Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Takeaway from the Dutch Elections

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Geert Wilders

Holland is in the news this week. They just had their elections and thankfully, the populist PVV party did not win the majority of votes, although it came in a close second. The rest of the world has been watching the Dutch elections closely, since it is the bellwether country for populism in the entire continent. Like the flu, populism is contagious, but the PVV’s relative defeat showed that the Dutch built up some resistance against the populist virus. France has Marine LePenn, leader of the National Front, Germany has the AfD, Italy has the Five Star Movement and Hungary is governed by ultra-right-winger Viktor Orban.

What does this disease consist of, you might ask? It manifests itself in the form of nationalism, anti-immigration on the right and anti-capitalism and a push for redistribution on the left. The ugly side of populism on both sides, is that it is based on exclusion, be it the ruling elite or immigrants, it pushes itself off by demonizing the ‘other’.

Geert Wilders, the leader of the PVV, is often referred to as the Donald Trump of the Netherlands. His is the second largest party at the polls, but that doesn’t mean that the PVV will even be part of the Dutch government, since no other party wants to work with him because of his extreme views on immigration.

In a nationally televised pre-election debate, the ‘Turkish crisis’ was discussed. This is in reference to two Turkish ministers being barred from campaigning in Holland in a bid to drum up support amongst the Turkish residents for Prime Minister Erdogan back home. This caused Turkish authorities to accuse the Dutch of being’ Nazis’. An angry crowd staged an all-out protest outside the Dutch consulate in Istanbul, stabbing oranges with knives and drinking gallons of orange juice. An outsider might conclude that the Turks have finally gone bonkers as a result of being ruled by a madman, but it appears that the color orange is linked to the Netherlands and stabbing oranges was their way to show their displeasure with the Dutch.

The debate then turned to healthcare. This is where I felt I was peeking into an alternate reality. Wilders accused Dutch Prime Minister Rutte of causing premiums and co-pays to go through the roof. (reminiscent of Trump’s comment on Obamacare: ‘It is in a death spiral’).

But this is what you need to know about the Dutch health care system. It is rated one of the best in the world and the average premium for basic insurance (which includes everything that Obamacare mandates and then some) is about $1000 a year with an average co-payment of $365. Compare that to the average cost in the US, with a premium of $3,000 and a deductible of $6000! On which planet are these people exactly living? So, to be fair, Wilders is not the bogeyman that most people associate with a ‘populist’ leader. He draws both from the left and the right. In terms of health care he is a socialist. In terms of immigration he is a right-wing nut.

Holland’s population of 17 million is about 5% of the US population and the Dutch have a choice of no less than 28 political parties, 12 of which are represented in government. Imagine having Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Trump, the Independents, Ted Cruz, the Green Party, the Communist party, the Legal Marijuana Now party, the Party for Animals and the Party for Seniors, all sharing seats in the House and Senate. The fun starts when such a multiparty system has to figure out how to run the country.

Still, looking at the choices that the Dutch have to make, between spending their health care budget on nursing homes rather than home care, whether the immigration issue should be handled locally or by negotiating with the countries of origin, the Dutch sound reasonable and centrist. Is this a result of their multi-party system or because they just have more common sense?

Compare that to the lunacy of the policies pushed forward by Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and the whole Republican establishment. The current budget proposal would abolish all funding for NPR, Planned Parenthood, and the National Endowment for the Arts, foreign aid and one third of the EPA budget. It would cut Medicaid while adding almost 60 billion dollars to a military budget that is already half what the entire world spends militarily. In fact, it is not that the Dutch are more moderate and centrist, they are simply not INSANE like our current regime. leave comment here