31 May 2012

A Dutch thing or a human condition?

Laws and contracts are sometimes vague (incomplete contracts) or enforced at the discretion of an official (principal-agent incentives).

The Dutch are great traders who may have a stronger familiarity with sticking with contracts when it suits them -- and ignoring them when it does not.

I can see this in the way that some Dutch will stop at a red light (on a bike) and wait, even when there's nobody there. Other Dutch will not.

I can see this in the say that some rules are ruthlessly reinforced -- even when there's social gain from allowing the rule to lapse -- because it suits someone, while other rules are flaunted...

Does this have to do with trade and sharp dealing? Does it have to do with moral ambiguity? Does it happen more with the Dutch and other trading cultures on sea coasts (e.g., the Mediterranean) and less with landlocked nations that are more inward looking?

Your thoughts?
Addendum (27 May 2013): It seems that they Dutch are tolerant if (1) there's a profit to be made, (2) lawbreaking is done quietly and (3) nobody gets hurt.


Anonymous said...

Not sure about the universality of the condition. My experience of living in Germany is that as long as the behaviour has been codified and set down as a rule it will be (generally) adhered to. Are the Germans a merchant nation? The British are a mostly law-abiding bunch but you will find enough examples of minor rule infringements to be able to lump them in with your Nederlanders.

What has all this to do with Aguanomics? Can one draw inferences about the character of a nation from the water governance structures in place? Conversely, does the nature of moral codes in a country feed into the way it manages its water resource? The British, a 'nation of shopkeepers' according to Napoleon privatised their water sector 23 years ago but being a cricketing people they like to see fair-play and appointed an umpire (regulator) to make sure everyone sticks to the rules. But then again, the USA is the land of the free and of free enterprise so why is there still so much municipal control of water resources there?

As a non-economist and non-social scientist I offer no answers only musings.

mac said...

interesting- i lived in NL for a year, so here's my take:

* First off, observing Dutch character IS relevant to Aguanomics-in that the Dutch mode of interaction and decision-making is fundamentally shaped by the collective interest in water management. google "polder model"

* the other key Dutch trait is, I think, market-making. so they set and enforce standards that enable commerce. Arguably, the Dutch are advantaged in collective thinking by virtue of their (lack of) elevation

* as for disregarding some rules like red lights-- i think thats just Dutch. They are ruthlessly pragmatic, so staying stopped at some light when there is no traffic or something makes no sense.

* as for bikers blowing off red lights, that's because they have permanent right of way. and they know it. as far as i know- thats just Dutch being Dutch

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