Thursday, November 30, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 30.11.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

  • The number of companies who've moved their HQ out of the region - on paper at least – has now risen to more than 2,700. 
  • The current drought is now said to be the worst in on record. Here in 'perpetually wet' Galicia, the president has warned of restrictions in 90 days time, if things don't improve. Meanwhile, the media continue to give us suggestions on how we might save water. Some of which should surely be permanent. Like not running the tap when you're cleaning your teeth.
  • I suspect we might have seen these suggestions on how to enjoy the winter in Spain about 12 months ago.
The Spanish Language
  • I've noted in the past that we have more than 12 local daily newspapers. You might wonder what they get to fill them. Well, there's all the syndicated stuff, for a start. And the institutional advertising. And then there's the endless comparisons with other regions or cities. For example, from the last couple of days:-
- Galicia is only the 10th of the 17 regions when it comes to investment in R&D. At a low 0.9% of GDP.
- Galicia has the lowest gap between the highest and lowest salaries of civil servants.
- Galicia comes second bottom – after Extramadura – when it comes to 'cultural spend' per capita
- Pontevedra is the 4th highest province at fining those who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
To be honest, it all gets rather boring. Irritating even.
  • Perhaps more interesting is the news that the number of (registered) Brits in Galicia has soared from only 37 in 2012 to 89 now, an increase of 141%. The explanation is probably the implementation of increased teaching of English, via young Assistants. Who then all offer private English lessons, which helps to keep the price to what it was 15 years ago - €15 an hour. Worth possibly only half as much now.
  • The first day of the new laser radar traps resulted in 4 bookings. All were said to be going at more than double the limit of 30kph. Which looks like a fair cop.
  • The fine for using your phone at the wheel is to increase significantly, reflecting its implication in the 'driver distractions' which cause more than a third of accidents. You'll also lose more points from your licence. Nothing has been said about having a (non-distracting) unconnected auricular in your ear. I assume this remains a heavily penalised offence.
Today's Cartoon

Look, I'm sick to death of hearing what you would have said to Oscar Wilde if you'd thought of it on time!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 29.11.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

  • Al Jazeera thinks the Catalan crisis has helped Spain's far right. Click here for this insight. BTW - It's one of Spain's boasts that it doesn't have the sort of right-wing party seen in France, Poland, Hungary, Italy and Germany. Cynics say it doesn't need one, given the origins and DNA of the PP party.
  • In the centre of Pontevedra yesterday, those enjoying the winter sun were mightily disturbed by a huge volume of noise from a drunk/drug addict/madman/all-of-these in a nearby small square. Except they weren't. Only I seemed to notice that he shouted, screamed and roared louder than I would have thought possible in a human for more than an hour. If - as I doubt - someone called the police, they never came. Or, if they came, they never did anything. I wondered if there were 4 factors at work:- 1. an extremely high tolerance of noise in Spain; 2. a post-Franco reluctance among Spaniards to invoke authority; 3. a widespread live-and-let-live attitude; and 4. a preference among police officers for claiming they've been insulted and disrespected rather than for dealing with a 'breach of the peace'. In fact, I wonder whether this concept even exists in Spain. One can commit a vast number of small offences here - especially in a car! - but breaching the peace doesn't seem to number among these  . . . What 'peace', some would ask. Spain is not exactly the UK. Or even (Iberian)Portugal . . .
  • A more amusing insight into Spanish society. Pretty accurate, as far as I'm aware.
  • And good news for the construction industry and the economy generally.
Brexit/The UK
  • Another corruscating post from Richard North of EUReferendum. This time the target of his - seemingly justified - vitriol is a journalist on the once-great Daily Telegraph. Extracts:  . . . plumbing the depths of stupidity combined with ignorance and prejudice. . . . ignorance, bound up with the arrogance. Great stuff.
  • So, a deal has been struck - maybe - around the 'divorce payment'. What a surprise!
Nutters Corner
  • More on the evangelist crook, Jim Bakker.
  • And on the guy who aims - maybe - to prove that the earth is flat.
The Spanish Language
  • I'm sure it's true – as asserted here – that post-Brexit British businessmen would be well advised to learn Spanish. I told my daughters that 20 years ago. And they listened!
  • Which reminds me . . . My GPS talks to me in Spanish. (At least the woman can pronounce the street names properly). Anyway, last week I kept hearing the un-Spanish word 'roundabout', logically enough when I was near or on one of these things. I finally concluded it was being used when I was being directed right round and then back on myself at the last exit. Can anyone Spanish tell me if this is right? If not, what?? It's pronounced roondaboot, by the way. Not as bad a paf for 'pub', though.
  • I wonder if the EU will now ban exports of our ternera, after this revelation . . . 
  • Hard as this might be to believe, has managed to annoy me further - by continuing to send me emails despire the fact I've unsubscribed from their lists . . . 
Today's Cartoon

OK, your turn. But please don't say 'Something beginning with S' again . . .

