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What's Between Your Nose and Chin?

December 2, 2016

While reflecting on our recent presidential election, I was reminded of this post from 2012, and how countries often have their moment in the sun before slipping from the world stage. Sometimes it can happen over something as important as an election, or as insignificant as— tulips.




A fiercely independent people once wanted to govern themselves and worship as they pleased, but first they had to wrestle their country from the control of an overbearing European monarchy. A bloody war was fought, and this collection of states came together to defeat its oppressor and create the greatest military and economic superpower on Earth. I’m not talking about the United States of America. I’m talking about The Dutch Republic.


You might not think the Dutch were ever a superpower, but they were. Their ships out-sailed the Spanish and British, and for a time Amsterdam was the richest city in Europe. Don’t forget that New York was originally named New Amsterdam. Then something remarkable happened. The people of the Dutch Republic all caught a disease that destroyed their country. No, not the plague, but something nearly as bad. The Dutch caught a dreadful fever, a mania for a precious commodity—tulips.




We all associate tulips with Holland, but tulips originated in Turkey and were brought to Europe in 1554. Less than a hundred years later, tulip bulbs were selling for extraordinary prices. The Dutch economy became based on the buying and selling of these flowers. Before the tulip bubble burst, a single bulb in Amsterdam sold for the following:


 48 barrels of wheat

96 barrels of rye

four fat oxen

eight fat swine

two huge casks of wine

four barrels of beer

two tons of butter

1000 pounds of cheese

an ornate carved wooden bed

a full suit of clothes

a silver chalice


Quite a fortune for something that today can be purchased for less than a dollar. Then in 1637 speculators could no longer sell their tulip bulbs. Nearly everyone in Holland went bankrupt, including the famous painter Frans Hals. The government tried to save the economy but failed to act aggressively enough, and soon The Dutch Republic was on its economic knees, never to fully recover. The Dutch had a short run on the world stage— about a hundred years. Today, they remain a fine and interesting people, but their days as a superpower are over.


If you see a parallel between what happened to the Dutch and what’s going on in our own country right now, I’m glad. Replace tulips with houses and McMansions and you have the recent recession that has plagued the USA. I don’t pretend to have a solution for our economic woes, but a study of what happened to the Dutch would seem to be in order, otherwise our time as a superpower, our best days, might also be coming to an end. It’s time to dust off an adage: Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.


It’s time to stop looking for a scapegoat for our troubled economy, and long past the time when we should all come together as Americans to do what needs to be done, even if it means sacrifices.


Here’s a joke a seventeenth century Dutchman would not have laughed at: What flower is between your nose and your chin? Answer: Two lips.






