Sunday, July 03, 2011

Who do they think they're kidding?


This sign – or something similar - appears on numerous blocks of flats in and around Pontevedra city. And doubtless in many hundreds of other cities throughout Spain. What it actually means is that between 75 and 100% of the flats – depending on how long ago they were built – are unsold. And that you can knock the price right down.

The Spanish economy: Edward Hugh's view on the robustness of this is not shared by everyone, of course. Here's Charles Butler of Ibex Salad with a contrary opinion on the competitiveness of the country's economy.

I'm still being highly entertained by the Iranian government's slant on world events, as trumpeted on PressTV. The network's stated goals are to:- “Heed the voices and perspectives of the people of the world; build bridges of cultural understanding; encourage human beings of different nationalities, races and creeds to identify with one another; and to bring to light untold and overlooked stories of individuals who have experienced political and cultural divides firsthand." In practice, what this means is obsessing about Saudi Arabian and American support for the “oppressive” government of Bahrain and interviewing every malcontent they can find in the USA.

My fig tree, as some will recall, gave me 25 figs earlier in the year – 24 more than in any previous year. And now it's decided to give me around 50 more in a second crop. But, as I don't eat this fruit, I guess they'll all wither on the branches again. Incidentally, the Spanish for fig is “higo” and the Gallego and Portuguese is “figo”, the name of the famous footballer, of course. Which reminds me that the Spanish and Gallego words for 'savings' are ahorros and aforros, respectively. Which is, I guess, another example of greater Gallego similarity with the original Latin and, thus, of its 'superiority” to Spanish.

Spanish society has a lot more live-and-let-live attitude than others. On balance, this is a good thing but it still amazes me how accepting the Spanish are – especially mothers with toddlers – of cyclists who ride along the pavements at high speed. Not just kids but adults as well. True, these people show great skill in weaving in and out of the pedestrian traffic and in avoiding those who make a sudden turn to left or right. But it's just an accident waiting to happen. Which reminds me, I came up against one such cyclist the other day, under some scaffolding where there was only space for one person (or bike) to proceed. I stood my ground for thirty seconds or so, while the kid used his balancing skills to keep the bike upright. I should've waited for him to fall off but, in the end, squeezed past him and walked on. Next time!

In ten years, there's never been a time when there weren't roadworks in and around Pontevedra city. As a result, we now have twenty or thirty more roundabouts than we did a decade ago. These, in theory, improve traffic flow. But this presupposes that drivers will courteously leave a gap through which traffic can pass if there's a jam on on their exit road. Which rarely happens here. It also presupposes that the traffic will use both lanes on a roundabout but this is actually illegal in Spain, where all drivers are told to use the outer lane unless they're making a U-turn. The end result is often chaos. And accidents, of course. Fortunately, I drove for three years in Tehran and have a seven-year old car which I'm not afraid to scratch or bump. So I can bulldoze my way through roundabout logjams. Which often gives me the pleasure of having Spanish drivers angrily blow their horns at me. Makes my day, in truth.

Finally . . . As I can't cite Times articles because of the paywall, here's the full text of a beautifully written article by Matthew Parris on the EU, with which I found myself in full agreement. The article, of course. Not the EU:-

Is it inevitable that Britain stays a full member of the European Union? Or that the EU continues with only one kind of membership? I’ve begun to wonder and I’m sure I’m not alone. Somewhere in the landscape of our political imagination something big has shifted. Certainties look uncertain. Impossibilities intrude as possibilities, are smilingly dismissed, but return.

When it comes to Europe I’m quaintly typical of millions of my fellow Englishmen. Testy. Confused. Mindful of the vision but despairing of the reality. Irritated by the bees in anti-European bonnets yet unmoved by the infatuation in enthusiasts’ eyes. By turns tepid, truculent or torn, I’ve all my political life been suspicious of passions on either side.

The result has been inertia. “Drag our feet but stay part of it” has been every British governments’s grumbling conclusion; string along with what suits us, obstruct what doesn’t, keep out of the wilder schemes and leave the dream of ever closer union to run into the sand. Most of all, we’ve been nervous about imperilling our national interest either through careless provocation of our allies and customers over the Channel, or careless infatuation with our common European home.

What, then, if there were a vote today? Would I still vote to stay? Probably. But that assumption of inevitability is leaking away. I’ve begun to daydream about halfway houses, two-tier membership arrangements, a semi-detached relationship in which the Franco-German core of the European project do what they surely have to do next if their dream is not to die: create a hard-edged and more exclusive Euroland in which harmonised taxes and spending, and harmonised debt-to-GDP ratios, run alongside the already unified currency. And we British stand outside that.

