Monday, March 27, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 27.3.17

Years ago, I bought a DVD on the hilariously failed attempt by Terry Gillam to film his The Man Who Killed Don Quijote in Spain back in the early 2000s. This had been his 7th attempt and, hard as it is to believe, the obsessed chap has now embarked on his 8th. See here on this. Good luck to him.

Changing Spain?: Fancy a non-religious funeral? Well, you'll be pleased to know these are increasingly common in this ex-Catholic country.

Old Spain 1: Here's an article – in Spanish – on the fraud perpetrated – apparently with impunity - by electricity companies here. Essentially, your supplier (company A) colludes with company B to trick you into switching to company B and then back again to company A, with the objective of getting you out of the 'regulated market' into the 'free market', where you can be fleeced. I think reader Eamon might have experienced a version of this when a new operator called him and claimed to be a local office of his existing operator.

Old Spain 2: I treated myself to a Snickers bar yesterday. I paid over the odds for it at a 24/7 store but one expects this. More surprising was its small size. A quick check revealed that the weight wasn't disclosed on the wrapper. But there was the legend: Not to be sold separately.

Talking about Old Spain, recent Comments to this blog have centred on aspects of Spanish society in the early 20th century, especially in poverty-stricken Galicia. Going further back still, I cited a paragraph from George Borrow's The Bible in Spain, of the 1830s. My Dutch friend Peter Missler has offered this relevant chapter of his annotated version of Borrow's famous book. Enjoy!

Spanish Language Corner:-
  1. Google's machine recently translated arma blanca as 'white weapon'. In fact, it means a 'bladed weapon'. Or 'knife'. I've no idea why. Any suggestions?
  2. Here's a headline I'm having some difficulty with this morning: Soy el de las 'fucking rules'.
English Language Corner: I came across a new word – hetaera – this morning. In an obit about a friend of Christine Keeler, whom some readers might remember. It was applied to her and means:- 1. A highly cultured courtesan or concubine, especially in ancient Greece, or 2. Any woman who uses her beauty and charm to obtain wealth or social position.

I recently listened to a podcast on the difference between nationalism and patriotism, and to a debate on 'nationalism'. What surprised me is that no one made the point that nationalism is defined by its enemies and by separate/'different' values. One only has to listen to Galician, Catalan and Scottish nationalists for a few minutes to see this in action. Patriotism is a very different animal, far more compatible with multiculturalism and internationalism. Contrast this with the attitudes of that most stupid, dangerous and ridiculous nationalist of the moment, Donald Trump.

Which reminds me . . . . Today's cartoon, from The TimesThe new Oval Office. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy . . . .

Finally . . . At the end of this post, there's an article from today's Telegraph which embodies my own view of the EU. I, too, was very much in favour of the UK joining what we were told back then would be merely a large trading block, not a nascent superstate. 

By the way . . . As I've noted before, there are commentators who have supported Brexit but who are very concerned about the incompetent way it's being negotiated. Here's the most informed – and most despairing - of these, Richard North.


We were right to join and we are right to leave: where did the EU go wrong?

Roger Bootle, chairman of Capital Economics

Last Saturday was the European Union’s 60th anniversary. With delicious irony, this week the UK will begin the formal process of leaving the EU. I am afraid that I was not minded to wish the EU many happy returns, having keenly supported Brexit, and seeing the EU as an inhibitor of European economic growth. Indeed, I am greatly looking forward to our rebirth as a fully independent country. But it was not ever thus. So I have been reflecting on where the EU went wrong.

Even if we are right to be leaving the EU (and I think we are), this does not necessarily imply that we were wrong to join in the first place. I realise many of you will aver with pride and pleasure you were against the Common Market from the start. Good luck to you. You can reasonably claim to have been vindicated. But this is not my position. In fact, I was in favour of joining in 1973. Moreover, in the 1975 referendum I voted to stay in. I do not believe this was a mistake: I believe that we were right to join and are right to leave.

Let me explain. Since those days, the EU has changed, the world has changed, and we have changed. The original European Economic Community was formed in the shadow of the last world war, and in the imagined foreshadow of a new and more terrible war that might begin between the Soviet Union and the US. When we joined what we then called the Common Market, now the EU, in 1973, this was before the internet, globalisation and the collapse of communism.

Compared to now, the members of the EU accounted for a larger share of both world GDP and the UK’s trade. Moreover, around the world, tariffs on trade in goods were much higher, and services (which are not subject to tariffs) a smaller proportion of international trade.

