Talking of taxis . . . There's an awful lot of them around here. And every company seems to be Asian-owned and manned. Like all taxi drivers, they're prone to giving you their opinions. Which, coming from a different perspective, can be quite interesting. If wrong. I got an insight into the question of why so many cars on the road are taxis when I overheard an Australian saying that, in contrast to back home in Oz, the buses here are expensive, whereas the taxis are cheap. So if there's two, three or four of you, it can be a no-brainer
There are, of course, several reasons why the Spanish government can't achieve either the deficit or growth levels demanded by Brussels/Berlin. Off the top of my (non-economist) head, these include:-
- You can't just stop the vanity projects initiated during the (phoney) boom years, either centrally (e.g. the AVE to Galicia) or regionally (e.g. the vast City of Culture complex outside Santiago de Compostela).
- It's tough to get rid of the extra layers of bureaucracy that were installed when people worried even less than usual about whether the jobs were justified. There's nothing more successful at resisting retrenchment than a bureaucracy. Witness the 7% growth in the EU budget for this year.
- You can talk all you like about merging the town halls of tiny councils but it's a tad harder to achieve this in practice. It's not just salaries at stake.
- It's impossible to change the ridiculous Spanish working schedule which means that many people don't start working until 9 or even 10, then take a long lunch break and come back at 4.30 or 5 to work until 9 or even 10 at night. Everyone knows this is a low-productivity pattern but no one seems interested in - never mind committed to - changing it.
- Madrid may shout at the (17!) regional governments and even issue instructions - e.g. to lower debt levels - but it's another thing to get them to respond, even if they're from the same party. And impossible if they're not. Or if they're of a secessionist stamp, like Cataluña or Pais Vasco. And
- It's impossible to do anything about the black economy which is estimated at 20-30% of the economy and which denies tax revenue to the regional and central governments. In fact, the evidence is that it's growing, as people do everything they can to reduce outgoings.
There aren't many activities for which one can boast a hundred per cent record. But I can lay claim to one of these. Every single time I put, say, a glass of wine or a mug of coffee on the floor and say to myself "You shouldn't do that; you're bound to step on it or knock it over" I subsequently do. As I just have with a mug of coffee. Good job my daughter has a wooden floor, otherwise I'd be in serious trouble now.
Of course, if she had a carpet . .
The other thing I'm great at doing is fulfilling the threat that I will decorate myself with 'dinner medals' whenever I take a dish of, say, curry (or even porridge) into the lounge to watch the News or Family Guy on TV. I managed it with some curry today and was a bit concerned to see that, when I tried to wash yellow stains out of my shirt, they turned purple.
Some readers will know that I'm not Damien Hirst's biggest fan. So I was pleased to read two perspicacious reviews of his latest exhibition, in which art critics aimed such barbs as "The paintings are an abomination." And - "Stop now. You have become a disgrace to your generation." As if he was ever anything but an untalented conman. Click here and here to enjoy more of these truly critical opinions.
Finally . . . I noticed this afternoon that the 12 year-old schoolgirls in the supermarket were in full make-up. For some reason, the phrase 'scouse brow' leaped into my mind and, on getting home, I went on the internet to find out what it was. I should first say that scouse is the adjective for folk who live on Merseyside. Thought to be of Scandinavian origin. Anyway, here's what I found - Scouse brow is the monstrous make-up movement gripping D-lebrity land - the most terrifying beauty trend to hit the high street since the 'vajazzle'. Yes, but what exactly is it? Well, here's a beginner's guide. And here are some pix. Now you know.
Finally, finally . . . . The euro and the EU: Here's a few paragraphs from an article from an American commentator.
Some two decades ago, when Europe’s leaders worked out the details of their grand vision to connect the European Union with a single currency, virtually every economist on this side of the Atlantic — and most of those on the other — figured out that the euro would be fatally flawed. What took economists some time to understand was that Europe’s leaders didn’t much care what they thought
The single currency served an overriding political objective. Like the single market before, it was conceived primarily as glue to bind Europe more closely together, tie Germany’s prosperity to that of its neighbors and prevent a third world war from the Continent which had brought us two. A few engineering flaws wouldn’t be allowed to get in the way of such an important project.
A little over a decade since the first euro bills hit the shops in Madrid and Berlin, the euro’s design flaws have pushed much of the European Union into a deep economic pit. And political imperative is again being deployed as a major reason to stick to the common currency.
Yet for a project intended to draw Europe together, the euro did surprisingly little to build solidarity. German voters endured a recession two decades ago after bringing in their brethren from the Soviet bloc. They now appear unwilling to spend a pfennig to help the Greeks, Spaniards, Portuguese, Irish or Italians. Conceived as a tool for integration, the euro could, instead, tear Europe apart.
Europe would be in much better shape if the euro didn’t exist and each member country had its own currency.
The main problem is that while leaders eagerly embraced the monetary bond, they rejected its necessary complement: a central budget that would transfer money from successful regions to under-performing ones.
Despite its flaws, there is one powerful reason to stick to the euro that even some of the most skeptical economists accept: the prospect of breaking away from the euro is very scary. It’s difficult to forecast how such a dissolution would unfold. There is, in fact, no legal way to leave. And it would be searingly painful for many countries.
Still, the risks of unscrambling the monetary union omelette must be evaluated alongside the risks of leaving it scrambled.
For the sake of European unity, letting go of the euro may be the better option.
Says it all, really. Click here for the few paragraphs I haven't pasted above.