Monday, September 10, 2012

Dutch Treat

I just returned from a family vacation week in the Netherlands spending time at the Floriade (which is the once every ten years flower show) as well as time in Amsterdam and the surrounding areas. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Certain observations and comparisons are inevitable and these observations may help us and our county in the years ahead.

First is the observation regarding scale. Everything seems smaller. Not the people but the cars, the homes, the stores etc. And yet it is clear that smaller works very well. The largest cars I saw during the entire week, with very rare exception, were no larger than our mid size cars and SUVs were few and far between. (Under the heading of full disclosure, I did see one Chrysler 300 and 2 Bentleys. Interesting, I thought the Chrysler stood out in a more distinctive way.) Now back to smaller cars: think about the savings in gas if we can adjust to a smaller scale. We have been slowly moving in that direction and I don’t think we are any the worse for that movement. We should continue this effort; it would be a great way to counter rising energy costs.

Housing, even in very upscale areas, also seems noticeably smaller. The square footage is much more limited and attached housing is much more prevalent, even in the suburbs. Many of the apartments and houses also came with roll down window shutters that provide extra weatherproofing and storm protection. And stores and restaurants are noticeably smaller. Now I happen to like large stores and huge malls in our country because of the selection that is available, but once again are we using our resources as efficiently as possible? I had no trouble finding anything I wanted even though the stores were often, by my definition, cramped.

Having done significant driving and also traveling on buses and public trams, I can also tell you that the infrastructure seems much better maintained. Bad roads were few and far between, though the roads were often too narrow for my comfort level. Highways had fewer lanes but Amsterdam did have traffic that rivaled downtown Manhattan. Therefore, the car was returned the day we arrived in Amsterdam. The trams in Amsterdam were clean and modern and the rail system throughout Europe is first rate. Now, infrastructure needs as we know are usually financed by government and here the Netherlands scale (tax rates) may be larger rather than smaller than that of the United States.

A comprehensive comparison of the Netherlands and the US requires more than a few observations and facts. Education, health care, a safety net, defense expenditures etc. are all part of the equation. And the reality is we want it all and we want it on the largest scale possible. We should as a people be able to do some downsizing (cars, homes etc.) on our own initiative and with miniscule impact on the quality of life. For the rest we need to confront the choices that we have been reluctant to confront. We know we can’t provide more with fewer resources. Government needs to cut back on spending, or increase taxes, or do both. Having all of the above is not an option. I look forward to the Presidential candidates giving us the necessary facts that will allow us to make these necessary decisions regarding who to vote for and what direction our country will follow.

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