2009).

Knowing that the best is not good enough, and that Dutch comforts may have been better in the past, or even need repair, the Dutch are well off by almost all standards of personal freedom, individual security and