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 28.11.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

  • Conditions in their Spanish prison are not to the liking of the Catalan 'political' prisoners. Says the BBC here.
  • It's no great surprise that President Rajoy might be resiling on his undertaking to consider wider constitutional reform. After all, polls suggest he and his party have come well out of the confrontation with Sr P et al. But the leader of the opposition PSOE party is trying to get him to honour his 'personal promise'. Probably vaingloriously.
  • You can't live long in Spain without tripping over evidence of Man's credulity. This morning I read of a church on an island in the Bay of Biscay where, it's said, John the Baptist might have set foot. Rather more credible are the reports that the church was sacked by el pirata Francis Drake (El Draque) and the hapless prior chucked into the sea. Drake did much the same to a church on an island not far from my home. Is it any wonder he's not popular in these parts?
  • News of a controversial Xmas poster. Hilarious to an atheist like me.
  • HT to reader Perry for a report that Spain is backsliding on its Paris commitments. Following in the wake of Poland and - would you believe - Germany.
  • This is an audiobook which will interest some readers. 
The UK
  • Good to know that the UK banks have all passed the annual stability tests, even if (because?) they remain rapacious and quite possibly criminal.
  • A nice video about Liverpool, created in 2008, when it was the European City of Culture.
  • Below is an article on how dreadful the country's centres of learning have become around free speech.
  • Per our local media, the switching on of Xmas lights gets earlier every year. Vigo is said to have been the first Galician city to do this this year but the town of Pontecaldelas, inland from Pontevedra, is reported to have got there even before them. Doubtless the expense is increasing every year too. Financed in part by motoring fines. Especially mine.
  • More interesting is the news that December 1 will see an exhibition of Da Vinci inventions in the Tinglado del Puerto in Vigo.
  • Definitely more depressing is the confirmation - from reader Jan - that we do have very expensive petrol/gas stations here in Galicia.
  • I wrote yesterday of my irritation with Well, they managed to annoy me even more later in the day. Firstly, by 'explaining' - speciously - why they hadn't given us the discount on the booking made by my companion. And, then, by starting to bombard her with the same irrelevant emails I'd been getting about hotels in places we'd already left. And, finally, by responding in Spanish to a complaint I'd sent them in English, even though the writer had clearly understood my message. Good customer service – for a client who's made dozens of (camino) bookings through them – it certainly ain't. But a good example of how stupid and insensitive computers can be. And maybe a good example of what passes for servicio al cliente in Spain.
Today's Cartoon

You want to report allegations of sexual harassment? This isn't the place for that, madam . . .  shouldn't you be on Facebool or Twitter?


Universities are reviving the notion of heresy: Roger Scruton

'Non-discrimination’ has become the new orthodoxy at centres of learning that should be promoting diversity of opinion
Religions offer membership. They fill the void in the heart with the mystical presence of the group, and if they do not provide this benefit they will wither and die, like the religions of the ancient world during the Hellenistic period. It is therefore in the nature of a religion to protect itself from rival groups and the heresies that promote them.

Today’s university students have little time for religion and no time at all for exclusive groups. They are particularly insistent that distinctions associated with their inherited culture — between sexes, classes and races, between genders and orientations, between religions and lifestyles — should be rejected, in the interests of an all-comprehending equality that leaves each person to be who she or he really is. “Non-discrimination” is the orthodoxy of our day. Yet this seeming open-mindedness is just as determined to silence the heretic as any established religion. There may be no knowing in advance how the new heresies could be committed, or what exactly they are, since the ethic of non-discrimination is constantly evolving to undo distinctions that were only yesterday part of the fabric of reality. After Germaine Greer made clear her opinion that men who regarded themselves as women were not, through the surgical removal of their penis, actually members of the female sex, this was judged to be so offensive that a campaign was mounted to prevent her speaking at Cardiff University. The campaign was not successful, partly because Greer is the person she is. But the fact that she had committed a heresy was unknown to her at the time, and probably only dawned on her accusers in the course of practising that morning’s Two Minutes Hate.

More successful was the campaign to punish Sir Tim Hunt, the Nobel prize-winning biologist, for making a tactless remark about the difference between men and women in the laboratory. A media witch-hunt led Sir Tim to resign from his honorary professorship at University College London; the Royal Society (of which he is a fellow) went public with a denunciation, and he was pushed aside by a large section of the scientific community. A lifetime of distinguished creative work was marred.

The ethic of non-discrimination tells us that women are as adapted to a scientific career as men are. I don’t know whether that is true. How would I find out who is right? Surely, by weighing the competing opinions in the balance of reasoned discussion. Truth arises by an invisible hand from our many errors, and both error and truth must be permitted if the process is to work. Heresy arises, however, when someone questions a belief that must not be questioned from within a group’s favoured territory. The favoured territory of radical feminism is the academic world, the place where careers can be made and alliances formed through the attack on male privilege. A dissident within the academic community must therefore be exposed, like Sir Tim, to public intimidation and abuse, and in the age of the internet this punishment can be amplified without cost to those who inflict it.

This process of intimidation ought to cast doubt, in the minds of reasonable people, on the doctrine that inspires it. Why protect a belief that stands on its own? The intellectual frailty of the feminist orthodoxy is there for all to see, in the fate of Sir Tim. Indeed, UCL and the Royal Society displayed, in their failure to protect him from the cloud of twittering morons, the sad state of the academic world today, which is losing all sense of its role as guardian of the intellectual life. As the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has argued, at the very moment when universities are advocating diversity as an academic value — meaning by “diversity” all that I have included under the term “non-discrimination” — the true diversity for which a university should make a stand, namely diversity of opinion, has been steadily eroded and in many places destroyed entirely.

Traditional education had much to say about the art of not giving offence. Modern education has a lot more to say about the art of taking offence. This, in my experience, has been one of the achievements of gender studies, which has shown students how to take offence at behaviour, at words, at pronouns, at institutions, customs and even at facts, whenever “gender identity” is in question. It did not take much education to make old-fashioned women take offence at the presence of a man in the women’s bathroom. But it takes a lot of education to teach a woman to take offence at a women’s bathroom from which males who “self-identify” as women are excluded. Students today are being encouraged to demand “safe spaces”, where carefully nurtured vulnerabilities will not be “triggered” into crisis. The correct response, which is to invite students to look for a safe space elsewhere, is not one that universities seem to consider, since each student is an addition to income but censorship costs nothing.

