Public Policy

Anne Frank House director weighs in on social insurance

Cornelius Suijk is a hero.  His family was one of the many Dutch Gentiles who secretly housed Jews during World War II.  After the war Mr. Suijk met with Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father who lived in Switzerland.  Mr. Frank and Mr. Suijk became friends and eventually Mr. Suijk was charged with heading the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

On Wednesday night, I was privilidged to hear Mr. Suijk’s life story.  Let me assure you that is a very interesting one; but for this blog post I will confine my writings to his opinion on social insurance.  To paraphrase his message:

Before World War II, Germany was in ruin.  There was high unemployment, paper money was losing value rapidly, and economic growth was non-existent.  The poverty created an underclass of ‘losers’ in Germany.  When Hitler needed people to be loyal followers and not question his authority, his biggest supporters were these same ‘losers.’  Hitler gave them food, shelter and police training and return the underclass gave Hitler their loyalty.  Of course, the Holocaust could never have happened if those who opposed Hitler would have united and spoke out against injustice but these protest occurred too infrequently…

In the Netherlands, the price of gas is about $10/gallon.  There is a 78% federal tax on gas.  As a tax payer, one would be overwhelmingly against this tax.  The upper and middle class are paying too much for goods and the money the government raises goes to poor, many of whom are taking the state for the proverbial ‘ride.’  Nevertheless, the strong social insurance policy in Holland aims to support the neediest so they do not turn to evil and seek revenge on their countrymen as those in Germany did at the end of World War II.

Can a social safety net assure this great social turmoil?  In France, where social insurance is stronger than the US, but less generous than the Netherlands, riots erupted among poor Muslim immigrants in the fall of 2005.  This shows that there is no silver bullet to eliminating the possibility of social revolt, but we must pay attention to Cornelius Suijk’s lesson: a society that ignores the problems of its worst-off members does so at the risk of its own collapse.