I’ve begun, too, to wonder whether, once the full-speed-ahead brigade of members had thrown off the yoke that we, the steady-on brigade, have imposed, both sides could get off each other’s backs. This could go beyond the economic sphere. Human rights, employment legislation, perhaps even the movement of labour ... once we’d stopped tripping and blocking those who wanted to proceed, they could return the favour by leaving us to our own devices.

Sir John Major, speaking to a private Conservative Party meeting on Thursday night, speculated upon (he did not assert) the possibility that if the euro is to be supported by EU members such as Germany, then as quid pro quo such members may before too long want a “fiscal union” to go alongside monetary union. He wondered, in short, whether if Germany and France were to pay the mortgage, housekeeping rules for all the household must follow. He implied that there was economic logic to that: the logic that drove him to keep Britain out of the single currency in the first place.

I agree. In the short to medium term, those members of the EU who wish (and can afford) to keep the euro will have to pool their sovereignty over domestic economic management: borrowing, spending, taxes. So far, much of the development of the EU has been gradual — “creeping” or “evolutionary”, depending on your slant; offering doubters no dramatic Rubicons at whose banks to declare “we will not cross” — but this would be a leap, a Rubiconic moment. It could not be done by stealth, or despite us. Here, we British could say: “We will reset our relationship with this altered institution — or we will leave”, and mean it. And not panic if we had to make good the threat.

Adding to that sense of leap must surely be the abandonment of the illusion — or pretence — that for full members of the EU, being outside the euro must be a transitional phase: a waiting room before entry. It may still feel like that for some. It used to feel like that for us British. It doesn’t any more. This being so, we could demand that two groups, two philosophies, acknowledge a real, not temporary, difference: not a Europe of different stages along a road to the same destination, not a two-speed Europe, but a Europe of two mansions: one intent on removing its internal walls, the other resolved to keep them. This acknowledgement should end the resentment on one side that the others are holding them up, and the resentment on the other that they are being pushed where they do not want to go.

None of this thinking is new. Much of it was always foreseeable. In a sense, nothing has changed. But I speak of a tsunami, nevertheless, because we are in the middle of one change: a change of underlying mood. We begin to see that the monolith is not omnipotent. We really could do this.

When what was ever thus looks as though it will be always thus, controversy is left to romantics. To me and to the majority of my countrymen, British Europhiles and British Europhobes have seemed to have a streak of romanticism about them. The rest of us kept out of the argument — or joined it in a desultory way — because, like it or loathe it, there seemed something awfully solid about Brussels. Lumbering, yes; infuriating, anti-democratic and brain-dead. But a political fact: a windmill at which only the quixotic tilted.

Queen Victoria, said H. G. Wells, “was like a great paperweight that for half a century sat upon men’s minds, and when she was removed, their ideas began to blow all over the place, haphazardly”. For most of our political lives the immutability of our EU membership has had that paperweight quality. Now comes the wind.

14 comments:

moscow said...

Colin,

Butler is just stating the obvious: Hughes is not only way off kilter but economically illiterate as well. As I said before, not sure you want to appear to be endorsing his views.

On UK & Europe. TherCe are two alternative options: join the Ruro or leave altogether. Britons will want to join when they start to sense that their pockets are being affected. Tell me, where is the pound now? Where was it 10 years ago? Is that just "sentiment"? Patently no.

Charles Butler said...

Moscow,

Hugh is merely a trend following device further encumbered by having only managed a bachelors degree in economics by the LSE - 40 years ago. This is why he describes himself with the non-existent title of 'macroeconomist', because he has no legitimate credentials that are not self-ascribed. What is truly astonishing, though, is that when he talks about foreign trade and competitiveness he consistently and unfailingly puts up evidence that actually disproves his point. It's not just journalism. He actually believes himself.

Hi Colin. Some possibility I'll be in your neighbourhood over the summer. Maybe we could sit down and have a smoke and a chat.

Cheers

Mike the Traditionalist said...

My UK pension is worth a quarter less than it was when I first came to Spain seven years ago and for several years now I have had to learn to live on less money. How would it help me if Britain joined the Euro? Try paying UK bills from a Spanish bank and vice versa paying Spanish bills from a UK bank. Also if you have a pension from a UK government department you have to pay UK income tax on it whether you live in Spain or the UK. When I came to Spain to buy my apartment I got caught up in the changes where I had to prove to the Spanish authorities where I got all my money from. If I had put my money into my Spanish bank two years earlier I would have avoided all the nonsense it involved. I have had a Spanish bank account since 1968. We may all live in one big happy European community but it doesn't work out that way if you are a foreigner here in Spain. I don't know how things are in other European countries. It seems to work well only if you are on holiday.

moscow said...

Mike,
I am all for bringing down barriers and making live easier for us all.
Unfortunately, Eurosceptics (Colin much regretably included) are totally blind to the potential outcome of their folly. And the potential for mayhem as we are seeing now in Greece is large.

