Dutch politics, after the elections

Now that the Dutch elections for the Lower House are over, as well as the unprecedented international hype surrounding it, it is time for a few pointers and reminders.

Turkey

Prime Minister Mark Rutte used the crisis with Turkey to his greatest advantage. When the crisis just loomed he escalated, helped of course by the increasingly hysterical reactions of the Turkish authorities, particularly the President.

I have not been able to get figures, but it is rather normal for foreign ministers, including from Turkey, to visit the Netherlands and address their nationals, also for political purposes. This is just the consequence of allowing Turkish people to have dual nationality and -in the Turkish case- also double voting rights. With the referendum in Turkey coming up, it is only logical to allow proponents and opponents to campaign as well.

This said, any thinking person would strongly object to the plan to give even more power to the already way too powerful Turkish executive. Dictatorship looms (please read Barry’s much better informed blogs on this).

Politicians almost always choose the short term over the long term. Certainly four days before elections. Still, the downside of Rutte’s actions are immense, as they also serve the interest of Erdogan, enabling him to play the victim of the ‘racist Dutch’. It might even pull the deciding number of voters into his camp. That would be bad for Turkey, and for Europe.

Chances for Turkey joining the European Union were already small, but have now disappeared completely. (Which I personally do not mind much, but others differ, including many in Rutte’s own party).

Populism

Another topic of international concern surrounding the election was the rising populism and its alleged ending by the electorate at the ballot box. Indeed, Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom did not become the biggest party, yet he did win votes again. An increase of a third actually, from 15 to 20 in the 150-seat Lower House. His party thus became the second largest party in parliament.

He was never going to be Prime Minister anyway, as all parties had said before the elections they would not collaborate with him. This was important as the Dutch electoral system has a low threshold, which means many parties can enter parliament and no party has ever won a majority of 76. It demands parties to negotiate a governing coalition. After Wednesday at least four parties are needed for such a majority, which will take months.

There is a less-noted, other ‘bad populism’, which includes the largest winner, the Green Left party. This party represents are the radical environmental left, led by a young good looking leader who has been able to attract a lot of young people, in particular women, according to electoral research. There are also other populist parties elected, most notably the party for pensioners, the Islamic party DENK,  and the Forum for Democracy, the intellectual version of Geert Wilders’ party.

Coalition building

It remains to be seen whether Green Left will get a seat in government, given the large differences with the other parties who will be negotiating the new government: the centre right VVD of Rutte, the social liberals of D66, and the Christian democrats.

This process is slow and boring for most people, except for political junkies like myself. So chances are you will not hear about Dutch politics until a new government has finally been installed. Do not be surprised if this does not happen before Christmas.

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BC’s weekend reads

  1. Understanding Trump’s trade mistakes
  2. Empiricism and humility
  3. Epistemological modesty and unintended consequences
  4. Immigrants and slaves
  5. 5 takeaways from the Dutch election

McCloskey, Western equality, and Europe’s Jews

Warren shot me the following email a few days ago:

Brandon, do you know the name Deirdre McCloskey?

She is a first-rate economist with extensive expertise in history, literature and anthropology.  She recently finished a trilogy, the third volume of which is “Bourgeois Equality.” It’s a fat book but you would be well rewarded for time invested.  You don’t have to read the first two volumes to benefit from the third.

The purpose of the trilogy is to explain why we’re 30 times richer than our forebears of 250 years ago, as best that can be estimated.  Conventional answers like the industrial revolution and rule of law don’t go far enough.  The answer lies in attitudes toward commerce.

I haven’t read McCloskey’s book yet, but it’s been on my amazon wishlist for awhile and thanks to Warren’s prodding it’ll be my next purchase. (Here is all of NOL‘s stuff on McCloskey so far, by the way.)

My first instinct on this topic is to think about Europe’s Jews. Bear with me as I lay out my thoughts.

McCloskey’s book, which as far as I can tell takes readers to the Netherlands and the United Kingdom from the 17th to 19th centuries, is about how Europeans began to reconceptualize equality in a way that was very different from notions of equality in the past.

