A recent eye-opening experience was a two-day weekend spent in Amsterdam with friends. Despite growing up in Europe and living there for around half my life I'd never been on holiday there. Comparing Amsterdam to other cities in Europe, the US and Asia, it appears on the surface that the Dutch have got a number of things right—and some of those things would be very controversial in other countries. It's by no means paradise but I found some aspects of society really working very well on my short trip.
The first thing one notices is the large numbers of bicycles and lack of motor vehicles. Walking from the train station into the city I found myself almost getting hit by bicycles many times. Dedicated cycle roads are present throughout the city and getting around by car was actually incredibly awkward. This reminded me of my earlier years in cities in mainland China like Beijing that used to be full of bicycles everywhere but now have roads clogged with cars and horrific traffic. From all the cycling there are less overweight people, there's less pollution and less energy consumption. It appears China's "development" in this area has got things rather wrong — they were onto something good and perhaps should have stuck with it.
The smell of cannabis walking around the place is also quite pronounced. All over Amsterdam are "coffee shops" where one can buy and smoke weed as well as take certain types of mushrooms. It's completely legal, the quality of the stuff is good, and it's a social thing that's practiced occasionally. In fact I smell as much or more of the stuff going around here in London than in Amsterdam despite the substance still being illegal to procure here. When something like this is taken from the shadows out into the open, there are less middle men, no gangs, no need to buy with cryptocurrency, no black markets or smugglers and everything is so much safer.
This perhaps extends to prostitution as well although this is a little more controversial. The services being advertised and sold in the shop windows would certainly shock most Americans. It's legal and regulated, along with the brothels that operate, making things safe for people practicing the trade as well as consuming it and in many cases the published narrative would state that the people selling services are very happy with their jobs.However data also shows an increase in human trafficking since prostitution was legalised because demand increased but legal supply didn't, with most of those trafficked being victims of sex trafficking. The government is doing what it can to reduce this. I feel legalisation of cannabis is a good thing (after all it makes people less angry than alcohol) however I can't say for sure I feel this way about prostitution in light of the increased human trafficking.
The population of Amsterdam appear to be generally very happy (and not only because they are high). The Netherlands perpetually ties with Denmark for having the happiest and most content people in Europe and the world. Railways, ports and airports work well and transportation is cheap and widely available connecting to the rest of Europe and the UK. Income inequality is very low, with the top 20% earning only 4x the income of the bottom 20% (compared to 17x in the USA). High progressive taxes provide free education and healthcare. In social progress and human development, the Netherlands is ranked 10th and 8th globally. The government actively works to promote the wellbeing of their citizens which, when we look at what goes on in the UK, US and Hong Kong, is truly wonderful. Wealth inequality is high due to massive inheritances from ancient generations but this does not affect the day-to-day lives or happiness of individuals.
Finally, Amsterdam itself is beautiful and one of the safest countries in the world. The canals running through the city give it a very special feel. The crime rate is very low indeed, comparable to Singapore, making it safe to walk around. Outside of bicycle theft there's really not much to worry about. Rehabilitation of criminals is more common that imprisonment, lowering the number of reoffenders and resulting large number of prisons being closed and one of the larger ones being turned into a home for refugees. The industrial space is very strong with the Netherlands being a global powerhouse in machinery and electronic manufacturing equipment including chip equipment powerhouse ASML which supplies lithography machines — perhaps the most complex machines on earth — to all the worlds' chip manufacturers. Along with tulips, of course.
Overall I thoroughly recommend a long weekend in Amsterdam to experience somewhere with a wonderful and very different culture. The Dutch have got a lot of things right.