Tuesday, July 6, 2010

"Going Dutch" on eldercare

I can remember, as a teen, that people spoke of “going Dutch” with some derision when it came to dating. Men were supposed to provide for women and future babies, right?

So today (July 6) the Washington Times Commentary has two articles about the Netherlands. One is by Ivan Kennedy, “Can America go Dutch? We have to if we want to return to the old America” by Ivan Kenneally, featuring a picture of wooden shoes. Yup, some financial companies like ING tried to rule the world and ran into their own versions of the Financial Crisis of 2008. But the Dutch are credited with creating New York City, and, for that matter a few centuries before, the stock market. The Dutch have always worked on their mix of individualism and state-directed cooperation, and their own version of civility, which may have overreached itself, at least according to another piece by David C. Innes, “Netherlands’ tragedy of state compassion: Socialism undermines more than government solvency,” link here.

The key sentence in his article seems to be “The Dutch have decided that a good society is a compassionate society, and so people should provide for one another's dignity and basic quality of life ... but only through the state. People needn't actually have anything to do with one another directly.” Later, it reads “when it comes to serving the needy, regardless of the family relationship, the modern Dutch consider it enough that they pay taxes.”

The social conservatives have summarized the paradigm of modern liberalism: the government takes care of the common good, so you can make your own choices; you’re only responsible for your own choices. Eldercare, with the whole issue of demographics, is certainly pulling on us. European countries generally do provide more public funding for custodial care than does the U.S., and, when combined with low birth rates and early retirements and public pensions, a totally unsustainable situation is accumulating. And Europe (especially the Netherlands) is running into much more tension over immigration, especially from Islamic countries, partly because family ties in Islamic society are not considered a matter of personal choice the way they have become in the West.

Even in the US, it used to be that you were tethered to your family until you formed one of your own. That started to change in the 1960s. But whether you get to choose all of your emotional commitments seems to remain a morally controversial question in freedom-based societies. And that may be putting it too narrowly.

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