Another weekend, another round of protests here in Spain by the indignados, or “the outraged”, demanding an end to cuts and other austerity measures. I was taking a walk along the Gran Via yesterday when one troupe of demonstrators from Badalona came marching down the road, blocking traffic and shouting their uncoordinated, mismatched chants (for someone used to Korean demonstrations, Spanish protests are rather underwhelming).
But protest quality aside, what is most irksome is seeing how profoundly all involved in Spain — the pro-austerity crowd and the indignados — continue to miss the point.
On the one hand, cutting and slashing budgets in Spain (and much of Europe) are terribly bad macroeconomics. This budget was in surplus with a very small debt when the economic crisis happened, and austerity now in such a miserable economy only creates more problems than it is supposed to cure.
On the other hand, so much of Spain is still so horribly inefficient. Businesses have 20 people doing the work of four or five in, say, New York. One cultural organization I know here in Barcelona has 18 people employed in its tourism division — despite not offering any tours of its facilities or doing anything tourism-related. It’s crazy. The good years of 1996-2006 or so led to massive bureaucratic expansion, much of which is still in place.
So what solutions are politicians talking about? Instead of trying to figure out how to make the reforms that are needed to make Spain more efficient while creating projects that will help Spain in the long-term, we get arguments about Catalan independence. Instead of cutting the fat and adding to the efficient, we have institutions cutting the meat and protecting the fat.
People aren’t dumb, and as the Spanish political system proves itself to be thoroughly useless in solving the country’s problems, Spaniards are rapidly losing faith in the political system:
So we will very soon be in a situation in which the four main parties in Spain—the ones represented in the Metroscopia survey—all have around or less than 20% support, within a political and constitutional system that is rotting away all by itself due to so much corruption, incapable of bringing about the institutional changes necessary to adapt Spain to a new century, and in which there is no realistic alternative anywhere on the horizon capable of governing the country.
Of course, with the European economy as a whole shrinking for six quarters in a row — worse than the initial crisis of 2008/9 — it’s not like the rest of the continent is doing much better. It’s a beautiful place, but I’m happy I’ll be moving on soon.