Ask an American who has never been to Amsterdam what they know about this city and you are likely to get some combination of – on the one hand – canals and quaint houses, and – on the other hand – soft drugs and the red light district. Not long ago Fox TV’s Bill O’Reilly did a piece on our town, along with the help of his Fox News analyst Margaret Hoover. Here’s the gist of it: “Well, in the Netherlands their experimentation with social tolerance, free love, free drugs, clearly has backfired. Amsterdam is a cesspool of corruption, crime. Everything is out of control. It’s anarchy. And as you point out, you know, one of the great magnets for tourism in Amsterdam was this, except it has now crossed the line and gotten totally out of control.”
I’ve heard plenty of this kind of comment before from my fellow Americans, but having lived in Amsterdam for 25 years I really don’t know where these ideas come from. I think part of the problem is that many Americans have a instinctive knee-jerk distrust of any country which is largely more liberal and “socialist” than the USofA. Any place that has socialized medicine and taxes as high as Holland must be rotten to the core!
But try on a sampling of statistics, which I’ve gathered from various reliable sources:
Lifetime prevalence of heroin use (ages 12+): Netherlands 0.4%, USA 1.4%
Teenage pregnancies, per 1000 women per year: Netherlands 12.2 , USA 83.6
Teenage abortions, per 1000 women per year: Netherlands 4.0, USA 29.2
Incarceration rate per 100,000: Netherlands 100, USA 701
From experience I know this city has its problems and, from the perspective of this Christian minister, the red light district is certainly one of them. But I also know this is a city where my teenage daughters freely go about their lives – running around town on their bikes, even well into the night – without much concern for personal safety. I know they have received honest, comprehensive information at school (and at home!) about drug use and sex. And the extremely high taxes we pay mean that our medical costs are very low and education at university level is accessible to all, among other benefits. (A check-up at the dentist costs about $25, but until age 18 it is reimbursed.) As far as I’m concerned the quality of life here is very good indeed!
For one Amsterdammer’s response to O’Reilly, with a few more statistics, see: