Monday, February 15, 2010

Travel writing; Democracy in inaction; the Spanish Economy (again!); and EU Solidarity

Thanks to my daughter in Madrid, I’ve renewed my acquaintanceship with Jan Morris’s book, Spain. Truth to tell, if I were a travel writer, I’d probably give up after (re)reading the matchless prose of her overview of this fascinating country, where “every generalisation must be qualified and every judgement half reserved”. True, things are not quite what they were when the book was first published in 1964 – I’ve yet to see clogs and ox-drawn carts in Galicia, for example – but Morris still captures the essence of Spain better than anyone else I’ve ever read. And it’s good to be reminded of the eternal positives of this nation and its peoples.

To compensate for banging on about the EU being non-democratic, here’s an article on how the British were denied knowledge of a key government strategy which, no matter how well meant, has had consequences for society that almost certainly merited discussion in advance.

Some readers think our friend Ambrose is largely wrong with his forecasts full of foreboding and some think the opposite. Wherever the truth lies, here he is with some worrying thoughts on the continuing vulnerability of Britain (and the pound) to the sentiment of lenders and speculators. Let’s hope he proves too pessimistic this time round.

A week of so ago, the Spanish Ministress of the Economy rejected criticism from Paul Krugman on the grounds he didn’t understand how the euro worked. Which, if true, would be a tad odd, as he’s reputed to be one of the world’s leading practitioners of the dull science. Well, here he is commenting on Spain’s problems in much the same language and with many of the same sentiments expressed in one of the articles I cited yesterday. PK agrees with those who say the eurozone is not going to break up any day soon. “What we’ll probably see over the next few years” – he says – “is a painful process of muddling through: bailouts accompanied by demands for savage austerity, all against a background of very high unemployment, perpetuated by grinding deflation.” Or, putting it the way someone else did today . . . “Denied the usual economic remedies – lowering interest rates, or devaluation – by their membership of the single currency, Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland will suffer economic stagnation, mass unemployment and shrinking public services. For a long time to come, their people will pay a terrible price for buying into the euro dream. If the euro itself did not die last week, the dream certainly did.”

Horrible as this prospect is, I’m still convinced most Spaniards don’t yet fully realise what’s about to hit them. Possibly because of the skewed priorities, the regular evasions and the misplaced optimism of their fair-weather president, Sr Zapollyanna. Who is finally showing signs of becoming as unpopular as he deserves to be. Perhaps things will change if and when we all start to see the sort of vicious hikes in municipal taxes already announced in some parts of Spain. Around the same time as the Sales Tax rate rise in mid year. Bleak times indeed.

But it’s not all bad news. I see that my deliberate tactic of putting a heading on my posts has had the desired result of getting my blog into Google Alerts for Galicia. In fact not just once but twice!

Finally . . . I wondered out loud last week how many Germans realised that the Spanish were no longer poor and deserving. So, I was naturally interested to read today that 53% of them think Greece should be chucked out of the eurozone, in preference to them getting subventions from northern European taxpayers. What particularly seems to have irked the hard-working Teutons is the discovery that, while their retirement age has been extended beyond 65, the “lazy, corrupt, inefficient” Greeks only have to wait until they’re 63. I fear we’ll see a lot more of these revelatory comparisons in the weeks and months to come. Which must be worrying for those Brussels bureaucrats who know that ‘solidarity’ depends on obscurity and ignorance in respect of these trifling matters. Maybe the cat is out of the bag.

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