Saturday, April 26, 2014

The economy; Spain is Different 5; Language abuse; & Blame for the Moyes debacle.


The good news on the Spanish economy is that, after 5 or 6 years, it's finally moving in the right direction, albeit slowly. However, some commentators - most? - feel that it'll take quite some time to impact on the country's massive unemployment rate of 26%. As Edward Hugh puts it:- Many of the old doubts about the durability and sustainability of the Spanish expansion remain. The labour market is still a huge problem, the housing market is gridlocked, credit is scarce and expensive, and the population is shrinking at nearly 1% a year as discouraged workers (both nationals and former migrants) pack their bags and leave. . . The big question still remains: is this a balanced recovery, an export lead one, or simply a government financed one?

All I can add is that several more shops closed in Pontevedra while I was in the UK. And this is a wealthy city.

One bit of undoubtedly good news is the growth in the number of tourists heading to Spain. These totalled 10m in the first quarter of 2014, well up on last year. Another bright spot has been the growth in exports but this may have stalled now.

Spain is different 5:

  1. Spain is not unique in giving certain officials immunity from legal suits. The difference lies in the numbers. Hundreds in Spain, one or two elsewhere.
  2. Likewise with pardons for those (eventually) convicted in Spain.
  3. Not just foreigners but many Spaniards think that Spanish teaching methods are stuck in a past of rote learning. If so, this may account for the poor performance of Spanish teenagers in problem-solving challenges. Certainly, Spain has a higher school dropout rate that other European countries, something which got even worse during the boom, when high-paying jobs were plentifully available on construction sites.
  4. The Spanish use capital letters for some words (e. g. History) where others don't and don't use them where other do (e. g. british). I'm compiling full list for publication.
  5. In Spain there are still ironmongers who will sell you a single screw and then wrap it for you. No so in the UK, or in many countries, I suspect.
The house being built below mine continues to be in a state of stasis. But the (otherwise idle) crane, has swung round 90 degrees. In the wind.

Language abuse: If you can think of nothing good to say about your supermarket products, claim they're 'specially selected'. As in, "We need to sell some sausages. So, we won't take those lamb chops; we'll take these sausages."

Finally . . . Not everyone will be interested in this but here's Simon Barnes of The Times giving his view on the Moyes debacle at Manchester United. As I said the other day, it must all come back to Alex Ferguson. So I don't have any difficulty agreeing with Mr Barnes:-

Don’t blame David Moyes. It wasn’t his fault. He was just an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire. It’s not his fault he isn’t Sir Alex Ferguson — just as it was wasn’t Louis XV’s fault that he wasn’t Louis XIV, or that it was John Major’s fault that he wasn’t Margaret Thatcher. Moyes just had the misfortune to sound a little bit like Ferguson.

Who can we get to succeed me?” Ferguson wondered. “I know! Me!” He chose Moyes because Moyes is a thoroughly good egg and has always had the right sort of attitude to Ferguson. That is to say, deferential, awed, one step away from forelock-tugging. Put that together with the right sort of accent and what you’ve got is the footballing equivalent of the old school tie.

Fergie Lite. That’s what it amounts to. A talented, decent man without Ferguson’s mania. An absolutely first-class type — but alas, first class of the second class. It was, in short, a classic botched succession: the old tyrant installing his favourite son, Manchester United as a sort of footballing North Korea. And calamity always follows. It happens throughout history; the passing of the autocrat is almost invariably followed by chaos. It is the successor who cops the blame, but the fault is always with the autocrat who came before. And you can say what you like about Ferguson — praise him as generously and rightly as my colleague Matthew Syed did in these pages a couple of days back — but he was as much an autocrat as Louis XIV.

Le club c’est moi. “When I want your opinion I’ll give it to you,” Tommy Docherty used to tell the chairmen of the football clubs he managed, or so he claimed. Ferguson put that principle into practice. He created an absolutist state in which anyone who showed any independence of spirit was sent into exile, regardless of value: Ruud van Nistelrooy, David Beckham, Paul Ince, Roy Keane, Jaap Stam, and on and on.

And it worked. My God, it worked. The city state of Manchester seized control of all England. There wasn’t a rival club who weren’t at heart deferential to Ferguson, who weren’t at bottom a subject. That carried on into his power over referees, his power over all decision-makers in football. He compelled obedience.