It is my belief that an institution in which the truth can be impartially sought, without censorship, and without penalties imposed on those who disagree with the prevailing orthodoxy, is a social benefit beyond anything that can now be achieved by controlling permitted opinion. If the university renounces its calling in the matter of truth-directed argument then it becomes a centre of indoctrination without a doctrine, a way of closing the mind without the great benefit that is conferred by religion, which also closes the mind, but closes it around a real moral community. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 27.11.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Serious stuff today . . . .
  • El País tells us – in English – that attitudes here to sexual attacks are changing. Good to hear.
  • The same newspaper carries an intriguing dialogue – also in English - on what it means to be Spanish. There's apparently a Spanish inferiority complex. Which might explain the knee-jerk defensiveness one occasionally sees.
  • Spain is doing its post-Brexit contingency planning. Which rather surprises me, as I thought planning was illegal here. Spontaneity being everything . . . 
  • But the really serious problem on the horizon is a rise in the price of jamón, because rich Chinese now have it as their latest food fad.
The Spanish Language
When you see Empuje on a Spanish door, it means Push. When you see Empurre on a Portuguese door it means the same thing and - to my ear – it's pronounced in much the same way - very differently from the Spanish double R. Contrast Empuxe in Gallego, where the X is Sh. That's what I thought but Google says it's Empurrar in both Portuguese and Gallego. Stop Press: My (nationalist) Gallego friend now tells me both are correct . . .

It cost me around €20 in tolls to get from Coimbra in Portugal to Pontevedra yesterday, mostly in Portugal it has to be said. Fittingly, the headline in our local papers was that the company which manages the autopista in Galicia – Audasa – is the most unpopular in Spain and also the most profitable per employee. There might be a connection. After the announced price increases on January 1, it will also be among the most expensive. It seems only right that, if we have the costliest petrol in the country, we should also have the highest tolls. Why not kick the - also heavily fined - motorists when they are down?

The new radar traps will be in place this week. Yesterday I practised keeping to 30kph(19mph) for 2km along the river, where the limit used to be 40kph. Quite a challenge. And would be even if our car-hating mayor hadn't put speed bumps every few hundred metres as well. Anyone visiting Pontevedra should think thrice about coming by car. The trains are nice.

Finally bombarded me last week - in both English and Spanish  - with an offer of cash repayments if a friend booked a hotel using a reference unique to me. So, we did this, only to be told today that the booking didn't qualify, for reasons I can't begin to understand. Annoying. Really annoying. Almost as annoying as the constant messages about lower prices in hotels in places I've already left. I used to like the company.

Today's Cartoon

Possibly a repeat . . . 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 26.11.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

  • I think I cited this Washington Post article a few days ago, on the Francoist echoes of Madrid's response to Catalan developments. The Spanish ambassador to the USA dily took issue with it here.
  • And this is a valid response to his complaint.
  • More on the current drought in Spain.
  • Spaniards and cash: Despite a major effort on the part of Spanish banks, says Don Quijones, Spanish consumers remain wedded to physical money. . . . Seven out of ten Spanish citizens continue to make most of their payments in cash, 3 out of 10 retail establishments do not accept card payments and 1 out of 6 stores with an electronic POS set a minimum amount for card payment.
  • As for Spain's reducing number of branch banks . . . These, avers DQ in the same article, are increasingly becoming so-called “customer advisory points,” where the primary role of branch staff is to sell customers a myriad financial products, many of them no doubt risky.

  • Toll roads again . . . As I've said, the easiest way to pay is under the EASYToll option, where you insert your credit/debit card into a machine at the start of the road. A reader cited one of these 'Welcome Points' but there seem to be only 4 of these around the entire country:-

A28 - Viana do Castelo Service Area
A24 – At 3,5km from the Chaves/Verin border
A25 – Alto de Leomil Service Area
A22 – Next to the Castro Marim/Ayamonte border
If so, then not so bloody EASY if you join a road anywhere else.
  • After 10 days here, I can confirm that the Portuguese are quieter, politer and more considerate of others than their neighbours. And a lot more of them speak English. The odd thing, though, is that I'd still rather live in Spain.
  • Half watching a football match on TV yesterday evening, I thought I'd caught a fleeting glimpse of Bobby Robson – an ex England team manager – slumming it as the manager of Sporting Lisbon. But Wiki reported that he'd died in 2009. They mystery was solved at the end of the match when it was revealed that it had taken place in 1993. Which explained the haircuts and the shorts.

Time Magazine is disputing Donald Trump's account of how he rejected a request for an interview and photo shoot ahead of its Person of the Year issue for 2017. He has previously falsely claimed that he holds the record for cover appearances on Time Magazine. So, once again it's been shown that the claims of Donald Fart are not to be taken too seriously. He's only the president of the USA after all.

More on the flat-earth cretin.

Today's cartoon
Oh, dear. That's such a pity! Because as frog he was a really great swimmer.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 25.11.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