Since then, of course, not only have tariffs come down dramatically around the world but trade in services has substantially risen, while the EU has fallen in importance. It now accounts for not much more than 20pc of world GDP, down from about 30pc 10 years ago. At the same time it is the destination for about 45pc of the UK’s exports of goods and services, down from about 55pc 15 years ago. Countries, such as India and China, that in 1973 economists could regard as broadly irrelevant for the world economy, now account for the bulk of economic growth. Not only that, but the communications revolution has brought almost all the world together at the click of a mouse.

When we joined, we were influenced by the fact that the members of the Common Market had enjoyed strong economic growth, whereas in the UK, although growth was high by our own historical standards, it was well below theirs. So in relative terms we seemed to be slipping back. Ironically, not long after we joined, our relative economic performance was transformed.

In the early years of the EU’s existence, apart from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which involved a ludicrous waste of money, it did not make any monumental economic mistakes. Nor was it obvious that the EU was going to become the bureaucratic nightmare that we know today. But before too long, the regulatory bandwagon started rolling. The single market became the mechanism through which the same crackpot over-regulation would be applied across the whole of the European Union.

For all its faults, provided that the world economy remained fairly stable, the EU would probably have been able to stagger on reasonably well. The trouble is, though, that over the past few decades the world has undergone three enormous shocks: the collapse of communism, the advent of globalisation and the communications revolution. These shocks demanded the utmost flexibility in order for the economy to adjust to them. But flexibility is exactly the thing the EU has learned not to do.

Not only that, but more recently it has made three big mistakes. The first is the formation of the euro, which many economists, including me, correctly identified as a prosperity-destroying machine long before its inception. The second was the failure to amend the free movement rules once the EU had been extended to encompass the former communist countries of eastern Europe. The third was the introduction of the Schengen passport-free travel zone, which has proved to be a security nightmare at just the time that security is at a premium.

In my view, these bad decisions should not be viewed as one-offs. The EU is so badly formed and its institutions so weak and brittle that it has an in-built tendency to make poor decisions. This means that whenever a serious issue emerges that demands efficient decision–making and good governance, it will be likely to fall short.

There are also two big issues coming up in the lift that will pose serious challenges to the EU: the ageing population and the advent of artificial intelligence and robotics. I confidently expect the EU to make a botch of both.

I suppose you could say that the fundamental source of all its mistakes was there right from the beginning of the EU, namely the belief on the part of its elites that the countries of Europe should transform themselves into a single or federal state. In 1973 and 1975 I failed to see the full consequences of this vision. Today, in common with the majority of my fellow citizens, I can see them all too clearly.


Sierra said...

Re: Trump:

"For the eighth weekend in a row, President Trump has visited a property that bears his name. He has done so on 21 of the 66 days he has been in office, meaning that for the equivalent of three full weeks of his just-over-nine weeks as commander in chief, he has spent all or part of a day at a Trump property — earning that property mentions in the media and the ability to tell potential clients that they might be able to interact with the president. Not just that, but whenever he travels, he takes a large entourage of Secret Service agents, advisers etc. All those people have to be fed, housed, transported etc. and he always goes to a Trump property, so when it's paid for by taxpayer funds, the profit ends up in Trump's pocket."

Sierra said...

Shrinking snacks - blame it on Brexit!!

Colin Davies said...

For a product sold in Spain???

Colin Davies said...

And size reducing has been going on for years, of course. It's a traditionla marketing strategy, even in times of stable exchange rates.

Eamon said...

Also don't forget I can save 30€ every month if I switch from Telefonica to one of the other companies and get television, internet and dirt cheap calls on my cell phone. I don't watch television and also don't have one of those cell phone gadgets which light up the street at night as people pass by my apartment. I mention to the sales person that everyone has already switched over to save the 30€ and I am the last subscriber to Telefonica. Ja ja they reply as they still continue to press for a change.

Alfred B. Mittington said...

Let me see…

Arma Blanca: you may wish to check out this here site which gives some information on the origin of the expression:

As for Spain being an ex-Catholic country: let us not forget that Manuel Azaña, grand intellectual, president of the 2nd Republic, and translator of Borrow's 'Bible in Spain' declared - I believe in 1930 - that 'Spain has ceased to be a Catholic country'. Nine years later the Generalisimo's Popish dictatorship was brought in, which kept Spain VERY MUCH a Catholic country until 1975. (Oh, and incidentally: the same George Borrow also declared in the preface to his 'Bible in Spain' that the country was no longer the slave of Rome… - plus que ça change…)

Finally: "Dutch friend"… I dare say, dear Colin, is that not, in your case, something of an oxymoron??


Colin Davies said...

Finally: "Dutch friend"… I dare say, dear Colin, is that not, in your case, something of an oxymoron??

I certainly hope so.

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