The regular discussions which take place between the government, employers and employees are often cited as the most typical example of the consensus economy. Yet this is not quite unique, as similar discussions take place in other countries. What is unique, however, is that, in Netherland, they were already mandated in the first quarter of the twentieth century, at the same time as the introduction of social legislation.
For centuries the guilds had come to the aid of their members if they were in difficulties. For example, they had a fund for sick members and one for widows and orphans: as this system worked well, these funds were continued in a number of countries even after the guilds had disappeared. In Germany, the government obliged the workers to join these fund organizations. In Great-Britain, the guild funds evolved into commercial insurance companies which did not serve any particular professional group but were open to the public in general. The task of Her Majesty’s government’s was to supply information and audit the books.
After the Dutch guilds had been done away with, Netherland followed England’s example, but with one difference: insurance was extended only to members of the same pillar group. Moreover, the government did not audit the books, not because they were unwilling, uninterested, or unable to do so, but because the pillars were regarded as autonomous.
British and German conservative parties, desiring to take the wind out of the sails of the socialist parties, initiated the first social legislation in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. For this they could make use of the strictly-regulated guild funds and insurance companies. The Dutch government dared not take such a step. Initially, they wanted to keep the administration of the funds in their own hands through the Raden van Arbeid or Labor Councils. However, employers and employees insisted on keeping the industrial insurance boards as the administrative bodies of the funds. These boards came in many different sizes and denominations and their conflicting ideologies turned the parliamentary debates on social legislation into a long-drawn-out agony. It took twelve years to debate the National Health Act (1901 through 1913), after which it took until 1930 to implement it. The final result had all the characteristics of a compromise, with two sorts of implementing bodies and an opt-out regulation for orthodox Protestants who had conscientious objections to paying an insurance premium (God provided!). The government, trade unions and employers’ organizations were all given a role in the implementing bodies.
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