The Dutch East India Company and the Dutch Early Modern Economy

par Wim Van lent

Projet de thèse en Science de gestion

Sous la direction de Stoyan Sgourev.

Thèses en préparation à Cergy Pontoise , dans le cadre de ED EM2C - Economie, Mathématiques et Management de Cergy , en partenariat avec ESSEC (laboratoire) depuis le 01-09-2010 .

  • Résumé

    My research setting is the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie – VOC), which existed from 1602 to 1796 and played a key role in the first wave of global trade, when many foundational capitalist institutions emerged. With my advisor, Stoyan Sgourev, I recently submitted a paper to the American Journal of Sociology that looks at how the VOC dealt with the problem of the incentives and monitoring systems needed by Dutch ‘principals' to ensure that their overseas ‘agents' protected the Company's interests. Studies have traditionally highlighted two solutions: of asserting the principals' authority by suppressing opportunism and of ceding control by enabling agents to engage in ‘private' trade. Through qualitative and quantitative evidence we show that Company officials in Asia played a complex, multidimensional game, reconciling the need to maintain high profit margins with the employees' desire to augment their income. Furthermore, our analysis suggests that the directors actively pursued a ‘middle way' between market and monopoly trade. This finding relaxes the traditional ‘control versus no control' dichotomy in the literature and promotes the idea that the coordination of economic activity may occur through fluid rather than rigid lines of authority. In the course of this research effort I have come to realize the degree to which the VOC was a ‘hybrid' organization, with political, economic and social functions that imposed contradictory demands on it. In another paper of mine I investigate how this hybridity affected the Company's functioning. Given that early modern Dutch society was patrimonial, the question arises as to whether corporate profits were approached mainly based on rational economic arguments. Corporate dividends mark a core topic in finance and economic research, but are absent from sociological and organizational studies. Yet, there is much to suggest that corporate decisions on dividends – whether to reinvest the profit or pay out to shareholders – are socially constructed. A longitudinal study of the VOC's dividend payout decisions sheds light on how locally rooted communal interests profoundly shaped the Company's dividend policy. Payouts were a product of a balancing act between ‘commercial' interests, informed by the exigencies of the global market in spices, and the ‘communal' interests of powerful local elites. Using dividend percentages as a dependent variable, the study contributes to a better understanding of the role of dominant shareholders in corporate governance and reveals how ownership concentration ‘rationalized' the redistribution of profit, providing a more credible signal to investors and creditors. As a pillar of the Dutch economy, the VOC was a key source of income for many Dutch communities. My third dissertation paper examines how the VOC recruited its work force and the impact this had on its performance. Evidence shows that recruitment became increasingly international, up to 60% of the work force in the mid 18-th century, when sailing became more lucrative and the purchasing power in the Republic plummeted. In order to scale up its activities the VOC had to replace informal, local hiring practices with ‘spot' recruitment of foreigners. Seeking cheap labor for its Asian operations, the VOC faced the problem of managing a workforce that was not steeped in Dutch culture and had relatively poor maritime skills. This study documents the absence of a drop in productivity over the 18-th century and inquires into the social mechanisms that permitted the VOC to successfully manage an increasingly heterogeneous workforce with only weak allegiance to the virtues of the Republic.

  • Titre traduit

    La Compagnie néerlandaise des Indes orientales et les débuts de l'économie moderne

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