Alexander Gogel - Career

Career

Gogel was the son of Johan Martin Gogel, a German officer in the service of the army of the Dutch Republic, and of Alexandrina Crul. He had only a limited formal education and went to Amsterdam to apprentice for a career as a merchant at age 16, at the merchant house of Godart Kappel en Zoon. He started his own firm (Gogel, Pluvinot en Gildemeester) in 1791.

Gogel was a typical "self-made man", a product of the petty-broking and merchandising world of Amsterdam. Though later one of the most prominent pioneering Dutch economists, he did not receive a formal education in this field. As a typical self-taught man he tended to borrow his ideas from all the great texts from the day, from Adam Smith to the Physiocrats. He became an adherent of the Patriot party in these years, because of the corruption he saw in the government of Stadtholder William V, and the steep decline of the country, especially in economic terms, that he held that government responsible for. This caused a lifelong enmity toward the rivals of the Patriot party, the Orangists.

Even before the Batavian revolution of 1795 and the proclamation of the Batavian Republic he became involved in revolutionary politics, on a local and later national, level. After the January 22, 1798 coup d'├ętat by general Herman Willem Daendels, he was appointed agent for finance and foreign affairs (pro tem) under the new Uitvoerend Bewind. However, the contraventions of the new, democratic, constitution of 1798 by the Vreede regime disaffected him, and he conspired with the other agents and again general Daendels to overthrow that regime in June, 1798. He then became a member of the Uitvoerend Bewind himself for a short while, till elections had been held for a new Representative Assembly.

He was again appointed Agent, this time for Finance, by the new Uitvoerend Bewind. He now started on the reform of the Dutch system of public finance that was long overdue. He attempted to reorganize the tax system, but because this entailed abolition of the old, federal arrangements, he met strong resistance. He tried to attain three main objectives with his imposing General Tax Plan: construction of a system of regularly levied taxes, instead of the hodge-podge of ad hoc taxes and forced loans that the Republic had to rely on to make ends meet; a shift away from regressive, indirect taxes toward direct income taxes; and an equalization of the tax burden between different parts of the country. Besides, he proposed to form a new, national organisation to collect the taxes. His General-Taxation-Plan legislation was first proposed in 1799, but only enacted on March 25, 1801. By that time the political winds had changed again. The unitarian Constitution of 1798, on whose tenets the plan was based, was being undermined by the Uitvoerend Bewind itself. The new Constitution of 1801, that came into force after another coup in the Fall of that year, entailed a re-federalization of the state. Gogel courageously fulminated against the financial chapters of that Constitution before the referendum that was set up to approve it. Soon afterward he lost his job, because the central Agencies were abolished, together with the Uitvoerend Bewind. In May, 1802, another of his reform plans, the founding of a National Bank, was discarded by the new regime (to be revived only in 1814).

Gogel now became a private citizen again, forming a new commercial firm Gogel en d'Arripe. During his years in the wilderness he remained in touch with politics, however. In the Spring of 1804 he approached the then commander-in-chief of the French army of occupation Marmont, a confidant of Napoleon's, with information critical of the Staatsbewind of the Batavian Republic, and a project for a new constitution. At the same time, Marmont happened to be fishing around for information of other discontented Dutch politicians, on the orders of Napoleon. Soon a coalition was formed around the Batavian envoy to Paris, Rutger Jan Schimmelpenninck that openly worked to drive out the Staatsbewind-regime. Gogel played an important role in this coalition, even though he (as a convinced unitarist) and Schimmelpenninck (as the leader of the federalists) did not see eye to eye on many things. However, Napoleon made clear that he preferred the unitarist vision of Gogel, and his opinion of course prevailed, when the Staatsbewind was replaced by the regime of Grand Pensionary Schimmelpenninck in May, 1805.

Gogel now was appointed Secretary of State for Finance. Now he was able to push through his old General Taxation Plan, in slightly modified form. This was made easier by the fact that under the new constitution of 1805 the often-obstructionist Wetgevend Lichaam (Legislative Corps) had been made toothless. Though Gogel was a lifelong democrat, never making concessions on his belief that the franchise should be universal (unlike other Patriot politicians, who in the course of events changed their views in a more authoritarian direction), as a technocrat he saw the advantage of being able to make his views prevail. His tax reforms were enacted in June, 1805, and put into operation on January 1, 1806.

However, the final days of the Batavian Republic were passing rapidly. Gogel was a member of the Groot Besogne (Grand Commission) that helped to negotiate the transition to the Kingdom of Holland under king Louis Napoleon, however reluctantly. In 1806 this title was changed to Minister under the new kingdom. As such he had to deal with attempts of the old elites to water down his new system of taxation that had been implemented only a few months before over much opposition. However, at first he gained the support of the new king, who had been impressed by his warnings about the dire state of the Dutch economy at the time. Revenues under the new system were falling short of expectations, and the kingdom therefore had to rely even more than before on deficit financing. The credit of the Dutch state had now suffered so much, that it was no longer possible to float bond loans without the assistance of the Amsterdam merchant bankers that had previously only served foreign governments, like that of the U.S.A., as intermediaries. Fortunately, the Dutch system for financing sovereign debt, foreign or domestic, was still unparalleled at the time. A few years later, however, the first benefits of the new system (enhanced revenues, reduced administrative costs, formation of a national fiscal bureaucracy) had finally been realized.

Some of those reforms were of lasting importance. As the verponding (land tax) was an important new element of the system a kadaster had to be implemented. This had important beneficial effects in the sphere of Dutch civil law, also. Other persisting reforms: in 1807 he was able to enact a law to reform the Dutch coinage. He also was instrumental in the abolition of the guilds and other econonomic reforms, like the abolition of internal tariffs and other obstructions to trade. He was the first director of the predecessor of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences under the Kingdom of Holland.

Like king Louis, Gogel had a difficult character. This led increasingly to personal conflicts. He resigned in 1809 because of a conflict with the king over a commission for further tax reform.

After the annexation of the Netherlands in 1810, Gogel took up the duties of finance minister again, but now as intendant des finances in the part of the imperial government that was devoted to the Dutch departments of the French Empire. He did this in the illusion that he might be able to shield his compatriots from the worst excesses of the imperial administration. Legion were his attempts to persuade the government in Paris that certain allowances had to be made for special Dutch circumstances. But, these proved mostly in vain. When the French lost their grip on the Netherlands in 1813, after the accession of William I of the Netherlands, Gogel fled to France.

He was allowed to return to the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1814, but he refused to take office under the new regime, which he viewed as a restoration of the pre-1795 Orangist clique that he despised (though he relented shortly before his death to become a member of the new Raad van State). He returned to private life, and started a small factory. He died soon after in 1821.

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