A very basic summary is that notions of equality in Europe prior to the modern era largely aligned with notions of equality elsewhere in the world. Basically, an established hierarchy based on either inherited land ownership or clerical ranking was justified in all cultures by a religious appeal: “we’re all Christians or Buddhists or Muslims or fill-in-the-blank, so don’t even worry about what we have and you don’t have.” This way of thinking was irrevocably altered in 17th century northwestern Europe. Once I actually read McCloskey’s book, I can give you more details (or, of course, you can just read it yourself).

This argument, that northwestern Europe became free and prosperous because of a change in ideas about equality, is of course very broad and qualitative, but I buy it. The big “however” in this line of reasoning is Europe’s treatment of its Jews.

I forget where I heard the argument before, but somebody or some school of thought has argued that because Europe’s Jews were forced by legislation to go into “dirty trades” like commerce, they became more broadly open-minded than other ethnic groups in Europe and therefore more prosperous. Dutch and British bourgeois culture no doubt had a Jewish influence, and because bourgeois culture is internationalist in scope this Jewish influence must have penetrated other European societies, but anti-Semitism in these other bourgeois centers was more rampant than than it was in the UK and the Netherlands. Why was this?

My main guesses would be “Protestantism” (because Protestants at the time were more open-minded due to being at odds with the Catholic Church), or “the seafaring character of British and Dutch societies.” These are just guesses though. Help me out!

The European Union is Pathetic

So here we are. Prime Minister Cameron got his ‘special deal’ from the rest of the EU leaders. It is pathetic, from both sides. I like the Brits, and admire their great tradition in political thought. Because of their constant doubts about the EU, they are (potentially) the most informed about it, if the enormous flow of publications pro and con is a sign, which have seen the light since the eighties. Therefore, one questions the sincerity of Cameron, who has repeatedly said he will campaign against Brexit. His pathetic result seems a sure vote winner for the No side though. I find it hard to belief that anyone can be seriously convinced to stay in, if his four main results should do the trick.

These four are: a minor semantic thingy (Britain is exempt from striving to a closer union); a complicated procedure for a majority of national parliaments to reject or change intended European regulation (a comparable procedure has been a failure); the possibility to decrease the amount of children allowance for children who do not live in Britain to the purchase power parity level of the country concerned (especially aimed at Eastern Europeans); and finally an emergency break on social security benefits. Great results to build a campaign on…

These results are mostly symbolic, and while symbols are important in politics, it still amounts to little. So the other European leaders were not willing to change much in the way the EU is now run and its enormous amount of laws, rules and legislation. This is by far the saddest of it all. The leaders  let the moment pass to really change the EU, to not only address the British fear and frustration, but also those of the people of many other member states.

This is especially relevant for The Netherlands. On April 6 there is national referendum on the association treaty with Ukraine. The No-camp is leading the polls. If rejected (and the government acts accordingly, which it is not obliged legally), the whole treaty has to be discarded by the EU. We have been in this situation before. In 2005 the French and Dutch populations rejected the EU constitution by large margins. Only to have force fed on their throats a marginally different constitutional treaty a year later. So strange support for the EU had been decreasing for years.

The EU cannot make a fist in foreign politics, not in defense and security affairs, not in the current refugee crisis. It fails to ensure free competition in services, it still wastes billion of euros in subsidies on agriculture, regional support, industrial policies, et cetera. In short: it is a mess, the EU fosters the development of turning itself into an open air museum: admired for its culture, laughed at for its dismal politics and economics. Thanks a lot for the leadership, European Council.

A quick update on NOL’s art project

Chhay Lin sent me this email detailing a rough timeline for the NOL art project he initiated:

I met my friend about the art project last weekend. He told me that he is experimenting with an Escher-esque logo/banner for NOL. He doesn’t know how long it will take, and is not working on it full-time. In the meantime he is busy moving out from the city of Breda to Rotterdam, opening his own workshop, and making portraits for a book that he and I are working on. 🙂 I’ll keep you up to date if I hear anything new about the NOL artsy project.

