Sub-project 3: The Consolidation of Neoliberalism: the Dutch Miracle Revisited (1989-2002)

There are many indicators that after 1989, a new socio-economic policy paradigm was consolidated in the Netherlands. One important indicator is the explicit rejection of the Keynesian welfare state by the Dutch Labor Party (PvdA) and its coalition with the Liberal Party (VVD). Moreover, according to a series of quantitative indicators, the Netherlands moved from the league of Scandinavian egalitarian states to that of the Anglo-American liberal states. In 1998, the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) observed that the Netherlands had become an ‘entrepreneurial society’. This invites the main question of the third sub-project: to what extent, and how, did a particularly Dutch form of neoliberalism become consolidated in the 1990s as the dominant policy paradigm?

Under coalitions of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats (1989-1994), and the Purple coalitions of Social Democrats and Conservative Liberals (1994-2002), market-led reforms were extended and consolidated. Government expenditures were cut, taxes reduced, welfare became workfare, public services were privatized, labor and capital market regulation was loosened and new market mechanisms were introduced in areas that were previously de-commodified.

These policies have been explained as the result of policy learning by prudent political and social elites, who in a context of corporatist consultation were able to smoothly adapt to changing global economic circumstances. Building on a long tradition of consociational cooperation – the Dutch polder model – Dutch corporatist consultation was supposed to have created a new period of economic growth and stability, framed as ‘the Dutch Miracle’. However, this explanation of the Dutch miracle ignored that in the same period core corporatist institutions, notably the trade unions, lost members and legitimacy, while the remarkably technocratic nature of much of the new policies made it difficult to address its negative effects.

To transcend these shortcomings, this sub-project pursues alternative explanations, in which the consolidation of the new policy paradigm is explained primarily through an analysis of the rhetorical strategies used to ‘naturalize’ the neoliberal discourse that had emerged in the period before the 1990s – fueling the belief that there was no alternative to neoliberalism. A second line of explanation stresses the specificity of the Dutch trajectory of neoliberalism and looks how key players, notably in the departments of Economic Affairs and Social Affairs, in the Labor Party and among Christian Democrats, but also in the major public policy think tanks, embraced neoliberalism. The project thirdly probes the consolidation of the neoliberal paradigm through an analysis of the conceptualization and justification of reforms in the domain of social security, the labor market and social housing. Special attention is devoted to the way policy effects were integrated in thinking about these policy fields and to the influence of international networks (of for example think tanks and political parties).

Researcher: Naomi Woltring