20 November 2011 ~ 1 Comentario

Spain’s big problem

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

Mariano Rajoy

All polls predict an overwhelming triumph by the Popular Party in Spain. Unless some unforeseen phenomenon occurs, Mariano Rajoy will be elected Prime Minister on Nov. 20 and will enjoy an absolute majority in Parliament.

Who is this politician? He is a 56-year-old conservative attorney, a Galician, a public servant for three decades. He has been a regional and national deputy and Ministry of the Interior. This is his third attempt to govern the Spaniards.

What’s Rajoy like? The most remarkable feature of his personality is prudence. That’s good. From the days of the Romans, we’ve known that the most important virtue of leaders is prudence. The house of government is not the place to send adventurers or venturesome spirits. Why? Because, when they make wrong decisions, something that happens frequently, millions of people suffer the consequences.

Rajoy seems to be the incarnation of the platonic idea of caution. He does not make explosive statements. Does not promise the moon. Is neither amusing nor charismatic. Aims very carefully before shooting. Is as serious as a gravedigger. Here’s a very eloquent fact: when he was a young lawyer uninterested in making a career in politics, he beat some extremely tough opposition to become Real Estate Registrar. He chose a professional career that was tranquil, almost anonymous, and notably lucrative. That says a lot about the man.

The Spain the next Prime Minister will rule suffers from a medullary, ancient problem that is at the core of almost all its conflicts: the country does not produce enough. Spain generates little wealth, when compared with the leading European nations: Germany, the Netherlands, England, France, Sweden or Switzerland. Its industrial park is weaker and less diversified.

The level of technical and scientific development is lower. The entrepreneurial fabric is not sufficiently dense to absorb all the people who are able to work, and does not give added value to production, at least not enough to pay good wages. The excellent tourism industry that every year welcomes 55 million tourists and makes Spaniards justly proud is the back bone of the national economy, but in that entertaining world of hand-clapping and hearty meals employers can’t pay big salaries.

Why does Spain produce relatively little? The explanations accumulate from the 17th Century, when England, Holland, France (and later Germany) began to separate from the rest of Europe. There are dozens of reasons and all are debatable. It is said the reason has to do with the Catholic view of the world, a view opposed to profit; with the type of education by rote, which does not encourage creativity; with a legal system that does not rightly protect property; with the moral values that look down on manual labor and hinder social mobility; with State mismanagement. There’s a surfeit of causes, real or fictitious.

Strictly speaking, that theoretical discussion does not alter the stubborn reality: the truth is that the country generates relatively little wealth to fund the type of life that society wishes to enjoy. If we want the State, using the general budget, to furnish good systems of public healthcare and education, comfortable means of transportation, modern infrastructures, generous retirement pensions, police protection and an efficient administration, it is necessary for many people to work in successful enterprises so that everyone may pay the taxes required. There’s no other way.

The existence of the Welfare State is not the result of the political decision of one society through its ruling class but of the real possibilities of the productive apparatus. If we want to live like the Swiss, we must produce like the Swiss.

Can Rajoy change the Spaniards’ secular patterns of collective bargaining? It’s difficult but not impossible. Didn’t Japan and South Korea do it? Aren’t India and China doing it, even though they are two very poor societies? Because Rajoy is a sensible politician, he will most likely tackle the most urgent problems (foreign debt, the deficit, unemployment) very soon. But if he is a true statesman, he will devote some ofhis efforts to try to change the course of his country in the long term. That really is a task for giants.

One Response to “Spain’s big problem”

  1. José López Mera 20 November 2011 at 10:06 am Permalink

    Excelent view, as usual, but there is something terribly wrong at the end. All societies, once they reach a certain level of (relative) “opulence” stop striving, leave responsibilities to the state and abandon themselves in the arms of politicians… Pots-war Japan was not such a society, neither were (or are) South Korea, India, Singapoore, Brazil or China.
    Sapin did reach that level of opulence but, alas!, it was a false feeling as it was based not on real achievement but on cheap credit and especulative building…

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