Tuesday, May 07, 2002

THE DEATH OF PIM FORTUYN: Coincidence of coincidences, the Economist had just come out with their survey of the Netherlands when Fortuyn was killed. Here's the relevant quotes:

This is a particularly opportune moment to re-examine the apparent success of the polder model, for three reasons. The first is that, after nearly two decades of healthy performance, the economy has suddenly begun to look a lot less bouncy. Growth has slowed sharply, inflation has reappeared and unemployment is rising. Some critics have suggested that the economic wheels have come off the polder model. The more sober OECD, in its latest country report, notes merely that “these are undoubtedly testing times for the Netherlands, with the economy moving away from sustained non-inflationary growth.”

The second reason is that the normally predictable Dutch politics is under attack. The upheaval does not stem from the government's resignation on April 15th, which made little real difference, since an election was anyway scheduled for May 15th, after which Mr Kok had promised to step down. But it had long been assumed that the next government would be just another variation on the familiar theme, perhaps this time including the Christian Democrats. However, a new actor has burst on to the stage in the shape of the populist Pim Fortuyn. Mr Fortuyn is leading his own party into the election and may, say the polls, win so many seats that it will be hard to keep him out of the government.

Mr Fortuyn's arrival may be more than a coincidence. For the third reason for reappraising the polder model is that he reflects a growing dissatisfaction with the whole system. Despite their economy's success, Dutch voters, like those in France who recently backed Jean-Marie Le Pen, seem strangely disgruntled. Many are unhappy over their country's reputation for excessive tolerance—whether of immigrants, soft drugs, prostitutes or even gays (paradoxically, Mr Fortuyn is openly gay himself). There are particular worries over a practice known as gedogen, an untranslatable term that signifies acceptance of mild law-breaking: in effect, the opposite of New York's policy of zero tolerance.

The malaise that is showing in support for Mr Fortuyn is also strengthening the criticisms that some leading Dutch figures have been making of the cosy and consensual polder model itself. In recent months, both the governor of the central bank, Nout Wellink, and the finance minister, Gerrit Zalm, have suggested that the polder model may be past its best. Why do they feel this? A big part of the answer is to be found in their country's recent economic performance, which has not been quite as good as enthusiasts like to maintain. Nor, on closer examination, does it owe all that much to the polder model.

There you go. I meant to link to this survey earlier, and make some goofy joke about the land of my ancestors --like how weird are the Dutch, they created their country out of a swamp, no wonder I love the Meadowlands, etc.-- but real events overtook me, I guess.

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