What can make a small nation great?
Today Dutch people celebrate King’s Day.
The Netherlands is a very small (34 000 sq km), relatively crowded (16 million population) country with practically no natural resources. Looking at its resources, you would not be fully prepared to accept the reality that the Netherlands is world’s second exporter of agricultural products (after the United States), amounting to 102 billion USD, has GDP per capita 48 000 USD, and Human Development Index (HDI) 0.915 – forth in the world.
This input – output ratio makes the Netherlands my big intellectual love: it is one of the cases that provide solid ground to the idea that if a nation with no natural resources can achieve soaring living standards, then all the other nations with at least some natural resources should be even better off. But we all know this is not the reality. Why?
It might be difficult to even imagine to what extent a precise and comprehensive answer to this challenging question could change our world.
Very intuitively, I would associate the issue with the following page of Dutch history:
In August 1574, after having been besieged by the Spanish army for many months, the Dutch city of Leiden reached a crucial point: food reserves, that were given to the citizens under strict rationing, finished; the only available water to drink was foul canal water; diseases like plague and dysentery spread quickly; in total more than 5000 people – nearly half of all the population, died. On September 8th, to give some courage to the citizens in the dire situation, Van der Werf, the mayor of Leiden, faced the famished crowds and offered his own body as food for the children.
Above: Detail of painting “Self-sacrifice of burgomaster Van der Werf” by Mattheus Ignatius Van Bree (1816-1817). Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden
William of Orange and the Sea Beggars liberated Leiden on October 3rd 1574.
Considering the extreme hardship during the siege, the citizens of Leiden were offered exemption from tax for five years. And the citizens of Leiden declined. On condition, however, that instead, a university will be opened in their city. So Leiden University was founded in 1575 by William, Prince of Orange, leader of the Dutch Revolt in the Eighty Years’ War.
The Leiden University is the first Dutch university, one of the oldest in Europe, and one of the most reputable in the world.
As for the question above, a possible contribution to the answer could be:
Resilience. Vision. Determination.