Social democracy

To the editor:

My name is Marijke Ormel, and I grew up in the Netherlands. In my late 20s I moved to the U.S. to be with my American boyfriend. I am writing this because so often I hear the term “socialism” misused.

The Netherlands and many other European countries have a social democracy. The definition of a social democracy is a political system in which social justice and equality can be achieved within the framework of a free-market economy and a government chosen by the people.

Many Americans often confuse a “social democracy” with total socialistic or communistic countries that have an authoritarian person in power and often only one party, which may limit personal freedoms and free enterprise.

The Netherlands has a government with a prime minister and many political parties. The people elect members of Parliament, and the largest party appoint a prime minister. Often the prime minister forms a coalition with several parties to create a majority; therefore, the coalition has to negotiate with each other to reach solutions.

I grew up in a middle-class family. My mother became a widow at age 40, and thanks to the Dutch social system, she received a pension, which enabled her to stay home and take care of her three children. We all went on to higher education. Tuition for the university ranged from $1,500 to $2,500 per year. This did not include room and board.

All Dutch parents get child support, which ranges from $250 to $350 every four months, depending on the child’s age. There is a universal old-age pension starting at age of 67, and it’s the same amount for everybody. In addition, most people who work have a pension plan.

Health insurance is private, but insurance companies negotiate with the government, and you have several plan choices. The family doctor is always free, and no co-pays. We have labor unions, which negotiate with the government about benefits. For example, every employee has four weeks of paid vacation yearly, and once a year, in May, every employee gets one extra month’s salary for vacation money. Older Dutch workers, over 55, get extra vacation time.

Now, of course, there are taxes, but not as here in the U.S., where you have state, federal, Medicare, Social Security, FML, UI and school taxes. So there is one tax which for the top 10% — the tax can be as much as 65% — and for low incomes it is around 19%. We do have sales taxes, and we have property taxes which are generally much lower than here.

In a “social democracy” there is personal freedom and many benefits. Studies routinely find that citizens of social democratic countries are the happiest people in the world. Don’t be afraid of a word; learn about the possibilities.

Marijke Ormel

Saranac Lake


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