  • One of Catalunya's pro-independence politicians might be trying to influence Belgian judges as they assess the quality of Spanish prisons before sending Sr P back to Spain.
  • Against the possibility that I might need some medical treatment here in Portugal, I contacted my insurers and was advised there were no processes to go through but I needed to call their (premium rate) phone number before seeing a doctor. When I asked for clarification, I was told I needed to call so I could be told what steps to take. I am left wondering what 'no processes' really means.
  • Ryanair has announced new flights for 2018. These are at least some of them for Spain. I note they don't include Santiago de Compostela, which they used to serviced from Liverpool, as I recall:
Bristol to Valencia
Newcastle to Madrid
Leeds to Murcia
Manchester to Sevilla
East Midlands  to Sevilla
  • The EU is said to be unhappy with Madrid's management of the Spanish economy - particularly youth unemployment and the increasing inequality I've cited a few times - and is reported to have instructed Spain to do more about these blights. If not???
  • Spain's, it's said, is one of the worst EU states for such inequality.
  • And then, of course, we have the corruption. This excellent article makes the point that: Just as the Catalan crisis has served to distract from PP corruption, it has also given the Catalan right an opportunity to whitewash its own image. Behind a cloak of martyrdom, Puigdemont and his party have blurred the memory of their own corruption scandals—also based on systematic illegal commissions in exchange for major contracts. 
  • Spain gets a few honourable mention in this article on urban white elephants around the world. But I'm surprised that Galicia's Cidade da Cultura doesn't feature in it.
  • The weather for the last 10 days in central Portugal has been largely sunny and warm. I've been in shirtsleeves, at least during the day. The locals, however, favour jackets and even overcoats. Perhaps there's a law in Portugal which compels this.
  • My travelling companion lives in Germany. She's twice now been told she could have only 10 or 20 euros from an ATM and, to add insult, has been charged 5 euros each time. Which wasn't advised in advance. She says this has also happened in Spain. Seems a tad excessive, even for the rapacious banks.
  • An interesting note on the mirror in our hotel room:-

Finally . . .
  • Something to worry more about: Most picnickers would brush away flies from food, thinking nothing of bugs briefly landing on their sandwiches. But a new study suggests the insects carry far more dangerous bacteria than previously thought, meaning sandwiches are best avoided if they have been contaminated by flies.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 24.11.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

  • Supporters of Carles Puigdemont, the ousted Catalan leader, are trying to convince him to make a dramatic return to Spain just before next month’s elections in the hope that his arrest could boost the separatist cause.
  • Tourism advice: Should you be visiting the truly charming town of Tomar and wish to take a look inside the Chapel of Our Lady of Piety (A Capela de Nossa Senhora da Piedade), be warned that you need an oxygen mask to walk to it from the road below. Up 21 – yes, 21 – flights of stairs containing 10-13 steps each. Though you might not want to take on this challenge, for the Information office admits that – for reasons they don't know – it's permanently closed. But there are plenty of other churches and chapels in the town to keep you busy. Not to mention the stunning Castelo/Convento of the Templars/Order of Christ.
  • In one of the other churches yesterday there occurred a minor miracle. In the Igreja de Sao Francisco, an elderly gent described its features in almost-painfully-slow Portuguese. Normally, this language sounds like an East European tongue such as, say, Serbo-Croat but, slowed right down, it's actually comprehensible. At least if you speak Spanish and a bit of Gallego.
  • In Tomar, a glass of white wine costs between 50 cents and €3, depending on where you take it. And, maybe, on the quality of the stuff. A large white coffee can be as low as 75 cents, compared with anything upwards of 1.40 in Spain. Which itself is much lower than in other European countries. So, I'm thinking of moving to Portugal . . .
  • So, Mrs M might have been saved: Germany’s centre-left opposition has offered to prop up Angela Merkel’s conservatives in a minority government as the country’s two largest parties scramble to avoid another election. Martin Schulz, head of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), came under pressure from senior figures in his own ranks to consider talks with Mrs Merkel after her coalition negotiations with other parties failed. Politics makes for strange bedfellows, as they say.
Finally . . .
  • You might well be as fed up as I am with bloody Black Friday. Amazon's 'day', in particular, seems to last at least a week. For those of you tempted to respond to any of the many emails, here's some good advice from a unit which warns that: with online purchases and transactions becoming more and more commonplace, hackers and fraudsters are coming up with ever-more creative methods of seizing personal data to be able to access bank account contents. These include 'carding', 'phishing', 'pharming', 'spamming' and 'vishing'. And, would you believe, 'SMishing'.
  • A frightening example of academic intolerance on the part of oh-so-up-to-speed liberals
  • A cashless society? It might be nearer than you think. Or fear. See the article below.

Today's Cartoon


Politicians want to move us towards a cashless world. It would be a disaster: The Spectator

What could be more terrifying than a return to the 15 per cent interest rates with which homebuyers had to contend in the early 1990s? Possibly the vision presented last week in UBS’s Global Economic Outlook: interest rates at minus 5 per cent. It would take us to an unknown world where savers who deposited £100 in a bank would return a year later to find only £95 left.

This month’s small rise in interest rates has rekindled fears that the era of ultra-low rates could be at an end and that millions of borrowers, enticed into loans thinking rates of virtual zero are normal, could be left with debts they could not repay. But there is an alternative scenario. UBS notes that during the last crisis the Bank of England slashed rates from a peak of 5.75 per cent in the summer of 2007 to a low of 0.5 per cent 18 months later. If we were to head into another recession with rates at 0.5 per cent, the bank reasons, it would require a similar loosening of monetary policy, with rates having to go well into negative territory.

It would ensure that, as after the 2008/09 crisis, the people who ended up paying the price for the latest binge in consumer debt were not borrowers at all but savers; people who carefully put money aside while others splashed out. Their savings would effectively be raided to bail out the reckless.
We can expect a recession sooner rather than later, too — Brexit or no Brexit. Eight years, historically, has been a long time to go without a recession. Moreover, personal debt is building again to unsustainable levels. In September, the outstanding unsecured debts of UK consumers once more nudged over £200 billion, the level it reached in the summer of 2007.

Trouble is, how does a Central Bank impose interest rates that are significantly below zero? Until recently it was thought impossible. But in recent times we have had mildly negative rates. The European Central Bank has had a deposit rate of minus 0.4 per cent since early 2016. In one or two cases this has been passed on to savers. This March, UBS started charging depositors with more than €1 million in their accounts an interest rate of minus 0.6 per cent.

