Interesting map, for a few reasons. The United States is in green, which means there are “no special safety risks” to worry about. What I take this to mean is that as long as you stay out of, say, North Sacramento, or East Austin, when the sun goes down you’ll be safe.
The “pay attention, safety risks” label makes quite a big jump in my conceptual understanding of this map. What this warning means is that if you are particularly stupid, you won’t end up getting mugged and losing your wallet (like you would in green areas), you will instead end up losing your life or being kidnapped for ransom (or slavery).
This is quite a big jump, but it makes perfect sense, especially if you think about the jump in terms of inequality and, more abstractly, freedom.
That’s the subject of my weekend column over at RealClearHistory. An excerpt:
6. The Dutch Empire vied for supremacy with the Portuguese empire, which, beginning in 1580 with the Iberian Union of Spain and Portugal, was a rival Catholic state attempting to establish a global hegemony of its own. The Portuguese were actually the first Europeans to establish trading forts throughout the world, but the aforementioned Iberian Union severely weakened Lisbon’s plans for global hegemony due to the fact that the union made Portugal the junior partner. The Dutch conquered and then established colonial rule at Portuguese colonies on four different continents, and unlike the Portuguese, focused on commercial interests rather than converting the natives to Catholicism and creating a politically connected empire. Because of the commercial nature of the Dutch project, many of the indigenous factions were happy to switch from Portugal to the Netherlands as business partners. And partners they were. Both the Portuguese and the Dutch (as well as the British and French later on) paid rent to local political units on the trading forts they built throughout the world. Such was the nature of power on the world scene before the end of the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century.
Please, read the rest.
Yesterday, both Houses of Dutch Parliament jointly opened the parliamentary year, which is always held on the third Tuesday in September, and is known as “Budget Day.” Normally, there is not much pomp and glory in the Low Lands, but on “Little Princes Day” (as the day is literally called), we go all-out: the King and Queen are driven in a horse-pulled carriage to the Hall of Knights, the oldest part of the parliamentary buildings (built around 1250), surrounded by military troops in full ceremonial dress. The King reads his speech (actually written by and under full political responsibility of the Prime Minister and cabinet) from a huge throne, announcing the government’s plans for the next year. Male ministers in morning coats, ladies in dresses and hats, with the powerful elites also assembled.
After the reading, the Royal couple make their way back to one of their palaces in the centre of The Hague, returning once to greet the masses from the balcony.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Finance officially presents the 2018 budget to the Lower House. The separate budgets of all departments are laws, which will have to pass both Houses before 31 December. This process is normally preceded by a two day debate on “the general state of the country,” but this year it is skipped because there is only a caretaker government in office. It awaits the finalization of negotiations for a new government, which started right after the elections on 15 March. Still no government is formed, although it is widely expected that a four-party coalition will be presented within a few weeks, consisting of small Christian left wingers, centre Christian Democrats, and two social liberal parties, D66, and Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s VVD.
Although much improved since the low point of the Great Recession, around 2011-2012, the public finances are still shocking from a classical liberal perspective. The income of the national government is 285 billion Euro (around 338.5 billion USD), which is 43% of GDP.
It consists mainly of several mandatory insurance premiums for collective arrangements (112.2 billion Euro), income tax (55.4 billion; the highest bracket of 51.5% tax applies to all personal income over 68.507 Euro), and VAT (52.8 billion). The rest are mainly specific taxes, related to companies, the environment, excises, dividends, et cetera. In 2011, the public share of GDP was still 47%, while in the 1980s it reached peaks of around 60%. Not exactly anywhere near an ideal liberal situation, no matter what liberal persuasion you are. Personally, I would argue that 25% should be the max for a decent set of state tasks, but I am sure that makes me some weird Northern European commie in some American libertarian eyes!
