Home > History Repeating Itself, The Outsiders, Unions > A History Lesson from New Amsterdam

A History Lesson from New Amsterdam

I happen to be reading a comprehensive American history at the moment (Conceived in Liberty, by Murray Rothbard), and because of my personal heritage, I was drawn to the history of Dutch rule in North America, specifically in what we now call the “middle colonies” of New York, New Jersey, and Delaware.  New York, formerly New Amsterdam, was foremost among them.

Dutch-American history is generally not taught, in favor of Anglo-American history, and with good reason.  New Amsterdam, Fort Orange, Fort Good Hope, Breukelen (Brooklyn), New Amstel, and other Dutch settlements were short-lived and poorly-run, and as Americans we owe far more of our national character to our British ancestors.

However, this does not mean we cannot learn anything from our Dutch forebears.  Contrary to the liberality that we normally associate with Holland, and which liberality was totally accurate to describe the “Republicans” of 17th century north Holland (now The Netherlands), the North American colonies under Dutch control were settled mainly by elements of the rigid, theocratic “Orange Party,” centered in the southern provinces (now Belgium), and allied closely with the Calvinist church.  As a result, these settlements were anything but free.  It is my contention that this ensured their quick demise.

So why was it that the Dutch settlements were so relatively thinly populated, as compared to English settlements in Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, and Virginia?  Frankly, it was high-handed autocratic rule – a kleptocracy.  Beginning with Peter Minuit, followed by Willem Kiefft, and culminating in the governorship of Peter Stuyvesant, Dutch rule was immediately and obviously contrary to the interests of the Dutch settlers. 

Thus, although it is taught that the Dutch colonies were “conquered” by the English sometime around the second Anglo-Dutch War (1664 or so), it turns out that the Dutch were never conquered at all.  They preferred to accept English rule in return for treaty promises of freedom of religion, retention of prior property rights, freedom of trade, freedom of immigration, freedom from conscription, and a guarantee against billeting of soldiers in their homes.  New Amsterdam, over the strenuous objections of kleptocrat Peter Stuyvesant, simply surrendered.

So what does this have to do with us?  Well, for one, it gives us some indication of how to build an unhealthy, vulnerable society, against which the populace will be inclined to revolt.  After the removal of former governor Kiefft due to citizen objections to his high-handedness, Stuyvesant was installed and proceeded to do more of the same.  However, and I’m quoting Rothbard here:

…Stuyvesant elaborated a sophisticated refinement.  After enmeshing the economy in a network of restrictions and prohibitions, Stuyvesant in return for heavy fees sold exemptions from these regulations.  In short, Stuyvesant saw that the key to walth for a government ruler is to create the opportunity for monopoly privilege (for example, by outlawing and regulating productive activities) and then to sell these privileges for what the traffic can bear.”

Sound like anything familiar?  How about unions, especially those in the public sector?  President Obama got labor union support for PPACA, bought and paid for through exemptions for unions – for example, the Cadillac tax.  Bush and Obama both wooed the labor vote (and perhaps more importantly, the labor money) by basically handing over GM to the unions, despite well-established precedent of creditor priority.  And every state that does not have a right to work law “outlaws and regulates productive activities” by forcing union labor on the populace.  Federal laws require the use of union labor, to the detriment of those willing to do the work without special privilege.

In any case, the evidence supports the idea that the modern union is absolutely not a vehicle for moderating disputes between powerful corporations and their workers.  It is merely a vehicle for extraction of political privilege. 

Of course, I will not go so far as to accuse our politicians of graft (Stuyvesant was forcibly retired, but he managed to amass a vast fortune that kept him comfortable until his death), but the basic point is less wealth than it is power.  Our political parties, both Democrat and Republican, have long understood – as did Peter Stuyvesant – that the best way to create an artificial constituency is to place restrictions on everyone, and then grant freedom to the chosen.  In this way, the chosen will always support you, and the restricted will always look for ways of becoming one of the chosen.

(Note to those who have been wondering why I haven’t posted in a while.  I’m not giving up; I’ve just been very busy.  Keep checking back!)

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