But there is a very big problem to overcome before banks could start imposing interest rates of minus 5 per cent on ordinary savers. What if, instead of sitting by and watching our savings whittled away by negative interest, we instead withdrew them en masse and stuffed them under the mattress?

Quite a lot of us appear to have done exactly this during the banking crisis. A little remarked-upon phenomenon of that time was the sudden and remarkable rise of banknotes in circulation. Throughout the early to mid-2000s the combined value of sterling banknotes had hovered around the £36 billion mark. Then in the space of two years following the run on Northern Rock, it surged more than 30 per cent to £48 billion.

How, then, to dissuade people from provoking a run on banks by withdrawing their savings in cash in order to avoid negative interest rates? This is where a rather underhand campaign comes in — to abolish cash altogether.

The Bank of England’s chief economist Andy Haldane made that very proposal in the relatively obscure surroundings of the Northern Ireland Chambers of Commerce in October 2015, saying: ‘One interesting solution, then, would be to maintain the principle of a government–backed currency, but have it issued in an electronic rather than paper form. This would preserve the social convention of a state-issued unit of account and medium of exchange, albeit with currency held in digital rather than physical wallets. But it would allow negative interest rates to be levied on currency easily and speedily.’

Two weeks later a proposal to end physical currency very nearly made it into David Cameron’s Conservative conference speech. Britain, he was going to say, would become the world’s first cashless economy by 2020. According to the then Downing Street adviser, Daniel Korski, the idea was going to be sold as making Britain ‘the centre for innovation for money in the future’, which would also help to tackle crime. In the event it was left out of the speech after George Osborne got cold feet and felt that the public was not ready for such a dramatic move.

Abolishing cash to help set negative interest rates has been proposed, too, by Kenneth Rogoff, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund. He argues that interest rates in the US at the height of the 2008/09 crisis should ideally have been lowered to minus 4 or minus 5 per cent, had it been possible.

It was Osborne, though, who is right. Attempting to withdraw physical currency would create anger, and not just for fogeyish reasons among people who like to see the Queen’s head on their coin and banknotes. It would enable the payments industry — which needless to say is a keen advocate of a cashless economy — hugely to increase charges for handling electronic payments. According to the Boston Consulting Group, the industry is smacking its lips at the prospect of doubling its annual worldwide income in fees from £1 trillion to £2 trillion by 2023 as consumers are persuaded, and in some cases forced, to go cashless. A cashless economy would disenfranchise the poor, who struggle to obtain bank accounts, put the retail economy at the utter mercy of systems which can and do fail, and make life impossible for businesses in rural areas without broadband connections.

It would do little to reduce crime, as many criminals and money launderers have already gone cashless. Just ask yourself: when did you last have a pickpocket try to steal cash from your wallet — and when did you last receive a phishing email attempting to empty your account and spirit the money overseas? In 2015, Britons lost a total of £750 million to cashless crime. Just because electronic transactions are theoretically traceable doesn’t mean that the police, or any other authority, are in practice minded to do the tracing.

It would take a little longer for the public to realise the underlying reason why governments and central bankers are so keen on a cashless economy — so that, come a recession, they could try to re-inflate a burst bubble by imposing negative interest rates. The last financial crisis left a nasty taste in the mouth: the wrong people were made to suffer. But that will be nothing compared with the injustices that will be wrought on blameless deposit-holders in the next crisis if we allow governments to abolish cash.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 23.11.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Usual Thursday morning HT to Lenox of Business Over Tapas for several of today's items.

  • The Bank of Spain has said that the labour market situation in Spain is 'somewhat less buoyant' than the macro economic data suggests. That's one way of describing wage stagnation over the last 15 years or more. Against a backcloth of continuing inflation. And then there's the precarious zero-hours contracts which form the vast majority of new employment contracts.
  • The Tax Office (the Hacienda) has proposed a 4% tax on all second-hand sales via e-bay and the like. I guess the only logic is revenue generation. And the ease of tracking deals. Does this happen elsewhere?
  • Talking of these fine people . . . El Diario tells us that Hacienda has allowed the city of Jaén (run by the PP party) to circumvent 'exceptionally' the same budgetary rules by which it intervenes in the case of (non PP) Madrid. A series of Hacienda documents seen by El Diario reveals the double standards applied to local administrations depending on which party governs them. 
  • According to Transparency International, 91% of Spaniards accept there is corruption in the Rajoy PP Administration. I guess the other 9% live in caves.
  • The Guardian reports that: Gibraltar is heading for an abrupt exit from the single market without the benefit of any transition deal, according to senior Spanish government sources, who revealed that the British government had failed to offer any proposals on the future of the Rock. . . . Gibraltar would be outside any future trade deal with the UK unless an agreement was reached in advance with Madrid over its future status.
  • The Olive Press tells us that Spain will be among the worst affected by global warming, as scientists reveal that world is on track to heat up by 3 degrees C. As if the current drought weren't bad enough.
  • Some good news?
  • Spain's best cheese??
  • Tolls: Another bitch. Some of the pay machines reject both my Spanish debit and credit cards and also my British debit card. Others are willing to take one of them. Make sure you carry enough cash, then. (P. S. See reader Jan's comments on the tolls system below yesterday's post.)
  • Once again, in (lovely) Tomar last evening - after my satnav had once more 'dropped' me at the wrong spot - I spoke to 3people who didn't know the location of a street fewer than 100m away. Does this happen in all towns/cities around the world or only in Iberia?
Nutters Corner
  • I didn't believe this but a friend assures me it's true. These are new 'laser' radar machines which the police are installing around the city to ensure no one drives at more than 30kph/19mph.

I again thought of the guy who claimed only breakers of the law get fined and wondered what he'd feel about this latest revenue-generating measure. As my friend says, someone has to pay for all the Xmas lights.

