Going Dutch

by Henry on May 16, 2009

So, because I was in Europe last week, I didn’t post to my bloggingheads with Dan Drezner, talking about the joys (and limitations) of the European (for which read Dutch – EU member states differ dramatically in their provision of social services) welfare state. This was all riffing on a “piece in the NYT”:http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/03/magazine/03european-t.html?pagewanted=1&em which talks about the kinds of stuff that insurance covers in the Netherlands.

insurance covered prenatal care, the birth of their children and after-care, which began with seven days of five-hours-per-day home assistance. “That means someone comes and does your laundry, vacuums and teaches you how to care for a newborn,” Julie said.

I thought that this sounded _great_ myself, having gone through the ‘oh my god, they’ve sent us home with a baby and what the hell are we supposed to do now’ panic with our firstborn. Dan, not so much. Matt Yglesias and Matthew Continetti discussed the same article a few days later. Diavlogs below …



emjaybee 05.16.09 at 9:04 pm

How interesting for two *men* to blow off the value of post-natal help/overall help with childbirth/welfare in general, as “intrusive” (is it mandatory?) or assume that it might somehow reduce the “vibrancy and openness” of the US. What does that even mean, anyway? If the Netherlands is less diverse, is there any real evidence that this is because they are social democrats, other than a random conversation one of them had with a South American immigrant? Neither of them seem to understand anything about this program, or similar programs, much less how much they help *women*, who do most of the baby-caring-work and housework, which is what this particular program is meant to help with…temporarily. And their inability to even do the most scant research on this topic does not give me confidence that they know what they are talking about in terms of general comparisons between the US and European societies.


anxiousmodernman 05.16.09 at 9:47 pm

I second that.


rea 05.16.09 at 9:55 pm

. . . seven days of five-hours-per-day home assistance. “That means someone comes and does your laundry, vacuums and teaches you how to care for a newborn” . . .

Back in the olden days, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was young, one of the grandmothers would come and stay for a week to deal with this. But families are more geographically scattered now.


Bloix 05.16.09 at 10:20 pm

No fucking way you’re going to get me to watch Matt “never proofread, never explain” Yglesias talking to Matthew “who the fuck is Matthew Continetti?” Continetti about baby care. Neither one of these overgrown teenagers has ever even held a baby, for chrissakes. They are little boys who have been educated to believe that every thought they have must be true because they thought it, and that the rest of us are teetering on the edge of our seats to hear them dribble their pearly pearls of wisdom down their chins (double on the left, weak on the right).


Henry 05.16.09 at 10:34 pm

Umm, dunno if I am supposed to be one of the men blowing off in house childcare or not, but I wasn’t blowing it off, really,


Cannoneo 05.17.09 at 12:08 am

Do the still frames of these faces predict pretty much the entire content of the arguments?

Or do I have to click play?


David 05.17.09 at 12:12 am

I agree that is an unfair comment to direct at Henry re: childcare if it was directed at him.


dutchmarbel 05.17.09 at 12:58 am

You have to be a bit lucky with the person assigned to you (though you can ask for a replacement), but my husband and I will always be very very grateful for our first ‘kraamhulp’ (specialized after childbirth carer). Most Dutch women either have their child at home or get home a few hours after the birth and it is really nice to have someone take care of you, and teach you the tricks of childcaring (I had no idea that even dressing a baby can be done in easier ways) and help you breastfeed. She also checks the health of mother and baby, because the midwife usually only comes twice that first week.

It is not totally free though, you pay a small co-pay per hour, so not everybody opts for the help. It is also not provided by the government, but by specialized commercial institutions. The *payment* is part of government and healthcare regulations. The healthcare in the Netherlands is provided by competing insurers who have to follow the limits governments has set. Our first health-insurances pre-dated socialism; end of the 18th century commercial companies provided medicaid-like facilities for the poor masses created by the Industrial revolution – but when those institutions grew and became more competitive they developped flaws . It only became Universal health care when Hitler occupied the Netherlands and implemented the German Krankenkasse system to make it obligatory for everybody below a certain income.

Our taxes are progressive, 52% is the top. Our IRS has an English section (www.belastingdienst.nl). VAT is 6% for essentials (i.e. food), 19% for ‘luxury goods’.

In spite of what the NY Times piece says, the government doesn’t give an allotment, every employer is legally oblidged to pay 8% of the annual income in the summer (usually May). So it is more a legal obligation about *when* your wage is paid.