The situation is even more dire if we see where that money is spent. Health care (80.4 billion euro) and social security (79 billion) are always in competition as the largest spending departments. So that is 56% of the budget already and both increase annually, no matter the economic circumstances. The third post is public education (35.4 billion), followed by funds for provinces and municipalities (24.4 billion), foreign affairs and foreign aid (12), police and judiciary (10.3), defense (8.4), and infrastructure and environment (also 8.4), with the other departments taking parts of the rest. Despite a very rare expected budgetary surplus of 7.8 billion in 2018, the national debt is still 53.7% of GDP. Perhaps not bad in international comparison, still not good for any liberal.
These numbers are only part of the story, because there are also numerous local taxes, and the number of liberty-inhibiting regulations, from European, national, provincial and local origin are staggering. There is not one really free market, and there are hardly parts of individual life not regulated or influenced by the state. A comparison with North Korea is of course still far-fetched, yet socialism is alive and kicking on the North Sea shores.
In my view it is evidence of the remarkable power of capitalism that The Netherlands is still one of the richest countries on earth, a global top 15 economy (GDP per capita), with only 17 million inhabitants. No matter how hard you curb it, the capitalist system still delivers amazing results. Of course, the opportunity costs of the Dutch regulatory state are very high. In terms of personal liberty there are not many better places on the planet. Yet in other fields it is a different story. Economic freedom is a mess, which means that the material aspects of personal freedom are seriously restricted. Yet the worst is the mentality. Sadly, most Dutch have traveled the whole Hayekian Road to Serfdom, making a shift to classical liberalism highly unlikely.
I met my friend about the art project last weekend. He told me that he is experimenting with an Escher-esque logo/banner for NOL. He doesn’t know how long it will take, and is not working on it full-time. In the meantime he is busy moving out from the city of Breda to Rotterdam, opening his own workshop, and making portraits for a book that he and I are working on. 🙂 I’ll keep you up to date if I hear anything new about the NOL artsy project.
His friend, Cheerted Keo, has a website that you can check out here.
Hello all. Apologies in advance for not posting more often since graduation. I’ve been reading a lot of books lately, rather than stuff on the internet, so I haven’t had much to link to lately.
Here is a list of a few books I have been working on:
- 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by the science journalist Charles C Mann. I know I’ve blogged about this book before, but I’ve finally got a little bit of free time to hunker down and read the whole thing. I’m about halfway through and it’s really good.
- Mastering Space: Hegemony, Territory and International Political Economy by the Marxist political geographers John Agnew and Stuart Corbridge. This is a pretty crummy book, but it was recommended because of some good critiques of the IMF and the World Bank that it supposedly has. I’ll keep ploughing through and hope for the best.
- The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age by the historian Simon Schama. This is a very well-written book about Dutch culture (not Culture) in the seventeenth century and so far I have not been disappointed. Schama eschews the political and economic aspects of the Dutch republic in favor of examining the everyday lives of its citizens.
- Democracy in Botswana which is edited by John D Holm and Patrick Molutsi. I picked this up for a research project I was doing last quarter and have not been able to let it go yet. It brings together a compendium of talks given at a conference held in Gaborone in 1989 to assess Botswana’s current status in the world, in sub-Saharan Africa and according to the citizens of Botswana.
Of the four books, I’d recommend 1493 to the intelligent layman, but the other three are definitely tough slogging.
UCLA’s library has an online exhibit (i.e. nothing too fancy) up on some of their archive material from the Dutch Golden Age. I thought I’d pass it along.
- Arts and Literature
- Politics, Economics and Religion
- Dutch Explorations in Asia
- Dutch Explorations in Africa and the Americas
Again, there is nothing too fancy or long-winded here, but I do recommend checking them out. I would also highly recommend picking up a good book on Dutch history sometime before the summer ends. Simon Schama’s The Embarrassment of Riches… or Johnathan Israel’s The Dutch Republic… Both are magnificent and far-sighted.
The Dutch republic also plays an important role in American history, as it is the political structure of this small republic that really influenced Madison and other federal framers. Its rebellion from the Spanish monarchy and its rule over Britain cannot be discounted in the historical legacy of the United States either.