From the black screen in my hands I see this giant and I’ve felt his awakening. I hear the rumbling of his footsteps, like dissonant echoes on the quiet streets of Amsterdam, my temporary home. In contrast, I see around me a society that, while not exemptfrom its own problems, manages to function with the intention of maintaining a fair and equitable relationship among its people. I want to share a little bit of what makes this society work like this, so as to look in perspective at the Chilean case. This is a reflection from a welfare state.
While in the Netherlands private holds great power in its administration of social services such as the provision of education, health and housing, there is a balance with a state that effectively manages to regulate that private, taking advantage of its efficiency and enthusing equitable and quality access to basic services. Basic and middle education is mostly delegated or public administration, free and of good quality. Most higher education institutions are public, high-level and with programmes at a relativelow low cost for citizens of the European Union. All citizens must pay around 100 euros per month (80 thousand pesos; regardless of gender or pre-existing conditions) to a private isapre, but depending on their income, the State returns up to 99 euros per month. About 69% of Dutch people own their own homes, and while private leases are considerably more expensive than in Santiago, especially in the capital, about 75% of all homes to rent in the country belong to associations allied with the State that lease these homes at a low cost. And not because they are cheap they are of poor quality; a «poor» neighborhood here has nothing to envy of many neighborhoods in the eastern sector of Santiago. Public transport within the city is not cheap, but the size of it makes the bike the most logical (and ecological) option to move around, being the streets almost entirely adapted for this, in addition to being impeccable and without holes.
Of course, the state can do this because it has a lot of resources, money it receives, in part, from high income taxes, with up to 52% withholding tax for the highest income. This ensures a true distribution of wealth in the form of opportunities within Dutch society. In addition, there is a notable absence of the credit culture in this country. It’s hard to get a credit card and, even if you have it, it only serves to defer paying for something for the next month. People mostly don’t have to live «in cakalis», they spend what they have, receiving a minimum wage of 1637 euros, which translates to a little more than 1,300,000 Chilean pesos a month, and the costs of eating and dressing in Amsterdam are the same (and sometimes lower) than santiago. In addition, this is a tripartite pension system in which the State, employers and individual contribution collaborate. Only from the State can you expect to receive up to 70% of the minimum wage for having only lived in the Netherlands since youth.
Being Chilean, I have seen and learned from this social system with great admiration, but also with a little bitterness, thinking of how easy my life would have been, that of my family and that of most people I know if the demon of «earn more» or the «spend more» p to have a better quality of life was not stalking us from an early age. This is the neoliberal Chile that was designed in the 1980s, a Chile that got rich very quickly, but unevenly; where the strongest (or richest) survives. Now these castles made of air and shiny plastic are starting to collapse.
Chile, giant, how could you not wake up?
Benjamin Nielsen Guzman
Psychologist and candidate for master in Social Sciences (Universiteit van Amsterdam)
CONICYT Fellow – Scholarships Chile