For years, we normal civilised Westerners living in the Netherlands have been subject to one of the most useless and insane bans ever perceived…..what ban is this I hear you cry? It is the “Sunday Shopping Ban”. Yes indeed, Ladies and Gentlemen, those of use who hail from a country that is used to 24/7 shopping and convenience stores, it seems that moving to the Netherlands means moving back into the dark ages.
To my mind though, this is a both an annoying and perplexing situation for a government to enforce. Firstly, The Netherlands was as a country that spawned worldwide commerce in the Middle Ages. They were the first country to come up with the idea of issuing share certificates to finance commercial endeavours, resulting in the infamous Dutch East Indies Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC in Dutch).
They were also instrumental in both creating and developing many of the modern worlds capitalistic practices. The “bear market” for example came about in 1609, when investors led by one Isaac Le Maire formed history’s first bear syndicate, whose coordinated trading had an impact in driving down share prices, which tended to be robust throughout the 17th century. By the 1620s, the company was expanding its securities issuance with the first use of corporate bonds.
And then of course there was the worlds first “Market Crash”, also invented in the Netherlands during the tulip mania of the 1630s, in which contracts for the delivery of flower bulbs soared wildly and then crashed. New techniques and instruments proliferated for securities as well as commodities, including options, repo’s and margin trading.
So in a nation that practically developed modern Capitalism, why or how is it that a bunch of religious zealots feel the need to prevent the working man from shopping on a Sunday. If you strip out all that religious rubbish about not working on the Sabbath and having a day of rest, and you factor in the fact that the Netherlands is one of the few nations in the EU whose National Budget is exorbitantly overweighted by the obligations of maintaining its expensive and inefficient welfare state, you would agree that it’s economic suicide for the government to take such a nefarious stance and prevent it’s citizens from either earning, or spending their hard earned bucks in the stores and markets.
The most recent statistics put Dutch spending on it’s welfare program at 28% of GDP….almost a third of the nations wealth goes towards paying for the unemployed and benefits. None of it mind, is spent on the health service, which if you read my article about the state of Dutch healthcare, you’ll have read that it’s all funded by mandatory health insurance premiums. You’d think that someone in the Government would have put one and one together by now and figured out that changing the laws would create more jobs, enabling more people to work and reducing the unemployment numbers. More people working would mean more economic growth and more tax revenues, which in turn would boost government spending in areas OTHER than paying for the Welfare State, and everyone would be happy because we could shop whenever we liked.
But sadly this isn’t to be. Recent efforts by local councils to change the rules and allow the local populace experience that same joy as the rest of civilised Europe have come up against strong pressure from the Christian Taliban Naysayers in Government. The Government have effectively vetoed and taken various local councils to court up and down the country, fighting for the Governments right to dictate to the average Dutch citizen what they should, or in this case, SHOULDN’T be doing on the Sabbath….i.e. shopping. Nevermind the fact that because the country also doesn’t allow for late night opening hours (with the exception of one late night shopping day (to be chosen by the local council) per week) this thus means that those of us who hold down nine-to-five jobs are left with only two choices in life….shop on the only two chances available, and therefore fight for the last loaf of bread in the store (because they never bake enough to begin with) or stand in a long queue to try on those trousers you so desperately need to buy.
I sometimes liken shopping in the Netherlands to something reminiscent of the old Soviet era queues. Amazingly, all the ex-Soviet countries have shops, stores, even pharmacies open all hours. Little wonder that the GDP growth of Russia, Ukraine and Latvia, to name but a few, is far higher than the Netherlands. And you’d be amazed, but you get served with a smile there too…..something else that’s missing from the Dutch shopping experience. Even in good old Catholic Ireland the government chose to change the licensing laws to allow us to drink longer and party later into the night. My goodness, there’s even a 24 hours Tesco up the road from where I used to live….talk about CIVILISATION