We bike because the Netherlands is flat and full (parking is hell). Biking in the Netherlands is a form of transport, not a sport. I’m currently searching for a dog trailer for behind my bike, which makes my English husband giggle – but he was happy to bike to work when his office was 18 km from our house, especially since his employer offered showers and lockers for people who bike to work. A while ago I came across a page made by an American sitting on an Amsterdam corner for 73 minutes, making pictures of byciclists. The funniest part for me is that I don’t understand what suprizes him since most of the things he sees are boringly normal ;)


Willem van Oranje 05.17.09 at 1:10 am

As a Dutchman, I’d like to make a few points:
First. Russell Shorto, the writer of the NYT-piece is clearly in the top marginal bracket of the (progressive) tax-system. He pays lower taxes over the income brackets below (33.5% and 42%). For the average Dutch, the amount of taxes is roughly 40% . In 2007, 39,2% of GDP was taxed nationally.
Second. You can spend your “Vakantiegeld” (vacation money) anyway you like. I guess Christmas bonuses don’t have to be spend on Christmas presents either. Is it?


chrismealy 05.17.09 at 3:50 am

This Anglo-Dutch bike blog really opened my eyes to what’s possible. Bikes bikes bikes!


workerbee 05.17.09 at 4:00 am

I think it’d be nice to know there was someone you could call upon for help if no other option is available. I’d be happy to see my tax dollars go to support that. Obviously it isn’t (nor should it be) mandatory. And yeah, what Matthew Continetti doesn’t know about life is a lot. (Yglesias occasionally has interesting things to say, but I agree that his lack of proofreading is annoying enough to make me avoid reading him most of the time.)


Witt 05.17.09 at 4:27 am

Drezner seems to be arguing against a strawman.

Also, there already are programs in the US that send a visiting nurse/social worker/equivalent into the homes of (mostly poor, single, teenager) mothers. If we’re worried about government paternalism — which I agree is a genuine concern — the thing to do is not to critique an apparently voluntary Dutch entitlement program available to all members of society, but to ask why this “open, vibrant” US society is sending meddling social workers into the lives of young, disproportionately minority women.


JoB 05.17.09 at 9:42 am

For the record, the Belgian system is even better (and our taxes higher still). We bike a lot less although most of the country is as flat. But we’re a lazy bunch of people. Henry, stop over here with your pals if you want to see how the future of the US looks like (&, yes, the food and the beer is better as well – & the VAT higher afaik). We had postnatal care for our first: it was great, absolutely voluntary, the only mandatory part is to go & have your baby checked up medically a couple of times in the first year (& get his/her vaccination). I’d say that argueing against this option is government meddling. We did not for the second and the third. Some people in the hospital tried to detain us in there for 5 days; we refused. Don’t know whether it was better for the baby; it was surey lots better for us ;-)


des von bladet 05.17.09 at 2:46 pm

As an immigrant into Dutch society, and a man who acquired a new-born here, I found the kraamzorg to be a very wonderful thing. If it compromised my Anglo-Saxon vibrancy (and I’m not sure it did, or that I had much to start with) it was a price well worth paying.

We did also have a grandmother in residence for the first few days, as it happens, but the kraamzorgers (we had two, although not simultaneously) were still immensely valuable at teaching us the current state of the art in neonate wrangling, politely but firmly showing visitors the door when their time was up, sending the mother to bed, cleaning, making sandwhiches and giving pharmacists some much-needed grief about the necessity of providing medication (for the mother) in a timely fashion.

(Of course, I share with previous commentators a deep and abiding indifference to your interlocuters’ opinions on these matters, and I have neglected to expose myself to them. Besides the cricket is on, so my audiostream is spoken for.)

Meanwhile, Shorto’s article was finally published in translation in this weekend’s NRC Handelsbad, but I can’t say I found it any the more persuasive for being in Dutch. (It’s a shame the NRC no longer seems to have a column from the FT’s Dutch-raised Simon Kuper; I’d ‘ve liked to see him respond, for sure.)