Finally . . .
  • Do you want your brain chipped? At least right now you still have the choice . . . It must all be true if the Daily Express says it is.
Today's Cartoon

From my sister in Liverpool . . . 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia 22.11.17.

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.

- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.



  • During the recent financial crisis, the Portuguese government decided to increase revenue by making every half-decent road in the country a toll road. But they didn't install payment booths; instead, they erected gantries every few kilometres and placed cameras there to capture your car's registration number/matriculation. This would be OK if it were easy to register with the system but it ain't. What would be helpful is a machine at the entry point to each new toll road where you can simply insert you credit card and then drive knowing there'll be a legion of small payments appearing on your next statement. But this, I guess, would be very expensive. So, as far as I know, there are only 3 such machines in the country. There are at least 2 other ways of making sure you pay the tolls but these are too complex for me to understand. In other words, the same approach is taken towards the new toll roads as to the payment for metro tickets – the installation of a system far more complex than it needs to be. Or is it me?? Anyway, the result is I drive without paying on the new toll roads and expect one day to be stopped and fined. En passant, I am not the only one who does this. The Portuguese government is owed millions by Galician transport companies which take advantage of it. Did no one anticipate this?
  • Wifi in Portuguese hotels: They all offer it but my impression is that - unless you're in a 5-star hotel – you're lucky if you can decent wifi in your room. Or maybe it's my 6 year old Mac laptop.
  • See the first article below, by someone who asserts that: The chancellor has repeatedly mishandled or ignored her country’s most pressing problems.

The EU
  • See the second article for a view of how German developments impact on 'The [vainglorious] Project'. By Gisela Stuart – an English MP who's German.

Finally . . . 

As every driver knows, a satnav/GPS can be brilliant or useless. Two days ago mine insisted that a restaurant I was looking for was in the middle of a field. And yesterday it led me on an hour-long merry dance in the centre of Santarém – in the car and on foot – in search of an hotel which didn't actually exist at the address I finally found. The perils of modern travel . . .


1. More Merkel is the last thing Germans need Roger Boyes

The chancellor has repeatedly mishandled or ignored her country’s most pressing problems
Germans have become too comfortable with the rule of Angela Merkel, so cosy in their governing compact, so gemütlich that they failed to recognise they have a Merkel problem. For the past 12 years the chancellor has ducked big choices about Germany’s role in the world, about the need for change, and now the country is paying the price.

The meltdown in Berlin is about more than Merkel’s future. It is about the governability of Germany. A constitutional order installed after the defeat of Hitler to ensure a stable political centre and the stifling of dangerous populist movements is turning out to be ill-equipped for the modern world.
The result: the arrival in parliament of 92 far-right deputies, the failure of mainstream parties to agree a common vision for Germany or a common diagnosis of its problems, and an enduring confusion about national identity. It’s a system frozen in aspic. And a recipe for trouble.

The great hope that accompanied the election of Merkel in 2005 was that she would usher Germany into the modern world in a non-threatening, non-Thatcherite way. Instead, without a guiding idea, her various coalition governments have been about crisis management: the global financial breakdown, the eurozone in disarray, Greece hurtling towards bankruptcy, an increasingly aggressive Vladimir Putin, the flood of refugees from apparently insoluble wars. She was never under-employed but along the way she lost the plot.

Since her political convictions were never laid out clearly, she felt free to steal the political clothes of her various coalition partners, the Free Democrats and the Social Democrats, claiming them as her own. She even dressed herself up as a Green by suddenly renouncing nuclear power after the Fukushima accident in 2011, thus keeping options open for a future alliance with the party.

The corrosive effect of leadership without a compass has become clear over the past weeks. Neither the Free Democrats nor the Social Democrats trust her as a partner; they both bled votes after being in coalition with her. All parties are feuding furiously with each other, making a nonsense of the chancellor’s claim to be a consensus politician. Her Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union is alarmed by her drift leftwards and by her misjudgment in opening up Germany’s borders to a million migrants and refugees. The CSU faces a regional election next year. In public it swears loyalty to Merkel; in private it knows that the association with Merkel is likely to be toxic, driving even more voters towards the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Out of this stew, a successor for Merkel will eventually emerge. The question is not so much who that person is, but rather what Germans want from a new chancellor. The lazy formula of the Merkel team, that Germans demand stability and security, is no longer an adequate answer. Her own policies have undermined stability. The AfD notched up an extraordinary 12.6 per cent of the national vote in the autumn election, and are likely to better that in new elections, because of the Merkel government’s failure to control the borders. At a local level the problem of integrating hundreds of thousands of newcomers is creating real social strain and resentment. On the other side of the political spectrum, the Linke, a leftist anti-austerity grouping, won 9.2 per cent of the vote.

Both parties have been ruled out as too extreme to be part of a Merkel government: that is, some 22 per cent of the electorate has been left out in the cold. Yet their views do address some anxieties felt by ordinary Germans, the frustration with the fudge of the quarter of a century since unification. 

When people complain about the global business elite and the featherbedding of the banks, they’re not crying out for revolution. They want companies to start building trust with consumers. The diesel emissions scandal covered up by Volkswagen was a big blow to national self-esteem, to the Made in Germany brand, but it did not trigger a Merkel crackdown on corporate accountability.

The nuclear shutdown meant deepening German dependence on coal-fired power stations and on Russian gas; Merkel is fond of saying that all decisions carry consequences yet these consequences were not properly thought through. Privately too you hear far more eurosceptical opinions than in the public domain. That adds to pent-up tensions between the leaders and the led.

Germans don’t want to pay the bill for a global leadership role that they did not seek. Budgets are squeezed. Merkel allowed herself to be celebrated as a putative leader of the free world. She is wise enough to know she stood out largely because the supposed statesmen and women around her in Europe have been so mediocre.

