The Fruits of Civilization (23-3) The Dutch Golden Age

The Dutch Golden Age

The 17th century was the Dutch Golden Age, in which the Dutch excelled in trade, science, and art, and in military prowess. The United Provinces – Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg – gained independence from Spain in 1648, when the 80 Years’ War ended.

During the course of the 16th–17th centuries, the industrious Dutch created a capitalist economy of the 1st degree, both in agriculture and commercial enterprise.

The Dutch East India Company was chartered in 1602. It was the first company to issue stock and became the first multinational corporation. The Dutch stock exchange, the oldest in the world, also started up in 1602.

One of the keys to Dutch success, particularly in cultivation, was specialization, coupled with an interdependence between commercial and agricultural sectors. Neither would have advanced so well without the other.

The key was buoyant demand from the prosperous and growing Dutch cities. Instead of striving to produce as much as possible, either on the farm or in the workshop, the Dutch produced to meet market demand.

The Dutch also relied upon the market for their own needs, both for capital and intermediate goods. In some instances, farmers would sell their entire wheat crop and buy cheap rye for their own consumption.

The efficiency of Dutch shipping, and the commercial aggressiveness of Dutch merchants, meant that food imports could often be had cheaper than growing domestically, especially from the backward Baltic region. In the mid-17th century over 25% of the food consumed by the Dutch was imported; much of it lesser grains for the lower classes.

The demand for fertilizer was so great that some entrepreneurs profitably specialized in collecting urban night soil and pigeon droppings, which they sold by the cart or boat load. One positive externality of this was keeping Dutch cities more sanitary than they would have been otherwise.