Kieran Healy 05.17.09 at 3:19 pm

I’m allergic to bloggingheads, but was there any particularly good objections to this form of help from Drezner and Continetti outside of “Well my wife will/did stay home so I don’t see much need for it, really” or “In my glibertarian imagination exhausted new parents don’t want the dead hand of the state helping them out at all”?


bianca steele 05.17.09 at 3:51 pm

I haven’t seen the videos (I don’t like bloggingheads either), but generally, I agree with Witt. The social-work ethos in the US is affected by the race situation here, as “the poor” tend to be equated with “African-Americans”–though 100+ years ago, as I understand it, similarly to the case in England, “the poor” were largely Catholic, with about the same dynamic. The idea is to raise the putatively uneducated to a middle-class standard. In Europe, where the population is generally homogeneous, contempt for the poor is less of an issue, as they’re seen as effectively members of the family. (So the theory goes. I suppose the fact that tradition still plays a large role in Europe, where people still live not so very far from where their ancestors going back generations did, also causes this not to be seen as an issue.) It’s not totally unreasonable for people to fear their individual ways of doing things will be seen as “uneducated” by professionals trained to recognize that dichotomy.


ingrid robeyns 05.17.09 at 7:16 pm

JoB – what is better in Belgium compared to the Netherlnads – the neonatal system, or the entire welfare state? I don’t think one can sensibly say this for either. They are simply different – both have plusses and minuses (and it depends for whom – for example, it’s much easier to see a doctor in Belgium than in the Netherlands, but then in the Netherlands doctors can have normal lives and even work part-time if they like, whereas in Belgium many of them work very anti-social (or anti-family) hours. So Belgian doctors are worse off in that respect than Dutch doctors (financially I don’t know), for the patients it’s the other way around, with often some waiting lists).

That said, for anybody who believes in social justice and the benefits of having some things left to the government or government regulation – both countries are paradises compared with much of what else we find in the Northern Hemisphere.

One of the great, really great thing about the Netherlands is that it is for many people possible to be mobile based on a mix of public transportation and bikes. And that is really to a significant degree thanks to governemnt provisioning, such as bicycle lanes and huge parking lots for bikes under the railway stations (the new railway station of Rotterdam will have a brandnew parking space for 5000 bikes). I have gotten so used to these facilities, that I don’t think I can seriously consider leaving this country again. Perhaps I’ll have to apply for Dutch citizenship !


ingrid robeyns 05.17.09 at 7:20 pm

by the way, we’ve discussed the system of Kraamzorg and welfare state arrangements for newborns/parents in the Netherlands here before:


JoB 05.17.09 at 7:40 pm

Ingrid – sorry, my tongue was stuck in my cheek. I agree both systems are paradises (& I’d also agree they can still be better). Your comment on Belgian doctors is spot on: the exodus has started a couple of years ago towards the Netherlands. That said, the better system would probably combine a touch of competitiveness in Belgium with a touch of public service in the Netherlands.

As to which system over-all is the better? On childcare I don’t know. On over-all social security I do believe the evidence is for the Belgian system. At relatively moderate per capita costs the cover (so from a user-point of view) is better. I hired Nederlanders & a friend of mine is now employed in Zeeland: the system is better. Judged from taxes it’s seen as more expensive but I think that the tax difference is mainly due to a non-social security difference (& obviously less government efficiency in this complex country).

Sorry for making you feel I wanted to turn this in a soccer match. I’m just tired we have a tendency to loose the actual soccer matches.

PS: are you Dutch or Belgian or otherwise caused to have a Flemish name?


nick s 05.17.09 at 9:41 pm

Biking in the Netherlands is a form of transport, not a sport.

Indeed. As someone who biked for fifteen years (albeit nearly a decade in the City of Dreaming Spires and Double-Locked Bikes, where it’s necessary) it pains me to see people who are compelled to cart bikes to “good cycling roads” on the back of cars and SUVs. But bakfietsen are fantastic.

I thought that Continetti’s time as American Tory Boy ran out a few years ago. More fool me. He’s still clueless, though.


John Quiggin 05.17.09 at 11:23 pm

Is there any chance of an automatic transcription service for bloggingheads? Then the large group of us who are allergic to it could discuss the discussions rather than our guesses as to what the participants probably said.


Kieran Healy 05.18.09 at 4:17 am

Looking at that second screencap again, I think John and Belle should dress up as Matt #1 and Matt #2 and record their own bloggingheads episode.


dsquared 05.18.09 at 6:45 am

And for the other one, I’m seeing the bloke out of “My Chemical Romance” as Henry, with Dan Drezner played by Alan Ruck sucking a lemon.


Katherine 05.18.09 at 8:18 am

You really really couldn’t find a woman who might have been interested in joining in this discussion? Really? Or just didn’t think of it? How very typically disappointing.