His friend, Cheerted Keo, has a website that you can check out here.

Theory versus Common Sense? The case of the Dutch

Since the fifteenth century, [the Netherlands] has had several features which later liberal thinkers, such as David Hume and Adam Smith, enviously referred to. Compared to other countries, economic freedom was an important issue, just as the larger degree of religious freedom. Trade, tolerance, and cultural developments turned the Dutch into an early manifestation of liberalism. However, with the possible exception of Erasmus, Spinoza, and perhaps the Rotterdam-born but London-based Bernard Mandeville, the Dutch lacked great thinkers who could provide this liberal practice with a theoretical base.

This is from the introduction (page 2) to Dr van de Haar‘s excellent new book, Degrees of Freedom: Liberal Political Philosophy and Ideology, and I think it makes a good argument in favor of the “common sense” approach to the political. This common sense approach, for those of you wondering, is often contrasted in American libertarian circles with the theoretical approach espoused by academics. Common sense libertarians tend to be more socially conservative and more parochial than theoretical libertarians who, in turn, are less socially conservative and more cosmopolitan in outlook. This difference in outlook between the two factions leads to the former camp appealing to “the people” in arguments, whereas the latter often appeal to the authority of a scholar or school of thought. Dudes like Ron Paul and Lew Rockwell are in the former camp; dudes like Steve Horwitz and Eugene Volokh are in the latter. This is not a tension limited to American libertarians, of course. You can find it just about anywhere, but libertarians have made it interesting, mostly because – once they have acquired facts like the one Edwin reports on above – they ask questions like this:

How is it possible for a society like the Netherlands to exist when it had no great thinkers to claim as its own?

The common sense faction will reply with something like this: “That’s easy: because the Dutch people were left alone they were able to prosper. With no busybody do-gooder class of intellectuals around to make rules for the peons, folks were able to thrive thanks largely to personal freedoms and self-interest.” This line of reasoning has a lot of merit to it. In fact I buy it, even though it’s not complete.

I think the Dutch had plenty of good theorists whose work contributed to the peculiar nature of the 15th century Dutch republic, but it is also true that the high theory of guys like Smith and Hume is largely absent from Dutch political thought (I don’t remember reading any Dutch philosophers in my introductory philosophy courses in college, for example). I can clarify this in my own mind by drawing parallels with American political theorists up until the end of World War 2, when the US suddenly became a superpower and has received a great influx of the Really Smart People from around the world. Like the good Dutch political thinkers, nobody outside of the US knows who James Madison or Alexander Hamilton are (specialists excepted, of course). A few quirky weirdos out there might know who Ben Franklin is, but they won’t know him for his political theory.

Maybe this also had to do with the fact that the Dutch (and American) theorists were more concerned with keeping Spain (or other scheming Great Powers) at bay, and this could only be accomplished with a heavy does of pragmatism to supplement ideals; pragmatism is, of course, something that high theory avoids.

The great thinkers, who we all know (even if we have not all read), in contrast, don’t seem to have a lot of experience in policy and diplomacy. Furthermore, these guys all seemed to be in well-integrated outposts of cosmopolitan empires that were largely populated by minorities. Scotland, for example, was part of the British Empire, or Kant’s Prussia, which was technically independent of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but still very much a cultural and economic junior partner to Vienna at the time.

Here is my big question, though: If the Dutch had no Great Thinkers, how were they able to create the richest, most extensive overseas empire the world had ever seen?

Common sense libertarians, 1

Theoretical libertarians, 0

By the way, my answer to that last question goes something like this: the Dutch, as former subjects of the Spanish Empire, had intimate access to Madrid’s trading networks (cultural access as well as economic and political) and this, coupled with the federal republic that Dutch statesmen were able to cobble together, gave lowlanders just enough breathing room to raise the bar of humanity. Again, you can find Dr van de Haar’s new book here.

