Amsterdam & Money

I have already spoken about how Amsterdam is making all of its citizens pay for everything directly from their bank accounts through the use of “chip cards”, perhaps a very financially astute idea, but a very, very inconvenient one for its American tourists. (See “Chip on My Shoulder”, 3/12) But recently, I was educated, or maybe reminded, that financial responsibility is something that is part of Dutch culture and has been for centuries.

There is a museum here called the Het Scheepvaartmuseum, the National Maritime Museum, and its collections and programming are geared to showing how the sea has shaped Amsterdam’s culture.  The interactive exhibitions allow visitors to explore 500 years of maritime history. One particular exhibition, See You in the Golden Age, I found particularly interesting because it very unabashedly spoke about money.  And, money was not discussed as just money for money’s sake, but very subtly how a culture views money.

The 17th Century was the Netherlands Golden Age. During that time, the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands was one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world. This power was primarily thanks to seafaring.

No country in the world had as many ships as the Netherlands and trade flourished. The Dutch East India Company was founded in Amsterdam and developed into the world’s storehouse: goods from the four corners of the world could be had here from the company’s massive stocks.

It was not just trade that flourished in the Golden Age, but Dutch artists and scientists of the time that are still famous today. The Republic was also known for its tolerance, something that attracted many people from all over the world. Yep, the Red Light District was rockin’ at this time!

During one of the films in the exhibition, See You in the Golden Age, there is a line that the narrator says which goes something like this,  “The Dutch love money, not so they can spend it, but so they can use it to buy things to sell.”  I love this line.  It causes the listener to take a moment to process.  In essence it means that the Dutch, as a culture, like to have money not so they can purchase things for themselves, but so that they can purchase things to sell so that they can make even more money.

My kids were with me when I went to this museum and I made them pause to hear this statement.  My ten-year-old got it immediately, he is the future financier in the family, and this was a no-brainer to him.  He said, “like investing.” Exactly.

American culture really does not emphasize this, especially to its young people.  Popular culture in the States very much sends the message that you should make a lot of money so that you can buy a lot of things, NOT so that you can invest it and grow it.  In fact, the only times I hear about “growing your money”, that is outside of watching CNBC, is in commercials for old people and retirement.

I am told that I have Dutch in my heritage, and perhaps Andrew got some of that.  The three of us used this exhibition as a lesson in economics.  My 12-year-old, William, a self-proclaimed expert in American History, reminded us that we did, as a country, go to the Dutch for money so that we could win the American Revolution.  Here we were, hundreds of years later, getting some financial advice from them again.

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