Monday, June 6, 2011

A View From The Puerta Del Sol

I have just returned from nearly a week in Spain, delivering a plenary address at a conference on nonlinear economic dynamics in Cartagena. I also spent a day in Madrid. Spain has the highest unemployment rate in Europe, as high as 40% for youth, and many think that it is the linchpin to maintaining the eurozone, with Germany and the other big countries able to manage defaults and bailouts for Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, but not for Spain. There have been people camping out in the main squares of cities around Spain, and the conservative opposition party has just swept the local elections big time. There was a small group camping out in Cartagena. People there were speaking out and singing in the evening.

However, the biggest group camping out is in Madrid, in its central square, the plaza of Puerta del Sol. I visited this area and walked through the encampment that fills the plaza, actually a long half-oval rather than a square. There were many tents and also tables with people selling stuff and handing things out under canvasses. There signs and all kinds of things, including posters and sculptures and whatnot all over the place, exhibiting a plethora of views and on many issues, not all about unemployment, with green issues and support for Arab Spring demonstraters among other matters focused on. I would also say that while the ideological strand tended more to the left, with many denunciations of capitalism and imperialism, some of it was a lot less clear, with many denunciations of bankers and also of "Europe," possible from either end of the spectrum (there was a particularly bizarre sculpture of a "vampiro banquero"). There were two pictures of Friedrich Nietszche in different spots, whose views and fans have been rather all over the place, and I saw no hammers with sickles.

Emblamatic of the rather foggy, quasi-anarchistic mood and views there was a large poster on the wall of one of the buildings. It showed a nebbishy looking man, sort of like Woody Allen, no beard or moustache, with rimless round spectacles, in an exaggerated military uniform and his right arm clearly raised, although cut off before the image got too far from his shoulder. However, he was also clearly wearing a shirt with a tie, and on his head was an oversized military hat, but with enormous Mickey Mouse ears on it. I could not fully read the label under this image, but it looked something like "Non No Represendar."

6 comments:

Brenda Rosser said...

I love the spectacle of a demonstration or a political gathering. It sounds like this is the right time to go on a tour of the world and wonder at this muddled, confused, reactionary 'revolution'.

It seems that those born in the 1980s are beginning to wake up from a 'slumber' caused by their entire generation almost completely engulfed in historical and political ignorance. They're stunned and thinking Hey! Where's my income? How am I goin' to live now? What happened?...I never saw this coming!

Immersed in the electronic gadgetry of mp3 players and computer games, democracy committed suicide. Two (and sometimes three) parties gerrymandered the voting system, private risk was moved to the public sphere, the real revolution is now long completed - government of all for the enrichment and aggrandisement of few.

Barkley Rosser said...

Brenda,

A lot of people are facing things that they had no idea they would have to face and do not know what to make of it. Spain has an especially curious and unpleasant history with the long-ruling Franco regime, now gone for a third of a century. In Cartagena, I saw signs demanding the removal of remaining Francoist monuments or public signs. The conservative PP is able to do well to a substantial degree because it has pretty much finally severed its old links to Franco's party, the Phalange.

I need to correct one remark I made. Spain has the highest unemployment rate in the European Union and also in the OECD, but not the highest in "Europe," with some of the former Yugoslav republics not in the EU higher, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Also, I checked a Spanish dictionary, and "representar" is "to represent." This "represendar" is presumably a takeoff, but maybe I just did not read it correctly.

Brenda Rosser said...

Why does Spain have the highest UE in the EU, Barkley?

Barkley Rosser said...

Brenda,
I honestly do not know, but it has been true for some time, although it has gotten worse more recently. Like the US and Ireland and the UK (and OZ, although theirs has not crashed yet), Spain had a really large housing bubble, much of this puffed up by regional banks known as casas that were originally set up as regional banks to fund local small businesses. In more recent years these casas got very into not only puffing the housing bubble, but also heavily dealing with the sort of bonkers derviatives that came out of the bubble. Many of these failed with the hard collapse of the housing bubble in Spain, arguably worse than in the US. So, this certainly contributed to why Spain fell harder than most, but it already had a higher unemployment rate going into the mess before it broke, and this I do not really understand.

Brenda Rosser said...

Flashing back to early February 2008 in Spain:

"Reliance on the ECB window appears to have kept the mortgage sector afloat despite the sharp slowdown in the Spanish property market and the de facto closure of the capital markets for this type of business, allowing Spain to avoid the sort of mishap suffered by Northern Rock in Britain and Countrywide in the US. The data appear to confirm suspicions that the EU authorities have carried out a covert rescue of the Spanish mortgage banking system. It may equal the taxpayer rescue of Northern Rock in Britain, and possibly exceed it in proportion to the overall size of Spain's economy. The key difference is that the ECB rescue operation in Spain has been disguised. A veiled method is necessary since the eurozone lacks a clear-cut lender of last resort. The IMF has warned that this gap in the architecture of of the single currency could prove serious in a crisis.Traders say the Spanish authorities are quietly turning a blind eye to use of the ECB window..."

Barkley Rosser said...

Brenda,

However, in the end some of the casas did fail, even if all the big banks survived. An ironic detail is that the casas were originally set up by the Roman Catholic Church and were supposed to help fund charity groups as well as regional small businesses. I think their links to the Church were dissolved officially some time ago, although there may still be some residual ones.