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Compromise Helps Dutch Stay Afloat In Crisis

By TOBY STERLING

AMSTERDAM (AP) â¿¿ In the U.S., tax hikes have been the subject of partisan warfare that brought the country to the very edge of a "fiscal cliff." In southern Europe, spending cuts have led to mass protests and labor strikes.

Maybe both could learn from the Dutch â¿¿ whose compromise culture has kept the country afloat throughout the economic storm.

In the Netherlands, hits from the global financial crisis have so far been absorbed in a more relaxed way, as political parties, trade unions and officials have been more focused on cutting deals than in fighting over principles â¿¿ and sharing pain as well as prosperity.

After all, the pragmatic Dutch outlook says, we're all in this together.

The Dutch system, known as the "Polder Model," seeks to divvy up the inevitable suffering from a downturn in a way that feels fair to all. Employers agree not to slash as many jobs as they otherwise might in exchange for workers agreeing to take pay cuts and not go on strike. The government, meanwhile, attempts to build public support for tax hikes and spending cuts by distributing them evenly across groups.

"Everyone is going to feel the pinch," Prime Minister Mark Rutte said after a recent meeting with industry and union leaders, while adding: "We're going to share the burdens as equally as possible. As a united country we're strong."

The idea of "Poldering" resonates deeply with the Dutch populace. Historically, dwellers of the low-lying country had to cooperate across social classes to share the costs of maintaining the system of windmills and dikes that protected them from floods and turned marshes into dry farmland known as "polders."

It was a matter of life and death.

Now, with the economy in the doldrums, the housing market in decline and unemployment at a 10-year high of 7.2 percent, Poldering is back in vogue.

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