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Nationbuilding, democracy and citizenship. The making of the Dutch welfare state.

The history of the Dutch welfare state has been described in terms of the underlying ideas and motivations. Ranging from sovereignty in one's own circle ('soevereiniteit in eigen kring'), subsidiarity ('subsidiariteit'), functional decentralisation ('functionele decentralisatie') and state socialism ('staatssocialisme'), all these options were present in the discussions on how a certain level of welfare for Dutch citizens was best guaranteed. Lawmakers and people working to achieve an increase in welfare were driven by altruism, self-interest or both. The coping strategies of those who were the subject of such welfare-interventions were quite diverse. Aside from the welfare state, individual and civil society options remained open to them.
Developments in other countries also influenced the making of the Dutch system. As in other countries, it was the specific historical and cultural make up of the Netherlands which gave it its unique form: not so much a welfare state as a consociational economy, mainly referred to as the 'poldermodel'. This model has been widely discussed. It has been hailed as exemplary but has also been named chaotic, murky and perverse. Historical research into the actual workings of the system has been lagging behind.

Social mobility brings with it risks and undermines local safety nets like neighbourhood, family, work, church and other networks. In the welfare state it is the national government which takes on part of this solidarity. It does this by putting into law and organising national compulsory insurance and other welfare services like health care. Cost control, quality, continuity and equality all have to be taken into account.
The first social security law that was passed in the Netherlands was the Accident Law of 1901. This was one of many social laws (like an education and a housing law) that were effected by the then liberal government. It made accident-insurance compulsory for certain types of companies. The execution of this law was placed in the hands of a centralised but mainly autonomous institution, the 'Rijksverzekeringsbank'.
The protestant minister of labour, A.S. Talma, chose a different model for his social security laws. Like his predecessor, he deemed the Dutch employer and labour organisations too small and too weak and the existing commercial and non-profit voluntary provisions not good enough. He wanted regional organisations which would remedy these shortcomings and which would be the administrators of his laws passed in 1913, concerning compulsory insurance against sickness and invalidity. The board and council of his Councils of Labour (Raden van Arbeid) were to be elected by employers and labourers. The common interest was to be represented by a government-appointed chairman.
After the First World War, in which the role of the state was greatly expanded and the general right to vote for men was introduced, the catholic minister of Labour, P.J.M. Aalberse, was convinced the labour and employer organisations had sufficiently grown in power and were able to play a role in the administration of the social security laws. The members of the council and board of his High Council of Labour and the thirty-nine Councils of Labour where brought forward by the pillarized labour and employer organisations and appointed by the government. The councils consisted of as many employers as labourers and the influence of all the political and religious pillars was evenly distributed according to the local divisions. The plan was to hold direct elections at a later stage, but this never happened.
This 'poldermodel', where not the individual citizens but the organisations they belong to help the government in making policy decisions, exists to this day. Since the eighties the market has been given more leeway. Historical research into the working of the Councils of Labour gives an insight into the Dutch social security system and its variation of the welfare state. Like the Dutch system of water management, it has caught the eye of politicians all over the world because it seems to bring social stability and prosperity. Like in other countries, the debate about its democratic representativeness and the level of commercial influence has not abated in over a hundred years.

Danièle Rigter

Zie ook:

Zorg als onderwerp van rijksbemoeienis en nationale regelgeving

Voorgeschiedenis van de Raden van Arbeid

Raden van Arbeid van A.S. Talma

Reacties op de plannen van Talma

De standpunten van P.J.M. Aalberse over de plannen van Talma

Opnieuw een liberale poging tot ordening. M.W.F. Treub en de sociale zekerheid

Links en de wetten van A.S. Talma

Werkgevers, werknemers en de Ziektewet

Verzorgingsstaat: geschiedenis, achtergronden, nieuws

Deze pagina is een initiatief van historisch onderzoeksbureau Ecade

Danièle Rigter publishes on different elements of the history of the welfare state. She wrote about the role of the Dutch department of Labour and about several private organisations. Her latest publications are about Dutch and Belgian social insurance and about the relationship between different levels of government and its citizens. Her research focuses on the aspects of nationbuilding, democracy and citizenship in the making of the welfare state. For the Centre for the History of Health Insurance (Kenniscentrum Historie Zorgverzekeraars) in the Department of Medical Humanities at the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam she was responsible for the management of the heritage of health insurance organisations (Erfgoedgids Zorgverzekeraars).