The Dutch should go back to what they do best: earning money, writes Jan Vos.
In 2013, the African economy grew by 7%, while the Brazilian and Chinese economies grew by 5% and 7.5% respectively. Our economy is shrinking. Politicians are facing a difficult task and need to take responsibility.
The Dutch economy is weathering a heavy economic storm. Our businesses can barely keep their heads above water. The political focus of this cabinet is on controlling government spending. But we have another, even more vital responsibility: making sure this country makes enough money in the coming decade. Our entrepreneurs and our industrial and service sectors must be given space to develop. That is how we ensure prosperity for all, including those who, for whatever reason, cannot look after themselves.
There are three main areas we should be concentrating on. The first is a renaissance of the culture of entrepreneurship. Dutch entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial families were of enormous importance during the transition from an agricultural to an industrial nation in the second half of the last century. Albert Heijn, Gerard and Anton Philips and Huub van Doorne are some of the people who laid the groundwork for our prosperity.
Without them there would have been fewer jobs and a redistribution of wealth wouldn’t have been possible because there would be nothing to redistribute. These men all started as small entrepreneurs and went on to become heads of multinational companies.
In the second half of the 20th century, which saw an exceptional growth in prosperity, we profited from their entrepreneurship, technical innovations and unbridled ambition. Other entrepreneurs and businesses became successful, like Endemol, ASML and Exact. But they were the exception rather than the rule.
For the last few decades the big money has been made through speculation, real estate, trade and financial services.
It is our responsibility as politicians to stimulate and foster entrepreneurship and give our young entrepreneurs the opportunities they need. We need to revive the culture of entrepreneurship that characterised our country for so long.
The second imperative is the primacy of – sustainable – energy. There will be nine billion of us soon and if man and nature are to survive, technological innovation is a necessity and sustainability a condition. The planet is desperately in need of solutions to compensate for our use of finite resources and the Netherlands has the technology to contribute: DSM, KLM, Philips and Unilever are frontrunners in sustainability.
A quarter of all offshore windmills are installed by Dutch companies. We are recycling champions and live in a densely populated country which is constantly looking for a balance between urban and industrial development and nature. If the Netherlands focuses on sustainable technology we will earn enough to maintain our welfare state a decade from now.
Thirdly, we need to cultivate creative innovation. Everyone knows Joop van den Ende as a successful entrepreneur. But he is also one of the founders of a successful venture capital company. He has invested in a number of thriving businesses, such as Hyves, Albumprinter.nl and Bright.
Van den Ende and Deitmers are investors who are always on the look-out for innovation. They are not alone. In the Dutch gaming industry – among the best in the world – young entrepreneurs are cooperating with (informal) investors. Djs Armin van Buuren, DJ Isis, Afrojack and Tiësto are at the top of their profession, not only because of their music but because of their clever use of new technology and the internet.
The Netherlands will have to redefine itself in the next few years. We have to learn again that real money can only be made by creating real worth. We can do it by bringing about an entrepreneurial renaissance, creating sustainable technology and stimulating creative innovation. It is up to entrepreneurs to make their ambitions come true and up to the politicians to support them in any way they can. That is our joint mission.
Jan Vos is a Labour MP and former director of two dotcom companies and an investment company.
This article was published earlier in Trouw.
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