To the German voter, though, it seemed like hubris. Too many problems have been ignored or mishandled on her watch. As the master of damage control she now has to realise that she herself is damaged goods.

2. The collapse of Angela Merkel's coalition shows her dream of a united Europe is falling apart: Gisella Stuart

The rise of Euroscepticism is an inevitable consequence of the EU's failure to secure consent for its designs

A new sensation is coursing through the German body politic: panic. It has been brewing since September’s dramatic election result, which saw Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party much diminished, and the Right-wing Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) capture 94 parliamentary seats. Naturally, Chancellor Merkel did what she always does when things get tough – reassure her people “das schaffen wir” – we can do this. 

Not this time. Her attempts to form a colition have unexpectedly collapese and Germany is in turmoil. I have no doubt the Federal Republic will find a short-term solution. It has a functioning government and while this is inconvenient for Brexit talks, it’s all manageable. But it does raise wider issues about consensus, democratic legitimacy and the future of the EU. We are talking tectonic plates here, not just local difficulties. 

Before we had a single currency it was perfectly possible to talk about a two-speed Europe, but there has never been a currency union without a political union. With its dream of creating a supranational identity, replacing ideology with a bureaucratic promise of a better tomorrow and becoming a significant global player, the EU has over-stretched itself. 

Like it or not, to have a functioning single currency you need some basic things such as a single minister of economy, the ability to transfer debts and enforcement mechanisms. Not that the superstate is simply economic.
Last week, 23 EU members signed a defence pact to increase military cooperation. Meanwhile, President Emmanuel Macron sketches out his plans for a refounding of the European project, Jean-Claude Juncker delivers aspirational speeches, and there are suggestions that the European Parliament seats vacated by departing British MEPs be given to members elected from a pan-European list.

Politicians may have stopped talking about a United States of Europe, but all their actions point to one. There is just one problem: the voters aren’t with them – not even, as the failure to form a government has shown, in Germany. And in a democracy, that is a fatal flaw. The failure of the German coalition negotiations reflects the deeper fracture of democratic consent apparent across the EU.

Every European election I’ve ever been involved in has been decided on national issues fought by national political parties. We have no pan-European political parties and no European demos. The European constitution was rejected by voters first in France and then in the Netherlands.

The The UK was promised a referendum by all three political parties in 2005, only for the promise to be ditched after the rehashed constitution emerged as the Lisbon Treaty. Having learnt the lesson that asking the people is a dangerous thing, France, the Netherlands and the UK passed the treaty by parliamentary procedures. The rise of Eurosceptic parties should come as no surprise. 

What loyalty do the people and governments of the EU27 have to Brussels’ fetish superstate project? Poland and Hungary may hope to profit from EU membership, but they show no great eagerness to comply with rules and obligations. And while German politicians are reluctant to talk about “German interests”, in Germany you see border controls when coming from Austria.

Nor is there appetite for tax increases to make up for the funds lost when the EU’s second largest net contributor – Britain – leaves. Talk of transfer payments to Greece or any other euro country that may run into trouble is a complete no no. Indeed, objections to debt mutualisation were one of the reasons German coalition talks failed. 
The reality is that Germany, like other European nations, still puts her own interests above EU interests, because democracies require consent. If eurozone countries want a superstate they must spell out what that means – fiscal transfers and all – to their voters. And if the voters say no, act on that. 

Currently EU members like to fudge things, and if voters disagree they are tempted to “dissolve the people and elect another one”, as Bertolt Brecht said. Heeding people’s wishes is a far better way forward, and for the EU that may mean shelving its grandiose superstate dream and accepting the reality of doing less. For if Angela Merkel can’t sell the dream, who can?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 21.11.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.

- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

  • So, Barcelona did lose out - to Amsterdm - in the contest for the post-Brexit location of the EU's Medicine's agency. Who knows how the final decision was affected by the recent events there but the Spanish government will surely claim that it was a lot.
  • But Sr P et al keep us smiling
  • As for December, the latest poll suggests a very high voter turnout of 82% and confirms the likelhood that the (divided) secessionist parties will have a majority.
  • So, I guess it's not a surprise that Madird is talking up the Commission to look at changes and the possiblity that Cataluña can have back the concession on tax collections that the PP government took back from it a few years ago. Better late than never, I guess
  • Today finds me in the charming seaside town of Ericeira, which probably doesn't seem quite so tranquil during the summer months. Especially as it's a surfing centre. I have many fotos but these 2 are pretty representative of the place:-

Germany: Europe
  • According to one commentator: The “leader of Europe” is likely to be entirely inward focused in coming months/years - at a time when the European union will be facing a host of new issues regarding closer union, banking union, reform of the ESM, bailout and QE policies. There will also be new potential crisis points – Italian elections next year - Greece bailout, renewed immigration crisis or a blow-up with Trump. And these are just the known unknowns. This has profound implications for the so-called French/German axis as it slides towards Paris. We are not going to see a new German government “waste time” on issues like closer EU union, European Banking Union, or critical finance issues like reforming the ESM or new approaches on QE and Bailout funds. 
  • Here's another view:- The collapse of coalition talks kills off any lingering hopes of a Franco-German ‘Grand Bargain’, intended to relaunch the eurozone on viable foundations with a fully-fledged fiscal union. French president Emmanuel Macron will emerge by default as the de facto leader of the EU for a while as Germany grapples with its internal crisis. Yet this is unlikely to do him any good. He will emerge by default as the de facto leader of the EU for a while as Germany grapples with its internal crisis. Yet this is unlikely to do him any good.
  • And, at the end of this post is Ambrose Evan Ptitchard's take on the surprise developments in Germany and their impact.
  • Finally, here's Don Quijones on the subject.
The UK

  • What does the German development mean for the Bexit negotiations? A. No one knows. But a certain Mr Tilford says that months of introspection in Germany spell trouble for Brexit talks. Germany is absolutely crucial in brokering a deal between the other member states. A disengaged leadership caught up in internal wrangling is not going to be focused on knocking heads together.  There is  view that Germany is the real problem for Britain in the great showdown over Brexit since the whole structure of the single market, the euro, and the EU regulatory regime, has worked so well to its advantage. Europeanist moral rhetoric is all too often a mask for German power. The country has the greatest strategic stake in preserving the EU status quo.