Freshly Squeezed Cynic 05.18.09 at 8:25 am

“It only became Universal health care when Hitler occupied the Netherlands and implemented the German Krankenkasse system to make it obligatory for everybody below a certain income.”

Dear God, don’t let Jonah Goldberg find out about that…


Freshly Squeezed Cynic 05.18.09 at 8:29 am

Also, I have to agree with Katherine and emjaybee; it seems an odd oversight that there are no women discussing the program.


Barry 05.18.09 at 10:42 am

I have to agree with Katherine, but further – it’s flat out ridiculous to start with.


Paul J. Reber 05.18.09 at 3:51 pm

I’m not clicking the video links, but anybody who argues against a program like this is a moron. Especially in the U.S. where we find our families scattered over a much larger geography than Europe. I have 4 kids and the want-to-be-helpful grandparents lived at distances ranging from 400 to 3000 miles at the births.

I’m intimately familiar with the terror of harming your newborn (fades after the first few kids, fwiw), the challenges of getting breast feeding going, mom and dad figuring out how to split sleep schedules, the practicalities of bathing, changing. Also sometimes there are postnatal issues that need monitoring — my kids all had transient post-natal jaundice, other babies need careful weight monitoring, colic, etc.

Honestly, it’s great when grandma helps out, but not all families actually want grandma living in the house. Not all grandmas want to be quite that immersed in baby care either. A home health aide who comes in for a fixed period on a schedule and then leaves, or can even be fired or sent away if there’s a personality conflict, sounds pretty freaking ideal.

I’m pretty sure I pay pretty close to 52% in initial income tax rate already, too. IRS rate + payroll (don’t forget the employer contribution, that’s coming out of your pay too) + state/city/county + property taxes. And I have full “health care coverage” as a university professor that actually sucks. We’re being forced once again to randomly change doctors even while in the midst of treatment because the HMO is pushing doctors off their rolls again.

You should also have seen those bills for both the hospital and emergency room care for the jaundice versus the home health care we knew to insist on for the later babies. But there’s nobody who’s thought carefully about health care for more than 30m who doesn’t understand that particular piece of idiocy about our current health care system.


norbizness 05.18.09 at 4:00 pm


P.S. The day I watch a bloggingheads.tv episode is the day I experiment with a closed garage, length of hose, and running automobile.


Barry 05.18.09 at 6:20 pm

Some notes I made while watching Henry and Dan ‘debate’:

Henry – assumes a causal relationship from a higher welfare state prop. of GDP and a ‘less vibrant’ economy. Ignores several factors, including that Holland is doing rather well, considering that their only resource is people (the USA lives on a vast continental-scale resource and power base).

Daniel – ‘shudders at the idea of somebody coming in and telling them how to heat their formula’. Doesn’t understand the idea of ‘optional’.

Henry – points out that Holland’s system is much better for people in the bottom 50%; ignores the idea that that might be rather important. Later, does pick up on the idea that, since most travel from the USA involves people from the upper half (third?) of the USA income distribution, that USA travelers might have a distorted view.

Daniel – again, assumes ‘vibrancy’ is being causally traded off.


ingrid robeyns 05.18.09 at 6:37 pm

JoB: Belgian passport, Flemish etnicity, left Belgium more than ten years ago (first to England, then to NL), without exclusive loyalties to any particular nation really. Since I have a fantastic job at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam and a Dutch husband, I think I’m settled here. Perhaps when I’m old I come back to Belgium for the good food and the creative chaos (if Belgium still exists then, of course, but “that is another discussion”:https://crookedtimber.org/2007/09/19/the-ingredients-of-the-belgian-cocktail/


Henry 05.18.09 at 6:58 pm

Hi Barry – how exactly did I “ignore” the importance of Holland’s system being better for the lower half of the income distribution? I raised it precisely because I did think that it is important, and self-evidently so. Or to put it another way, the fact that one system does much better than another system for the poorer in society is pretty obviously a good thing, and I don’t think that a detailed explication from Rawls or whoever as to why it is a good thing would have helped persuade much.

The vibrancy stuff for me isn’t really to do with economic growth, so much as a general openness to opportunities, diverse and interesting culture etc, which I think is present in the US but not so much in the continental European states that I have lived in (Germany, Belgium, Italy). Obviously, this may depend in rather important ways on my tastes and social preferences. But in any event, it doesn’t detract from the fact that I would much prefer the US to be like the Netherlands, than the Netherlands like the US (while I think there would be some costs involved if we were somehow magically able to transform the US, I think that the costs would be well worth paying).


