Opinion: Responsibilities

POSTED: 07/5/11 12:57 PM

Amsterdam’s mayor Eberhard van der Laan has a situation on his hands that costs the municipality buckets of money, and Eberhard has had enough. The cause of his concern is young people who drink so much that they end up in hospital. To get there, they need more often than not an ambulance. That service is free for those who need it, but Van der Laan thinks it is time to call upon the responsibility of his binge drinkers: he wants them to pay for the ambulance.

Binge drinking happens especially during big events, like the celebration of the Queen’s Birthday in the capital. Last year, 500 binge drinkers needed an ambulance. This year the number shot up to 575.

Van der Laan’s idea seems not unreasonable, but it will without any doubt hit a snag along the way. That is how things go in the Netherlands.

Think about it: if young people are held responsible for the consequences of excessive drinking – logical as this may be – why then should for instance chain smokers with a history of forty years of tobacco addiction not be held responsible for the consequences of their behavior? Transporting a drunken teenager to a hospital with an ambulance is small potatoes compared to treating a wheezing old bloke for lung cancer.

The basic discussion is of course about personal responsibility. That has been missing for a long time in a country where entitlement has ruled for decades over achievement. Dutch citizens think they are entitled to work and decent housing, entitled to healthcare and entitled to education – just to name a few examples.

The ghost of the sixties is still wandering around in the lowlands near the North Sea, but the long march through the institutions student leaders like Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Joschka Fischer and Bernard Kouchner recommended has not really brought the improvement the idealists of that era had in mind.

That is probably because power corrupts. It is a sure thing however, that the influence of the sixties has carried that call for entitlement into the next century and the consequences are, as Eberhard van der Laan has noticed, not pretty. On the contrary they are expensive.

Entitlement and the demand for instant gratification have infected more than one generation. We want things and we want them now, but we do not want to accept the responsibilities that go with it.

Will the prospect of having to pay for the ambulance stop teenagers from excessive drinking? Probably not, and efforts to cash the ambulance-fee will probably be more expensive than the fee itself.

So while Van der Laan is on the right track with putting responsibilities where they belong, his approach is too narrowly focused. There are other and more important responsibilities people need to accept and it is therefore quite likely that the mayor’s idea, no matter how justified it is, will die an early death.



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Comments (1)


  1. Belle says:

    “Dutch citizens think they are entitled to work and decent housing, entitled to healthcare and entitled to education – just to name a few examples.” para. 5

    Is it safe then to say that “St. Maarteners” thinking that they are entitled to jobs etc here is something they picked up from the citizens of the motherland?

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