My conservative brother accuses me of being a “Liberal”. He pronounces the word in a disgusted manner that can only be mastered through intensive training; consisting of prolonged exposure to Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly on Fox News. He recently went a step further and blamed my continued residence in a socialist country (the Netherlands) for completely destroying my sensibilities. If he was familiar with the French political system, he would be horrified to realize that my husband was raised a little to the left of the socialist party! Yes, my world view has definitely been altered since I moved away from the Midwest of the US, and broadened.
Now, as we wake up to find the US and global financial markets plunging deeper into crisis each morning, I would like to point out a distinct difference in experiencing this financial crisis while living in the Netherlands. Yes, my personal financial future is impacted;my savings and investment accounts are in US banks and my husband’s retirement fund dwindles each day along with the CAC 40 in Paris. Our mortgage is held by one of the Dutch banks, which are also in trouble and soon likely to consolidate into few survivors. Yet, we have not been checking our portfolios obsessively and instead have a surprising sense of calm.
While the chaos continues, the state of the global financial markets is followed closely and widely discussed here in the Netherlands, but there is not the same sense of panic. This morning I watched yet another U.S. news broadcast online presenting a working couple with an empty refrigerator; saying that food had become a luxury and that they were unable to visit their children or elderly mother due to the road tolls and price of gas. In contrast to the horrors of the situation in the U.S., I do not worry that my neighbors will lose their homes and end up on the street, or wonder if the old woman sitting next to me on the tram can afford food or medicine. Here, students will not be denied higher education for financial reasons or go to school without food in their stomachs or lunch boxes, and people nearing retirement will still have a pension, regardless of the Dow Jones or Nasdaq.
No system is perfect. I admit that often at times, I do complain about the side effects of socialism; the sense of entitlement and the lack of ambition that can result from social policies. But there is something profoundly humane about ensuring that the basic needs of all people are met. The tranquility of swimming in the sea of socialism is a refuge from the volatility of the storm.