Eurozone crisis: What have the Dutch ever done for us?
18 November 2011
In the current crisis, the Dutch tend to pontificate about the citizens of ill performing countries like Greece and Italy. But as recession now looms, they should keep in mind that their prosperity isn’t just due to their own virtuousness.
“What have the Romans ever done for us?”, asks John Cleese in the famous Monty Python satire Life of Brian to his resistance group. “The aqueduct”, whispers one. “And...sanitation”, another. “Roads.” “Irrigation.” “Medicine.” “Education.” “Wine.” “Clean water.” “Yes, but apart from aqueducts, sanitation, roads, irrigation, education, wine, medicine, clean water?” calls out a despairing Cleese. “Eh...public baths.”
A large proportion of Dutch people want to first get rid of the Greeks, then the Italians. And actually the Spanish and the Portuguese as well. Maybe it would be better for the French to leave the eurozone too. And the Belgians.
Since World War 2, there has never been so much stereotyping of European peoples as in the past weeks. The suggestion is that there is an unbridgeable culture gap between the hard working North Europeans and the lazy souls in the south.
The past is quickly forgotten. In 2004 and 2005, praise was heard from all over Europe for Spain and Ireland for having the most successful economies of the entire continent. The Netherlands could consider itself lucky to be associated with the Spanish wonder child and the Celtic Tiger. Spain, Portugal and Italy were at the heart of the new Europe.
When Netherlands was the paria of Europe
In the seventies, though, it was the Netherlands that was the pariah of Europe. In 1977, British weekly The Economist ran a cover on The Dutch Disease – the deindustrialization of the industrial sector and the squandering of income from natural resources, the gas from Slochteren, in favour of social provisions and leftist projects.
It still appears as an economic model in Wikipedia and is used in the UK and US, whether relevant or not, as a metaphor for economic processes that are in the doldrums. It is much more familiar than the “polder model” that twenty years later made the Netherlands a model nation.
But while the Netherlands boomed with the polder model in the eighties and nineties, Sweden experienced a banking crisis. Meanwhile, Germany struggled to emerge from the depths into which it had sunk following reunification. The point is that economic success is not linked to a nation. It is rather a question of the “Law of the Handicap of a Head Start' as the historian Jan Romein described it in 1937. Over time a head start turns into a handicap.
We deduct our mortgage repayments from our tax returns, have expensive healthcare and pensions to pay. These all hang like a millstone around the neck of the Netherlands. With a recession looming, maybe in years to come the Greeks and Italians will then wonder what the Dutch ever did for Europe. “The windmill.” “The polder.” “The cassette deck.” “Eh... the CD player.” Cleese would then say: “But what of those things are still actually useful today?”
Translated from the Dutch by Stuart Buck