  • I wonder if this Papal appeal will have any impact in Galicia. I rather think not.


Germany pays the political price for leaving its poor behind

The last time Germany proved unable to form a government was under the Weimar Republic. We will not see a repeat of the Thirties this time, but the failure of coalition talks after two months of deadlock is no trivial matter either.

The country faces a constitutional crisis. There is no clear-cut legal mechanism for snap elections. A fresh vote is unlikely to resolve the impasse in any case since the fragmentation of the Bundestag may well be even greater. 

Opinion polls suggest that minor parties in various states of populist or ideological revolt – above all the hard-Right Alternative fur Deutschland – will make further gains. "It is an unprecedented situation in the history of the Federal Republic," said president Frank-Walter Steinmeier.  

With hindsight the election in September is taking on much greater significance than widely thought at the time: it marked the end of Germany’s post-war order, the happy era of moderation and the dominance two great incumbent volksparteien.

This rupture is a direct result of the economic and political model pursued by the German elites for the last fifteen years, known to critics on Left and Right as hyper-globalisation.

“It is better not to govern at all than to govern badly,” said Christian Lindner,  leader of the pro-market Free Democrats (FDP), after cutting off the talks. His real game is to tap into simmering discontent over immigration, calculating that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats have left him an open goal.

“Germany is turning to soft nationalism. People on low incomes are voting against authority because the consensus on equality and justice has broken down. It is the same pattern across Europe,” said Ashoka Mody, a former bail-out chief for the International Monetary Fund in Europe.

Mr Mody said the bottom half of German society has not seen any increase in real incomes in a generation. The Hartz IV reforms in 2003 and 2004 made it easier to fire workers, leading to wage compression as companies threatened to move plants to Eastern Europe.  

The reforms pushed seven million people into part-time ‘mini-jobs’ paying €450 (£399) a month. It lead to corrosive "pauperisation". This remains the case even though the economy is humming and surging exports have pushed the current account surplus to 8.5pc of GDP. 

The electoral landscape is a cry of protest by those left behind. The Marxist Linke party is running at 10pc in the polls. AfD and the FDP are between them on 25pc with competing kulturkampf platforms, with the Bavarian Social Christians shifting in their direction to cover the Right flank.

The economy has certainly been firing on all cylinders this year. Growth was 0.8pc last quarter. The momentum will carry Germany through the next year whether or not it has a government, but this does not in itself alleviate the deeper crisis for the post-Rhineland model.

The Bundesbank says the current boom is unsustainable. The economy is in the grip of cyclical overheating due to ultra-loose monetary policy. Behind this screen is the curse of stagnant productivity (as in Britain), lowering the future economic speed limit. Trend growth rates are heading for 0.75pc a year by 2021.

One’s perception of the Wirtschaftswunder depends on where one sits. Marcel Fratzscher, head of the German Economic Institute (DIW), writes in Die Deutschland Illusion that Germany’s growth since 2000 has lagged East Asia, Scandinavia, and the Anglo-Saxon states. It has fallen far below the country’s own past standards.

“It only looks like a boom in comparison to the dire performance of the southern eurozone,” said Simon Tilford from the Centre for European Reform.

“Germany’s real weakness has been the lack of public investment. They have been running down their public sector stock even though they could borrow at negative rates,” he said. The austerity doctrine and the quest for balanced budget above all else has left deep structural problems. The country has neglected digital infrastructure. It has the lowest ratio of high-speed broadband in the OECD club.

The collapse of coalition talks kills off any lingering hopes of a Franco-German ‘Grand Bargain’, intended to relaunch the eurozone on viable foundations with a fully-fledged fiscal union. French president Emmanuel Macron will emerge by default as the de facto leader of the EU for a while as Germany grapples with its internal crisis. Yet this is unlikely to do him any good.

“There may be a eurozone finance minister as a fig-leaf appointment. The likelihood of a substantive pooling of resources is zero,” said Mr Tilford. Monetary union will face the next global downturn with the old unresolved pathologies and no real buffers against an asymmetric shock. 

Mr Tilford said months of introspection in Germany spell trouble for Brexit talks. “Germany is absolutely crucial in brokering a deal between the other member states. A disengaged leadership caught up in internal wrangling is not going to be focused on knocking heads together,” he said.

Florian Hense from Berenberg Bank said there is a unified view across Germany that the cohesion of the EU single market is sacrosanct and cannot be compromised, even if it means disregarding the interests of German car makers. “It makes no difference which government is in power,” he said.  

There is a view that Germany is the real problem for Britain in the great showdown over Brexit since the whole structure of the single market, the euro, and the EU regulatory regime, has worked so well to its advantage. Europeanist moral rhetoric is all too often a mask for German power. The country has the greatest strategic stake in preserving the EU status quo.

“They always talk about European interests when they really mean German interests,” said Gisela Stuart, head of Change Britain and herself Bavarian-born.

It was Germany and France that took the toughest line before the last EU summit in October, overruling Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier when he called for compromise.  “The commission is more technically pragmatic and in an odd way it may be easier to reach a deal if left to them,” she said.

Stranger things have happened.