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Polder model

The polder model is a term that was first used to describe the acclaimed Dutch version of consensus-based economic and social policy making, specifically in the 1980s and 1990s.[1][2] The term quickly took on a wider meaning, to denote similar cases of consensus decision-making in the Dutch fashion. It is described with phrases like "a pragmatic recognition of pluriformity" and "cooperation despite differences". It is thought that the Dutch politician Ina Brouwer was the first to use the term 'poldermodel', more specifically in her 1990 article Het socialisme als poldermodel? ('Socialism as polder model?'), although it is uncertain whether she coined the term or simply seems to have been the first to write it down.[3]


  • Socioeconomic polder model 1
  • Other uses 2
  • Historical background 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Socioeconomic polder model

Wim Kok, the former Prime Minister of Netherlands, supported the Polder Model.

The Dutch polder model is characterised by the VNO-NCW, labour unions such as the Federation Dutch Labour Movement, and the government. These talks are embodied in the Social Economic Council (Dutch: Sociaal-Economische Raad, SER). The SER serves as the central forum to discuss labour issues and has a long tradition of consensus, often defusing labour conflicts and avoiding strikes. Similar models are in use in Finland, namely Comprehensive Income Policy Agreement and universal validity of collective labour agreements.

The current polder model is said to have begun with the Wassenaar Accords of 1982 when unions, employers, and government decided on a comprehensive plan to revitalise the economy involving shorter working times and less pay on the one hand, and more employment on the other. This polder model, combined with a neoliberal economic policy of privatisation and budget cuts has been held to be responsible for the Dutch economic miracle of the late 1990s.[4]

An important role in this process was played by the Dutch Central Planning Bureau (CPB), originally founded by Jan Tinbergen. The CPB's policy advice since 1976, in particular with the Den Hartog and Tjan model, in favour of wage restraint, was an important argument, supportive for government and employers, that the unions could not easily counter.

Many authors and researchers however have argued that the Wassenaar Agreement has been largely overrated.[5][6][7][8] Most of these writers have argued that a lot of continuity can be seen from the 1950s on. The young historian Stijn Kuipers, however, draws the line even further. In an article which is much indebted to the work of Coen Helderman,[9] Kuipers states that the modern socioeconomic poldermodel already manifestated itself in 1920 with the Dutch High Council of Labour. Out of this would follow that the ‘poldermodel’ is much older and therefore could have had a larger influence on Dutch society and economy than has generally been thought up to now.[10]

Other uses

The word polder model and especially the verb polderen (English: to polder) has been used pejoratively by some politicians to describe the slow decision-making process, where all parties have to be heard. The model flourished under the "Purple" governments of Dutch prime minister Wim Kok, a coalition including traditional rivals the Labour Party (a social-democratic party, whose colour is red) and the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (right-wing liberals, whose colour is blue). In the declining economic climate of the early 21st century the model came under fierce attack from particularly right-wing politicians and Pim Fortuyn with his book entitled "De puinhopen van acht jaar Paars" ("The wreckage of eight years Purple").

Historical background

Somewhat ironically, there is no consensus about the exact historical background of the polder model. In general there are three views on this subject.

One explanation points to the rebuilding of the Netherlands after the international economy. The Dutch cannot afford protectionism against the unpredictable tides of the international economy, because it is not an autarkic economy. Therefore, to cushion against the international economy, the Dutch set up a tri-partite council which oversaw an extensive welfare state.

A third explanation refers to a unique aspect of the Netherlands, largely consisting of polders, land reclaimed from the sea, which requires constant pumping and maintenance of the dykes. So ever since the Middle Ages, when this was started, different societies living in the same polder were forced to cooperate because without unanimous agreement on shared responsibility for maintenance of the dykes and pumping stations, the polders would have flooded and everyone would have suffered. Crucially, even when different cities in the same polder were at war, they still had to cooperate in this respect. This is thought to have taught the Dutch to set aside differences for a greater purpose.


  1. ^ Ewoud Sanders, Woorden met een verhaal (Amsterdam / Rotterdam, 2004), 104–106.
  2. ^ Stijn Kuipers, Het begin van het moderne Nederlandse poldermodel; De Hoge Raad van Arbeid van 1920 als eerste manifestatie van het Nederlandse tripartiete sociaaleconomische overlegmodel? (Nijmegen, 2015), 3.
  3. ^ Ewoud Sanders, Woorden met een verhaal (Amsterdam / Rotterdam, 2004), 104–106.
  4. ^ Elke van Riel, ‘Akkoord van Wassenaar keerpunt in relatie regering en sociale partners’, SER Magazine, 2010 (versie 9) [geraadpleegd 25 februari 2015].
  5. ^ Agnes Akkerman, ‘“Zo historisch was het Akkoord van Wassenaar niet”’, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, 2007 [geraadpleegd 25 februari 2015].
  6. ^ Jaap Woldendorp, The Polder Model: From Disease to Miracle? Dutch Neo-corporatism 1965-2000 (Amsterdam, 2005), 267–269.
  7. ^ Piet de Rooy, Republiek van rivaliteiten; Nederland sinds 1813 (Amsterdam, 2005; 2e druk), 216-217
  8. ^ Stijn Kuipers, Het begin van het moderne Nederlandse poldermodel; De Hoge Raad van Arbeid van 1920 als eerste manifestatie van het Nederlandse tripartiete sociaaleconomische overlegmodel?, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, 2015 .
  9. ^ Coen Helderman, ‘De Hoge Raad van Arbeid, 1919-1940(-1950)’, Tijdschrift voor Sociale en Economische Geschiedenis I:2 (2004),
  10. ^ Stijn Kuipers, Het begin van het moderne Nederlandse poldermodel; De Hoge Raad van Arbeid van 1920 als eerste manifestatie van het Nederlandse tripartiete sociaaleconomische overlegmodel?, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, 2015 .

External links

  • The Economist, Same old Dutch, Nov. 3, 2012
  • The Economist, Model makers, May 2, 2002
  • The Economist, Economic illusions, May 2, 2002
  • The Economist, A fine place to be, May 2, 2002
  • Mark Kranenburg, The political branch of the polder model, July 1, 1999
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