David 05.18.09 at 8:49 pm

“Being born in the elite in the U.S. Gives you a constellation of privileges that very few people in the world have ever experienced. Being born poor in the U.S. gives you disadvantages unlike anything in Western Europe, Japan and Canada.”

David I. Levine, economist UC Berkeley


Jacob Christensen 05.18.09 at 8:50 pm

The Dutch system of post-birth care seems to be much more ambitious than the Danish where you (i.e. mothers who have given birth) “only” get two visits from a midwife and two from a nurse (sundhedsplejerske, for those who want to google that). This goes back to the 1930s, btw.

Considering that we Scandinavians tend to see the Dutch as being pretty traditional familywise, that’s a bit interesting.


Barry 05.18.09 at 10:48 pm

Henry 05.18.09 at 6:58 pm

” Hi Barry – how exactly did I “ignore” the importance of Holland’s system being better for the lower half of the income distribution? I raised it precisely because I did think that it is important, and self-evidently so. ”

You raised it (for which I should give you much credit, because it’s even more ‘invisible’ in such discussions than being female is), but didn’t *continue* it, even though it’s a very important thing. There was a comment I head once which echoed David’s: it’s better to be in the USA if you’re rich, and better to be in Europe if you’re poor. It’s really important *where* the tip-over point is. If it’s at the 25th percentile of the USA income distribution, that’s one thing; if it’s at the 75th, that’s quite another thing.


JoB 05.19.09 at 8:37 am

Ingrid, in reading your response it struck me: I never saw my being Flemish as an etnicity! Now I can understand better my co-etnicians. The chaos is still there and it’s a distinctive non-ethnic thing. As long as we are happily chaotic, Belgium exists ;-) Yes, why not?, we’re fighting the war on being over-organized! By the way: in the match of creepy extremists Flanders was ahead by a mile or so just to be beaten on the finish line by Holland, yet again ;-(


I don’t understand this:

so much as a general openness to opportunities, diverse and interesting culture etc, which I think is present in the US but not so much in the continental European states that I have lived in (Germany, Belgium, Italy).

I never actually lived in the US but was there for a good third of my time during 4 or 5 years. As far as I can see you rather compare urban vs. rural cultures (where do/did you live?). Maybe on the score of opportunities there’s something in what you say – continental Europe does not have the ambition the US has (which is a good and a bad thing because ambition has good and has bad aspects). But on the other 2 scores: no, I don’t think that’s true but am interested in you going in a bit more detail – maybe you’re right, maybe there is a sense in which Europeans are financially more egalitarian but less diverse in their everyday encounters.


Barry 05.19.09 at 1:27 pm

“…maybe you’re right, maybe there is a sense in which Europeans are financially more egalitarian but less diverse in their everyday encounters.”

I’d bet on the opposite. For example, I rarely encounter people who don’t speak English in my daily life. I do walk by people whose first language is not English, but I’m in a university town. I no longer work with anybody whose first language is not English.

I expect that this is different for most people in Europe (substituting the local language for ‘English’).

I imagine that Holland has a higher proportion of its GNP associated with foreign trade.

According to http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/eco_exp_pergdp-economy-exports-per-gdp, Holland is #31 (59%), vs the USA at #179 (8%).


Zamfir 05.19.09 at 2:09 pm

Barry, numbers like that can be highly misleading. They represent, in the Dutch case, mostly imports that are directly exported again, to Germany mostly, and the rest of the EU too. If you pick a 17 million inhabitants-sized part of the US that contains a major seaport, you’ll easily find that it “exports” similar amounts to the rest of the US.

The question is: do contacts with other Europeans count as international, or as the equivalent of large distance contacts within the US. The truth will lie somewhere between those, but I find that American tend to see the EU as a sort of badly functioning US, and count intra-EU contacts relatively more as “national”, while Europeans themselves consider the other parts of it very much as other countries.


PGD 05.19.09 at 5:00 pm

It seems crazy to me to say that the U.S. is more diverse than Europe. Maybe within each country, Europe is less diverse, but the cross-country diversity in Europe is far greater than you see in the U.S. For its physical size, the U.S. is certainly one of the world’s most homogenous nations (along with Canada and Australia).

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