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.