Through Recession with Dutch Luck & Pluck

It’s coming on Christmas, but it’s also coming on the end of 2008, and so it’s time to look ahead to 2009. Economically, things do not look good. The leading Dutch business newspaper Het Financiële Dagblad has already picked up on remarks from Vice President-elect Joe Biden that will be televised later today on This Week with George Stephanopoulos that the US economy is in danger of “absolutely tanking.” (You can get the run-down in English plus a brief video of their interview here.)

Right, but what about closer to (the €S) home, what about the Netherlands’ economy? Also from Het Financiële Dagblad, we get some good news straight from the Dutch premier Jan Peter Balkenende that he is confident that the strong character of the Dutch will get them through the hard times.

(Unfortunately, I can’t get the link to Balkenende’s HFD op-ed piece; I think it was kept for the print edition only, HFD often still does that. But we do get a news article about that from the Dutch press-agency ANP that appears in a number of the Dutch dailies, among which for example the Algemeen Dagblad: Premier: Out of the recession on character.)

“Against headwinds we in the Netherlands kick harder,” the Premier writes, “That’s in our character.” He is also confident that the Dutch should come out all right in the end because the authorities seem better prepared this time – having already successfully moved to bail out a couple of teetering local banks – and because the country has a long tradition of its “social partners” (i.e. business and labor and government) cooperating to do what is best for all. A case of whistling in the dark, you say? You may well be right, but it also seems that similarly rosy-ish opinions are held by an important stratum of Dutchmen and -women who are not paid to be publicly optimistic: the entrepreneurs. This article in another Dutch Daily, Het Parool, discusses the results of a recent survey undertaken among around one thousand Dutch small- and medium-sized enterprise businesspeople. Forty percent expect a better financial result from their businesses next year than they had this year, although 25% have already noticed a downturn in sales and 50% consider the worsening economic conditions to be “a serious threat.” So as I say: “rosy-ish.”

But leave it to a Christian paper to contribute a silver lining to the discussion! A unique piece in the Nederlands Dagblad reminds us of a remarkable means the Dutch have come up with in recent times to boost export earnings: Footballers are an important export product. And this is not just some puff-piece written to remind us of, say, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (pictured in the article) – lately of Ajax Amsterdam, but recently sold on to Real Madrid for a tremendous sum because that world-renowned club needed a striker to replace Ruud van Nistlerooy, who is out for the rest of the year with a knee injury (and who himself, of course, is another spectacular example of a Dutch football export). No, this piece (by-lined to ND’s economic editors) has the solid numbers, from a Netherlands Central Bank study no less. Over the past five years the Netherlands has accumulated a trade surplus when it comes to football players in the amount of €225 million, even though far more foreign players came to play in the Netherlands during that period (272) than left the Netherlands (180). It’s apparently a matter of superior “football value-added,” you understand: the Netherlands is a far better place to get your kicks.

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