SCENES FROM THE CRISIS IN SPAIN
1. The Spanish economic crisis –with nearly a quarter of the population unemployed- has some good points. For instance, all Spaniards are now experts in economy. For months phrases such as bond yields, fiscal union, austerity and measures to reactivate growth (and expropriation) have been present in conversations you overhear in hairdressers’ or at the cafeteria. This will continue at least till the European Football Championship. But this education of sorts does not stop there: the other day, at a family gathering, my grandmother argued that an emphasis on austerity is the enemy of growth, and said that cuts in welfare policy means a reduction in jobs, and in consumer activity. My grandmother, who only attended primary school, is an intelligent woman, and has had to adapt to big changes: she has lived under four regimes in Spain. However, I never expected that she would turn to Keynes at 82.
2. At the same family gathering, I wonder why young people oppose job market reforms, when unemployment affects more than 50% of young workers in Spain. I would have understood that, instead of opposing the reduction of firing costs, they criticized that the new law does not solve the duality problem. In Spain there are still two types of workers: some have very protected jobs, while others are extremely easy to sack, and are sacked when the economy goes wrong. This second lot is mostly composed of young people. It has been claimed that young people have been cajoled by traditional leftist tropes into defending a cause which was not really theirs. But this interpretation could be wrong. They may be acting out of practical, realistic motives: lots of them have lost hope of finding a job, and are only trying to protect their parents’ jobs –aware that they will have to live off them for a long time.
3. Spaniards are justly proud of their health system. It is true that the low wages of doctors and nurses help make it cheap, and that sometimes there are long waiting lists. But it works, and it is recognized as a huge non-partisan conquest. The idea of a universal health system is noble and should be preserved. The new government’s decision to withdraw health cards from irregular immigrants is imprudent from the point of view of public health. It has been justified through economic arguments, but it seems there has been quite a bit of demagogic distortion. If this had been done in some other country, we may have talked about xenophobia. And, finally, this decision proves once again that the economic crisis not only makes us poorer: it also makes us meaner.
4. Prime minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to present new reforms every Friday. Though or the moment, he has made more cuts than real reforms, and though cuts in education and research do not seem the best policies to increase Spanish competitiveness, surely, Spain needs reforms and some of the ones he has begun may be good. But Mr Rajoy has not explained them to the Spanish people. A few weeks ago, after his government announced via a press note a 10 billion Euro cut in health and education (only ten days after presenting its budget), he ran away from journalists through a side door. He gave an interview to the Spanish press agency EFE, and he has been on the radio station Onda Cero, but has yet to give a long interview to a Spanish newspaper, or to appear on television to explain his decision to Spanish citizens. He makes a comment from time to time, mostly when he is abroad or at party rallies. No government representative commented on King Juan Carlos’ hunting accident, which escalated into an institutional crisis. Sometimes he seems to be a president on the mould of Bartleby, but in darker moments he gives the impression of being the captain of Costa Concordia –much more relieved when he has left the troubled ship.
5. One of the few things that Mr. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero got indisputably right was his attempt to liberate public television from government control. There were other mistakes, as bad financial strategies for the channel. I do not think the question here is impartiality. If I watch television with a paranoid eye, and I listen to a chorus of paranoid throats complaining, I might agree that reality is plotting against me. But, under the Mr Zapatero’s governement, public television stopped being a propaganda machine for the party in power, which was what had happened under the governments of Felipe González and José María Aznar (when the latter was prime minister, the television informative services were convicted of damaging workers’ rights during a general strike). Now, the government has taken over control of public radio and television again: its director can be decided by an absolute majority in Congress. A serious country should respect editorial independence, and the criteria of professionals. Public media must belong to everybody, and must aspire to debate and professional competence: these qualities, instead of the sectarians’ relativism, are what improve democracy and end up favoring all.