Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Between Your Nose and Your Chin

A fiercely independent people once wanted to govern themselves and worship as they pleased, but first they had to wrestle their country from the control of an overbearing European monarchy. A bloody war was fought, and this collection of states came together to defeat its oppressor and create the greatest military and economic superpower on Earth. I’m not talking about the United States of America. I’m talking about The Dutch Republic.

You might not think the Dutch were ever a superpower, but they were. Their ships out-sailed the Spanish and British, and for a time Amsterdam was the richest city in Europe. Don’t forget that New York was originally named New Amsterdam. Then something remarkable happened. The people of the Dutch Republic all caught a disease that destroyed their country. No, not the plague, but something nearly as bad. The Dutch caught a dreadful fever, a mania for a precious commodity—tulips.

We all associate tulips with Holland, but tulips originated in Turkey and were brought to Europe in 1554. Less than a hundred years later, tulip bulbs were selling for extraordinary prices. The Dutch economy became based on the buying and selling of these flowers. Before the tulip bubble burst, a single bulb in Amsterdam sold for the following:

48 barrels of wheat

96 barrels of rye

four fat oxen

eight fat swine

two huge casks of wine

four barrels of beer

two tons of butter

1000 pounds of cheese

an ornate carved wooden bed

a full suit of clothes

a silver chalice

Quite a fortune for something that today can be purchased for less than a dollar. Then in 1637 speculators could no longer sell their tulip bulbs. Nearly everyone in Holland went bankrupt, including the famous painter Frans Hals. The government tried to save the economy but failed to act aggressively enough, and soon The Dutch Republic was on its economic knees, never to fully recover. The Dutch had a short run on the world stage— about a hundred years. Today, they remain a fine and interesting people, but their days as a superpower are over.

If you see a parallel between what happened to the Dutch and what’s going on in our own country right now, I’m glad. Replace tulips with houses and McMansions and you have the recent recession that has plagued the USA. I don’t pretend to have a solution for our economic woes, but a study of what happened to the Dutch would seem to be in order, otherwise our time as a superpower, our best days, might also be coming to an end. It’s time to dust off an adage: Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.

It’s time to stop looking for a scapegoat for our troubled economy, and long past the time when we should all come together as Americans to do what needs to be done, even if it means sacrifices.

Here’s a joke a seventeenth century Dutchman would not have laughed at: What flower is between your nose and your chin? Answer: Two lips.


  1. I thought you were comparing tulips to oil. About that time the Spanish economy crashed because of all the booty they brought back from the New World and costly wars against England and such. That pretty much left England and France as the big powers...and the rest is history.

  2. Very interesting, and a very timely comparison, too. I totally agree, we're pursuing the wrong things. We have a warped sense of "success".


  3. tulips are still selling for a few blocks of fine Australian butter in this part of the world, Mr Chatterbox.
    but i love them :)

  4. Wow- I loved this little history lesson. I had no idea tulips were such a valued commodity. Great parallel between that time and the present.

  5. Yes, i remember a story of an English scientist who cut open a tulip bulb, having never seen one before, and was nearly murdered as it was considered so valuable.

    Thanks for the reminder and comparison, it is very apt.

  6. As long as us common folks are politically divided then the answers will never come. Only united will we succeed. I just don't see that happening.

    Have a terrific day. :)

  7. Two emerging ecomonies likely to oust the USA are India and China. These are sleeping giants...

  8. We should follow the the lead of the Dutch and legalize prostitution and drugs. It won't solve any of our problems, but we might be happier. Or I might be. ha!


  9. The Dutch made a few pretty good deals in their day as well -- remember they bought Manhattan Island for $24 worth of cloth, beads and trinkets. I don't know if you can compare them to the U.S. though -- they're a tiny little nation about the size of one of our mid-range states.

    Meanwhile, I'm cornering the market on used printer cartridges. Got a whole box of them (that I don't know what to do with) and if there's ever a used-printer-cartridge bubble, I'm gonna cash in, big time!

  10. Very interesting. I didn't know any of that about the tulips. My husband's parents are from the Netherlands and we sent our son over to go to college at the University of Amsterdam. I know a lot about more recent life there but not a whole lot about the history. I learned something new.

  11. Don't worry USA, we Brits have got your back!

  12. thanks for the history lesson! and civic pep talk!

  13. I had heard of the value of tulips before (maybe Discovery Channel had a story about it), but wow... 1,000 pounds of cheese! That just boggles my mind.

  14. Pot and shrooms are legal in Amsterdam. That makes Holland an excellent country. Brilliant people.

    Janie Junebug

  15. Your post has brought back a long forgotten memory of reading "The Black Tulip" (La Tulipe Noire) by Alexander Dumas -- about this period in Dutch history. It was abou t a prize of 100,000 guilders being offered to the horticulturist who could grow a perfectly black tulip. The Dutch have a very interesting history and were indeed a power to be reckoned with -- they even sank the British Navy a long time ago!

    I do agree with you about what Americans are facing. The quest for riches and all things money can buy is devouring many of the principles of our country's promise.

  16. Not just America that's in economic doldrums Chubby.
    It's happening here, all over Europe...
    Seems to be a sign of the times more than a soluble problem.
    Can't believe people paid that for a bulb! almost like the ostrich feathers here in SA...

  17. Interesting!

    But did you know that Amsterdam was once the 'kissing' centre of Europe?

    Never heard of Two Lips From Amsterdam before?

  18. Great post Chubby! The economy has become a global economy and yes the US is on the decline economically. So many people, including myself, have been caught in the middle. I like the idea of tulip bulbs being currency...tiptoe through the tulips! Okay, I liked your joke bette;)

  19. Yeah, a study of that economy is fascinating. I'd equate it more with the Dot.Com boom and bust, but your point about the need to know history, lest it repeat, is right on.

  20. thoughtful and educational post-now if only it could be read by all....

  21. Today you are very economic money talking :).
    We ,here are in super inflation.Prices are touching skies.

  22. so glad that you avoided flowery prose...

    but i scent an underlying message...

    that's quite enough of that, methinks. You are, of course, right to say that economic powers come and go and that too much reliance has been put on a single thing - same here in the UK where we had this plan of selling ourselves as a global thinktank, and then everyone realized they could think for themselves

  23. Hey Chubby, did you forget about me dude? LOL!! One good follow deserves another. *grin