Colin said...

Hi, Charles. It's be a honour, though of course you know that the smoking will be confined to you . . .

You have an open invitation to stay at my place. Perhaps Moscow could join us . . .

Cheers.

C.

Colin said...

Moscow,

And where would the peseta be now against the pound if Spain weren't struggling with a euro rate that has always suited (and depended on) the Germans?

Not to mention the drachma, the punt, the escudo, etc. etc.

I don't endorse EH. I don't have enough economics knowledge (as I think you keep telling me) to agree or disagree with him. But his views interest me.

Colin said...

As would yours, if you didn't get so ad hominem so often . . . .

Colin said...

Fortunately for me, I converted all my savings in pounds into euros ten years ago.

And I've watched them being eroded by an inflation rate in Spain way above the eurozone average because of the way the latter was created and managed. Fro the benefit of Germany (and France) it needs saying again.

Will this (or later) generation(s) of Greeks regard the euro as a good thing because there were no currency movements and no exchange fees?

Colin said...

Is life really easier for Greeks, Irishmen, the Portuguese and even Spaniards right now? Have all the predicted reforms within the EU straitjacket really been made? Will they be made before social realities overtake political realities (by which I mean dreams, of course)?

moscow said...

Colin,
By ad hominem you mean personal? Sorry, don't know Latin. And what do you expect if you write a blog with views that are so personal? I honestly don't undertsand. However, I always do pull my punches conscious of how sensitive you are and how emotionally charged (spanish?) you tend to react.

Somebody said once those sending comments in blogs belong to two types: those with contrarian views - who usually end up posting vicious tirades full of hatred and bile, and those who support the blogger because they entertain similar views and attitudes in life (without meaning that they are all a bunch of well-wishing sycophants). There is no room for the middle ground. I think the guy who wrote that was absolutely right.

The Euro was never the problem. What the Euro has done is EXPOSE the problems of some countries. Some should clearly never have entered (Greece and Portugal, particularly Greece). I think Ireland's problems are of a different nature. You could have argued that Spain should have delayed entry until it had sorted out it's inefficiencies. But I am afraid that would not have happened.
Therefore, the inefficincies will be sorted out (particularly after the PP wins the next election) while Spain is in te Euro.

I finish by saying that I totally disagree with you on Europe. I just don't have the time to explain.

Mike the Traditionalist said...

I guess some of the countries that joined the European community were getting such good help funding what their country needed they thought it would be just as easy if they changed their currency to the Euro. Spain gained a lot before it went over to the Euro but once in it was a different story. I don't think the Spanish are any more inefficient than anyone else. It is just the custom to have a lot of unnecessary paper work which does slow things down. Instead of taking ten minutes to deal with one person they could do the same in five if the paper work was lessened. If you are able to watch TV Galicia's presentation on farming and fisheries you will notice that they have the most up-to-date systems in place. Only the paperwork slows things down and how the importers of Spanish goods deal with it I don't know.

Colin said...

Moscow,

"ad hominem" is one of the several Latin phrases used in modern English. But I guess you knew that. If not, try this
http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argumento_ad_hominem

So, there's a big difference in English between a 'personal' blog and a 'personal' comment. The former applies, effectively, to the the person and the latter to the deed. One more or less positive and one definitely negative in connotation.

I see you haven't answered my questions (again).

I don't agree with you about commentaries on the net. Sure, these are the extremes but, if one reads comments to Economist articles, for example, there are not just extremist views. Elsewhere, it's different and the vast majority of comments are polemical rubbish. Which, however, I would never class yours as, even if you do completely disagree with me. Everyone has the right to be honestly wrong. And to argue their case.

Yes, I knew you completely disagreed with me on the EU.

I don't think I would make a good politician but I fancy that, if I did have a go at it, I'd make a better fist of it than you. By this I mean a national politician, of course. You would make a vastly better EMP than me. Even more so in the case of a Brussels based eurocrat.

BTW, if anyone from Google is reading this, it annoys me that I sometimes have to complete word verification when I am sending a comment to my own blog. Surely you can join the bloody ends.

Pericles said...

One term FLOTUS.

T'is a pity that active links & pictures cannot be posted here as it would be so much easier to illustrate Life imitating Art. Cut & paste it has to be.

http://stevengoddard.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/screenhunter_218-jul-04-11-25.gif

http://stevengoddard.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/images-6.jpg

Colin said...

@Moscow

"What the Euro has done is EXPOSE the problems of some countries."
So, Spain had a phony construction boom problem before the euro was launched with interest rates totally inappropriate for Spain with its inflation rate double that of the EU average? Ditto elsewhere.

@Pericles. Thanks but not sure what this relates to . . .

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