The author, emeritus professor in the Univeristy of Amsterdam, describes the transition from the pre-industrial period in the Netherlands to the stage of sustained economic growth; the “take-off” has taken place after the middle of the 19th century. He then compares the economic development of the Netherlands with the problems of the underdeveloped countries at the present time.
During the pre-industrial period the Netherlands were underdeveloped in some respects only. The country was not purely agrarian, commercial activities playing an important part. There was no lack of capital, but the capitalists were more interested in foreign bonds than in industrial concerns. Agriculture was at a high level, the peasantry producing for the national and even international market. There was no over-population, and the growth of the population remained rather small.
Under these circumstances the industrialisation of the Netherlands did not involve many difficulties. In the beginning, many industrial and banking investments come from abroad. The Dutch government placed no obstacles in the foreigners' way. The wageworkers were quite willing to be employed in modern factories. Trade-unions and campaigns for higher wages were unknown. The government interfered little in economic affairs and confined its activities to improvement of the infrastructure (construction of canals and railways). The civil servants were capable and free from corruption.
In the underdeveloped countries of to-day these favourable circumstances are mostly absent. Yet there are factors which justify some optimism. The capitalist countries are willing to supply capital to the poor areas. Demographic measures, unknown in the 19th century, will sooner or later result in a slackening of the population growth. The greatest difficulties are to be found in the mental sphere. The “will to economize” is often absent, and it will take many years before traditional attitudes and conceptions have been replaced. The underdeveloped countries cannot expect to reach the economic level of the rich nations within a short time.