Myths of Sovereignty and British Isolation XV, From Dutch Model to German Kings

Continuing from the last post, the story of the temporary Anglo-Dutch fusion and then moving onto the German kings of Britain.The invasion of late October was not strongly resisted, James fled London and then England, giving Parliament the pretext to declare that James had abdicated. His son was ignored with the falsehood pretext that he was not the son of James and his wife, but a baby smuggled into the royal chambers. All this evasion and pretence should not be allowed, in Burkean fashion, to conceal the reality that Parliament had asserted itself as the sovereign power in the country, and accordingly that the monarch reigned at its pleasure, which could be withdrawn. This was not a restoration but a very radical innovation.

On the conservative side, it was designed to maintain a religious settlement in which only members of the state church were full citizens, removing rights James had given to Catholics and also Protestant Dissenters. The immediate impact then was a major loss of religious freedom, though partly based on fear that ‘tolerance’ was a tactic only for James on the road to state enforcement of Catholicism. We will never know the truth of that.

William’s Dutch invasion did not inspire much of a war as James II’ authority collapsed quickly, but further violence was to come in Ireland until 1691 featuring sieges and major battles, with the French helping the Catholic Irish against the Dutch prince turned English monarch. There was war in Scotland until 1692, featuring one of the infamous events of Scottish history, the Glencoe Massacres of Scottish Jacobites (supporters of James). The massacre was partly the result of clan rivalry, but was certainly also the consequence of state policies.

The Dutch connection disappeared with William’s death, as he had no children and the throne passed to Mary’s sister Anne, ignoring of course the claims of ‘James III’, the exiled son of James II. However, the impact of the Dutch connection was not just in the person of William. His reign as William III (1688 to 1702) coincides with the foundation of the Bank of England in 1694, which took place in the context of Dutch investments in London and a strong Dutch influence as a model of Protestantism, science, crafts, public finances, naval and merchant fleets, trade and colonialism which preceded 1688, including the exile of the liberal political philosopher John Locke in the Netherlands from 1683 to 1688, and was intensified by the Dutch invasion/Glorious Revolution.

The Dutch Republic had shown how to fight wars through a reliable, credible form of public debt which Britain was able to use in eighteenth century wars. Generally, the temporary relationship between the two states, which was somewhere between mere alliance and full fusion, was important in enabling Britain to become the leading eighteenth century power in Europe for all the things associated with the Dutch Republic in the seventeenth century.

The temporary semi-fusion of course had a drastic impact on British foreign and defence policy, which was now heavily oriented towards Dutch aims in northwestern Europe, and even the whole of Europe. Britain was heavily engaged in European politics, including wars, particularly the War of Spanish Succession (1701 to 1714), which led to Britain’s still current acquisition of Gibraltar on the southern tip of Spain and included one of the most famous victories of British military history, Blenheim, under on the most famous British generals, John Churchill (ancestor of Winston Churchill), Duke of Marlborough on German territory. The main aim of British participation was to prevent French domination of Europe, which was threatened by a French claim to the Spanish throne, and the possibility of over generous compensation to France if it gave up Spain, with regard to Spanish colonies and the parts of Italy dominated by Spain.

Moving back briefly to the period before James II, his brother Charles II, had a secret treaty with Louis XIV of France which meant that state policy was covertly guided by the French who were subsiding Charles. So the temporary semi-fusion with the Dutch Republic was itself nothing new in terms of British state policy coming under the influence of a European power, it was simply a more open form of it. Looking forward, William was succeed by Mary’s sister Anne.

Parliament then legislated for a Protestant only succession, which went to the Elector Prince of Brunswick-Lüneburg, generally known as the Elector of Hanover. This family supplied British monarchs from 1714 to 1837. The legislation of Queen Anne’s time precluded military commitments to Hanover, but inevitably in practice the defence of Hanover and the protection of Hanover’s interests in Germany were a major consideration of state during that period. The first two Hanoverian monarchs were more German than English, though the third of the Hanoverian Georges, George III established himself as a largely popular archetype of supposed British character.

Next post: Britain in relation to some European nations