His record, at least in England, is staggering. It will be a long time before another manager can match Ferguson’s collection of Premier League titles. The Champions League record is the only thing that lets him down in his search for total mastery; two is very good, certainly, but doesn’t break the sound barrier into great.

Ferguson achieved almost everything he and United could possibly have wished. The only serious blemish is the succession, and the plain fact is that the succession is a calamity. Moyes has gone, United have announced that Ferguson will be closely involved in finding the next manager: like a king appointing future kings from beyond the grave. It’s a bizarre decision: Ferguson’s record of appointing managers of United is not exactly 100 per cent. At least not in the right direction.

But hear a plain fact. The problem is not that it is difficult to find the right man. It is that there is no right man. You simply can’t follow a highly successful autocrat. I mean, whoever heard of Attila the Second?

Here’s one more man who would have failed as United’s new manager — Sir Alex Ferguson. I don’t mean he would have failed in the Moyes manner if he had stayed in charge. If he had done so, given the gift of eternal life, United would be pretty much where they have always been under his command. What I mean is that if a real Ferguson clone could have been manufactured — rather than the faux clone Moyes — he too would have failed this season.

That is in the dynamics of a fully evolved autocracy — the autocrat can’t be replaced. You can’t take the keystone out of an arch and slip in a replacement, not even an identical replacement. That’s because the whole damn thing has already collapsed. If power is concentrated in a single individual, he becomes, quite literally, irreplaceable. You can put someone in to do the same job but he won’t get the same results. The thing is impossible.

Louis XIV, it is generally agreed, did a jolly effective job of being king of France. No one was ever in any doubt as to who was in charge anyway: l’état c’est moi and all that. Ferguson was very much his sort: call Fergie “le boss soleil”. But Louis XIV also botched the succession: the next Louis was only 5 when he took over, and when he reached majority he was generally recognised as a poor show: lost wars, strife, faction and feud, all the stuff that led eventually to the events of 1789. The Sun King’s legacy was, ultimately, revolution.

Scan the pages of history and the story is repeated again and again. Georgy Malenkov was the David Moyes of the Soviet empire — he held power for a full week after Stalin. They really knew how to go through managers in those days.

Modern democracies are supposed to prevent such messes. In a way, the whole point of democracy is to make it possible for successions to take place with minimal disruption to normal life. But Thatcher was as near a thing to an autocrat as anyone could be in our political system, and therefore it was inevitable that her succession was botched.Her suggestion that the solution to the problem was famously to “go on and on”, which can more or less be regarded as her famous last words. Ferguson adopted that solution himself, triumphantly unretiring and going on and on as long and as successfully as any mortal could. But there comes a time when even kings die, when even great football managers must step back.And then some kind of serious falling-off is inevitable. Of course, every autocrat thinks he — or, rarely, she — will be the one exception. Of course they do, they wouldn’t be autocrats if they didn’t think they were exceptional even by the standards of their fellow autocrats.

But again and again they make a hash of it, not because of the limitations of their successor, or even the limitations in themselves, but because to an autocrat there can be no real successor. Just the bloke who comes next.

You can follow the autocrat with a good, understanding, listening people-person and he will fail. You can follow the autocrat with another autocrat and he will fail. You can follow an autocrat with Mother Teresa or Attila the Hun, Stalin, Le Roi Soleil or Pope Francis, and they will all fail.

Autocracy is a marvellously effective system, wonderfully economical in its decision-making, gloriously tidy in the way it works. And you can get things done all right — you can certainly make the trains run on time.

But the one thing you can’t do is pass it on to the next leader. All autocrats are by definition victims of their own success.

1 comment:

Perry said...

Colin,

Thou hast unpacked Pandora's box & I smell fish.

Shops closing in Pontevedra are underlining the validity of Maslow's ladder of hierarchy. When times are tough, reality causes the downfall of demand for luxuries. Even safety becomes less important than food & shelter. Hence, people will risk their lives in open boats or work in dangerous occupations.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs

Teaching by rote is important in certain subjects; Multiplication tables, for example. My sons are handicapped by not knowing their tables & mental arithmetic is beyond their kens.

As for Simon Barnes?..........Words fail me. What a girlie!!! I suppose I'm not interested in MUFCup.

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