The business world in eighteenth-century Holland had sufficient insight to invest in change. Holland had colonies where cotton was harvested, and coal could be imported from the Rhineland. Barges created efficient links between towns, thus guaranteeing a wide market for industrial products. And yet, the Industrial Revolution did not take place in Holland.
The explanation for this can be found once again in the consensus culture. An entrepreneur who saw the importance of innovation did not always get the chance to carry it out. In order to industrialize, radical choices had to be made. Large groups of workers had to work in factories where there was strong discipline, and great pressure was sometimes needed to get them to do so. In England the army was called in at times, but such a heavy-handed approach was not possible in the more or less medieval structure that still existed in the Republic of the Seven United Provinces.
A second factor is that employers in Holland were too close to their employees to reduce wages drastically. They may have wanted to, but found themselves unable to act as decisively as the rich Englishman who was never present on the work floor, kept an eye on things from a great distance, and rarely met his workers.
It was one of the negative aspects – if ‘negative’ is the correct word – of the Dutch consensus culture. Because compromises had to be reached, it was difficult to make radical choices. Furthermore, although it was an excellent cultural model, economically it afforded innovators practically no room to maneuver.
Nevertheless, this did not outweigh the advantages: in Netherland, social cohesion continued to exist, even under difficult circumstances. The English captured the Dutch colonies during the Napoleonic wars and attacked North Holland and Zeeland in 1799 and 1809. Commerce almost completely disappeared and the country became impoverished. And yet a feeling of solidarity remained, enabling a nineteenth-century recovery.
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