Time to Get Out

"listen: there's a hell

of a good universe next door; let's go"

-- E. E. Cummings

Setting up a farm in New Zealand? Start up a business in Tasmania or do you like to cash in on British Columbia's construction boom?

All these options were presented at a real 'Emigration Fair' in Amsterdam earlier this month which drew record crowds. Whatever pessimism there is in and about Europe and no matter how commentators try to figure out if this exodus is real, the market has smelled the opportunity and knows how to respond.

As opposed to "Give me your tired, your poor" many jurisdictions in the new world have discovered that the disgruntled Dutch are anything but tired and poor. They're young, affluent, well-educated, entrepreneurial, fluent in English and smart enough to have figured that the time has come to get out as the future can no longer be found at home.

The numbers corroborate this trend. In the first nine months of last year a record number of Dutch packed their bags with some 100,000 leaving the country, an increase of 12% on the previous year. For this year another increase is expected and, according to some research bureaus the overall attitudes about leaving are changing as well.

This year some 32% are seriously considering a move as opposed to 26% last year according to the 'Emigration Monitor'. What is even more revealing is that the 20 to 30 age group constitutes the largest group of leavers, a trend that got further momentum when one polling group figured out that about half of the nation's adolescents would, given the chance, prefer to pack up and go. Last year's number confirm that the Dutch are experiencing the largest net outflow of people since the post-war emigration boom of the 1950s and the remarkable attitude shifts will ensure that this trend will persist in the years to come.

Less reliable figures are being presented when it comes to determining why so many feel it is time to vote with their feet. A random survey of the recent news reports makes it clear that in terms of negatives the Dutch have basically got it all: high population density, an over-regulated society, a significant tax burden, soaring crime rates, a general sense of 'dilapidation' and a huge unintegrated pool of Muslim immigrants. While they've had little influence over inheriting a relatively small plot of land, it is the vast expansion of a powerful and omnipresent public behemoth that appears to be at the root of most of the nation's current problems. And for its origins we probably have to go back to the sixties and seventies.

The rapid post-war economic expansion enabled the establishment of a well-funded bureaucracy that would over time be equipped with a set of tools to ensure what the predominant left of those days would call the 'makeability of society'.

At the same time the general social and cultural liberalization contributed to an unprecedented level of individualism, allowing citizens to do pretty much as they liked knowing that the government would always be there as some sort of guarantor of last resort. In other words, it doesn't matter what you do, someone will always be there to fix your problem.

In practice that is exactly why the nation experiences so much vandalism and intentional damage to public property by hooligans and youngsters: they have long stopped to identify themselves with a community, public property is impersonal, and someone else will surely fix it. So who cares? Another great example is garbage disposal which is now so heavily regulated and expensive that many just dump their weekly dose of household leftovers along the highway, much cheaper. The more government interferes, the fewer citizens take responsibility, and the more decay you tend to see around you.

The bureaucracy at the same time has been without any of the tools required to maintain order in an increasingly rudderless society. The Dutch justice system is a case in point as one of the most lax on the entire planet, believing as it does - another 1960s legacy - that even the worst offenders should have a chance to re-enter society. In recent years many severely deranged offenders were able to escape from half-way houses where they were being prepared for a return to society, a problem that remains unaddressed as of today.

Not only maximum security felons were able to get a great deal and the opportunity to re-offend. Earlier this month Dutch press reported that since 2005 some 3,400 immigrant youths - notably Moroccans and Cape Verdians - had been treated to vacations back to their home countries to 'reconnect with their culture' in the bizarre hope that such a trip to the sunny south would minimize their chances to re-offend. Of course, the Dutch taxpayer has kindly footed the bill leaving some commentators to note that in America the holidaying offenders would probably have ended up on a chain gang.

So in all you have decay, crime, incompetent bureaucracies, unfettered and mismanaged immigration. But didn't the Dutch opt for change in recent years? It is revealing that foreign media still mistakenly think that the recent political turmoil in the Netherlands has turned the nation to the right and that the much vaunted Dutch pragmatism is once more delivering some clever solutions. Not really, and to some extent it hardly matters if a right or left of center cabinet is in charge. Powerful public servants wield the sort of power that allows them to continue to pursue a re-engineering of society that has long since stopped finding takers among those Dutchmen able to look beyond the now very near horizon.

And the opportunities are there for the taking as there is a New Europe in the east and north where low asset prices and space are available to those who do not want to venture far across the ocean. But many have discovered that what the Dutch have lost can still be found in the New World. If you pitch it to them in the right way as was done on the Emigration Fair, you might just get them.


Pieter Dorsman studied law and obtained a Master's degree in Economic and Social History at the Erasmus Universiteit in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. After graduation he joined Barclays Bank PLC in London following which he held a number of senior positions at UBS in Hong Kong. He currently lives in Vancouver where he advises early stage technology firms on their business and financing strategies.

Pieter is the force behind Peaktalk, a weblog about international politics, economics and culture. Some of Peaktalk's posts have appeared in the National Post, one of Canada's largest newspapers and more recently Pieter's columns have appeared on Pajamas Media. Pieter has also appeared on a number of radio shows in the US and Canada to talk about European news and developments.