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Every empire has to end sometime, though most it isn't something as insignificant as flowers. Have to wonder what they did with all those tulips; were they just to admire and smell or did they have some other purpose?
By: PT Dilloway on December 2, 2016
Good point. Why blame and whine about it? I wonder if businesses were buying bad tulip bulbs like they purchased bad mortgages here?
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on December 2, 2016
I tend to shy away from political discussions as I always seem to find myself in the minority, no matter what company I keep. But.... you're right about history repeating itself and it's quite an interesting subject. The older I get, the more I want to read and learn about the past.
By: Kelly on December 2, 2016
Housing bubble, plus the American debt. The U.S. debt to China is $1.157 trillion, as of September 2016. That's 30 percent of the $3.901 trillion in Treasury bills, notes, and bonds held by foreign countries. The rest of the $19.5 trillion debt is owned by either the American people or by the U.S. government itself. For more, see Who Owns the U.S. National Debt? China holds less U.S. debt than the record $1.317 trillion it held in November 2013. It reduced its holdings to allow its currency, the yuan, to rise. It's loosening its peg to the dollar. That will make the yuan more attractive to forex traders in global markets. Long-term, China wants the yuan to replace the U.S. dollar as the world's global currency.
By: Daniel LaFrance on December 2, 2016
Let's hope the USA doesn't lose its place as a superpower any time soon - I fear to think which country would replace it.
By: Bryan Jones on December 2, 2016
One wonders about the future of Americans with this lunatic in power. As you point out a small incident can cause the loss of everything.
By: red Kline on December 2, 2016
Interesting. I never knew that about the Dutch. Well they are still a speed skating super power. I am trying to keep an open mind about what it's in store for our country but it's hard keeping the faith. Take care Stephen.
By: Mr. Shife on December 2, 2016
I love tulips but not enough to pay that kind of price for them. Fascinating story and one that I had never heard.
By: Catalyst on December 2, 2016
The tulip is my favorite flower. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on December 2, 2016
I didn't know that; thanks for the history lesson!!
By: fishducky on December 2, 2016
Excellent post and historic admonition. The tulip boom and bust has always fascinated me. I have to wonder however if the Dutch are not happy with their respected place in the world of nations today? Disciplined, earnest, and with a state of mind that embraces a city like Amsterdam. Home to some masterful painters, writers and architects.
By: Tom Cochrun on December 2, 2016
I didn't know this, so thanks for writing about it. You're absolutely right about the adage, though. There's a reason those little sayings became well-known :)
By: jenny_o on December 2, 2016
Who would have thought it would take the Dutch a hundred years to figure out that it's really hard to find a tulip bulb big enough for the whole family to live in!
By: Val on December 2, 2016
We do need to learn from the mistakes of others, that's called wisdom.
By: messymimi on December 2, 2016
I must have been following your blog for a long time, because I vaguely remember this story. I like tulips, but if I were starving and/or poor, I'd prefer 1,000 pounds of cheese. Daniel's comments worry me, our future President just may have majorly ticked off the Chinese. Ugh. Forget the tulips and cheese, I'll have the two huge casks of wine instead...
By: Pixel Peeper on December 2, 2016
I knew they were a superpower and I knew tulips were important but I never put the two together. This was really interesting to read about.
By: Birgit on December 2, 2016
Amen to this! If we don't come together as a nation, history will repeat itself. You'd think we would know better by NOW.
By: Marcia @ Menopausal Mother on December 2, 2016
A fascinating post. As with all things ebb and flow (and what a gift to recognize which is which in advance)!
By: John Gibson on December 3, 2016
I love your knowledge of history and your ability to write about it so well. You have so many gifts. These along with your humour and artistic ability make you one of the finest bloggers out here. I don't visit blogs too often these days, but yours is always a great read. Thanks for that, CC. :)
By: Hilary on December 3, 2016
I remember this story well. We all get our time in the sun and it looks like ours is now over.
By: Tabor on December 3, 2016
Excellent post. Let me add to it. Had it not been for the Dutch traders and the British bankers, the Spaniards would have never reached America. The Spanish Crown was bankrupt after its war against the Moors and Holland was on its way to becoming the first capitalist country in the West, followed soon after by the English. Loved your post. Thanks. Greetings from London.
By: A Cuban In London on December 3, 2016
Funny joke! More people should look at history and learn from it instead of watching KimK's butt. First it was the dot-com bubble, then the housing bubble, and now credit cards and what will probably prove to be a very expensive work program for infrastructure -- run by an idiot. But the Fed and past governments are to blame too. Yes, credit cards bolster the economy, but if there are trillions being printed up and dumped into the economy for years now, it could all end very badly. Maybe the US's time on the world stage will be over soon too...
By: Lexa Cain on December 3, 2016
I remember some of this from my college history classes, but most of it slipped right on out when I was through with whatever test it aplied to. It is true....those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it. And we are already repeating and repeating and repeating.
By: Terri @ Coloring Outside the Lines on December 3, 2016
Some great perspective. From what I gathered in reading a book about New Amsterdam, the 17th century Dutch were ahead of their time in terms of democracy and egalitarianism as well,.
By: Tom Sightings on December 3, 2016
Great post. You just might have a good point here.
By: Bee Bee on December 4, 2016
This is an interesting post. You do a good job of reframing a situation to give one a new perspective. R
By: Rick Watson on December 4, 2016
Yes, it takes just some odd thing, then it's of value. Then not. Even down to the "it" toy for Christmas, or... Pet Rocks... Or memes on the internet. But, sadly, the ones you mention tend to have a tad bit more disastrous results when they go away... I'd read somewhere that one particular bulb sold for the equivalent of 7 million dollars. People are just that way, I guess... Cat
By: Cat on December 4, 2016

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