Carpe Diem Spain
Logic, economics and poverty be damned! In Mariano Rayoy the Spanish elected the only man in the country too stubborn to blink. What nobody knows, because he won’t speak, is whether he is a Machiavellian genius or a weakling too indecisive to act. Everyone suspects the latter. Either way, his fate is sealed now. He is either the man who faced down the Germans or the mouse that ruined Spain forever.
Despite the headlines Spain is still standing. Bloodied and maybe with a bit more sympathy for its fighting bulls than before la crisis, but standing nonetheless. While the troika mutters away on the sidelines it knows that Spain cannot fall. It is the pillar that props up the euro.
The Spanish people are convinced that their fate is out of their hands. The educated are migrating north, the rest south. For generations raised with the belief that oposiciones and meaningless qualifications were enough to guarantee a good living, the future is indeed daunting. But Spain is not the bleak wilderness that they imagine.
Many disagree. Catalonia is so convinced that Spain is moribund that it is making a bid for freedom. The Catalans, confident of their business acumen, want to cut themselves loose of the corpse before the gangrene spreads further. The Spanish are appalled but too stunned to react. In a crisis Spain always tears itself to pieces. The crazies are already imagining tanks on the streets. But this isn’t 1936. It’s not even 1981!
Hope is present even if everyone is blinded by the feedback loop of gloom. Tourism is holding up, booming even, and Spain has effectively devalued it monetary system by slashing civil service salaries. Real money, real ideas, are starting to count again. All the energy that went into harvesting the froth off the top of the absurd property boom is looking for a new outlet. The Spanish are the biggest untapped pool of talent in Europe. Low salaries and big brains: A boom in the making.
The Indignado movement looks so naïve in hindsight: Kids trying to change the government so that it could go fix Spain for them. A teenage pipe dream overwhelmed by inertia. But now, finally, the Spanish are waking up to the idea that their future is in their own hands. That the government won’t, can’t, help them. This week’s strike is a howl of rage. Cathartic but ultimately futile. There is genuine hardship all over the country, but the future is about focus not fury.
Spain needs to recover its pride. There is plenty to be proud of. It’s private banks are the best in the business (so says The Economist), its best retailers are conquering malls the world over, its heavy industry is still churning out profits in the background. You can’t outsource the weather and the lifestyle. Property prices are back at near-sane levels. Pallid northerners still dream of a better life in the sunshine. Now they can afford it.
It’s a universal truth of recessions that the moment that everyone decides that hope has died is the low point. That moment has passed. It’s time to move on, to move up. Spain is entering an era of ideas, of individual empowerment. Its future is in the hands of its people. They are more than capable. All the government has to do is avoid meltdown and free them. Free them from 100 years of accumulated paperwork, from rules-for-rules sake, from taxes in advance.
There will be twists in the tale yet, even a final savagery, but mark my words: In ten years time this will all look like the bad dream that it is. That’s the thing about nightmares; once you wake up they fade fast.