The Netherlands is horrid! Bare breasts on all the newsstands (and the beach when the weather allows), graphic sex education in the schools, "soft" drugs freely available in "coffee" shops, condom boutiques pointedly advertising, soft porn on public TV and hard porn on pay TV, church attendance nearing 10% and declining, more than 50% of first children born out of wedlock, many couples with children never bothering to get married, less than 50% of the children even being baptized! The "Reverend" Jim Baker could not imagine a more sinful place.

And yet - the Netherlands has among the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the world, a very low murder rate, a fairly low abortion rate, a very low rate of death from drug use, no death penalty, many fewer people (per capita) in jail than the US, hardly any slums by US standards (and none to my knowledge of the rural slums common in parts of the US), and much less violent street crime than is typical in the US.

Some Americans will automatically attribute the difference to the Netherlands not being an immigrant country like the US. A few minutes looking around any larger city in the Netherlands will destroy that illusion.

Well ok, but the US has a lot more people. Sure, but the Netherlands has a much higher population DENSITY.

OK, but if we let the right Christian fundamentalists control things than the US will fix all those problems! Sure, just like Iran or Afghanistan under the Taliban.

The reason there is no Christian theocracy in the world today is because people rejected the concept after the horrors several such created in the 16th century, and the deaths of millions fighting over the question from the 10th through the 17th centuries. The US Constitution separates church and state for excellent reasons.

So what is the US to do? Far be it from me to write a prescription, but clearly we need a lot more people who look across the borders to see what works or might work. We have far too many political leaders today who are not only ignorant of the outside world, but proud of it.

But I think improvement has to lie in ensuring that all children receive adequate nutrition, a good education, a vision for a positive future, and the opportunity to do their best. (See also Discrimination - how to hurt yourself.)

PS: No, the Netherlands is not perfect. Certain types of property crime are certainly a problem, as is violence related to some sporting events. I used the Netherlands as an example because I know it fairly well, and have roots there.

last update 9 December 2000

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