Friday, December 15, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 15.12.17

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.

  • El País says it's way past time for pension reform here. In Spanish.
  • Noisy neighbours certainly exist in Spain. Next door to me, for example. But would this ever happen here?: A London banker is suing her “noisy” neighbours, claiming the “intolerable” racket of their young family has ruined the peace and tranquillity of her luxury flat. She say she is subjected to a constant bombardment of noise from the family of five. The upstairs family’s children treat the place like a “playground”, running around and dropping toys, while the parents host late-night parties, she claims.
  • The obesity rate is said to have doubled in Spain since 1997. And the number of 'overweight' folk has risen by 53%. Can't be the Mediterrean diet, I guess.
  • The Guardian gives us a couple of fotos of some of the country's blue tile wonders here. Disgruntled readers have added better examples here and here.
The EU
  • Are you more pessimistic about the Bitcoin than the euro? See the article below for one perspective on this.
The Spanish Language
  • This week's new word to me is pufo. Meaning a swindle, swizz, trick, debt or con man. Noted in an article on how rich but heavily indebted regions - such as Cataluña! - get more money from Madrid than poor regions - such as Galicia!!
  • Odd how hard it an be to recognise acronyms in other languages. This week I had a momentary difficulty with GPS in Spanish. But not with ECG. Context helped with the latter.
The English Language
  • Do you have any idea what each of these means?: "youthquake", "antifa" and "broflake".  These represent the short list for the Oxford Dictionaries' Word of the Year.
- Youthquake: A surprising turn of events brought about by young people such as Corbyn supporters.
- Antifa: Groups united by militant opposition to fascism.
- Broflake: A man upset by progressive attitudes which conflict with his more conservative views. 

Other contenders were milkshake duck, komproma, gorpcore, and unicorn.

  • There's a short local road I always approach with trepidation as I head for Santiago on the N-550. There 's a low bridge on it which truck drivers regularlyt hit, despite there being dangly bits before it to warn them of the risk. This week was a tad different - the driver realised what was going to happen, stopped and tried to do a U-turn - bursting one of his numerous tyres in the process. Which led to a 3 hour blockage. Probably would have been better to hit the bridge.
  • A new experience for me last night. As I headed for the supermarket check-out, I realised the trolley I was pushing wasn't mine. So, I hastily withdrew the bread I'd just put in it and parked it where I thought I might have 'found' it. Packing away stuff when I got home, I got to wondering what the owner thought when she saw the box of porridge oats in her trolley. Or kitchen . . .
Today's Cartoon


The euro, not Bitcoin, is the real time bomb

Don’t worry: even if Bitcoin crashes, it won’t destroy the world economy. It will wipe out many investors, especially those who seem to believe (absurdly) that the best time to buy is when prices are high, but it won’t wreck the overall system.

There will be no financial crisis or generalised meltdown. The same cannot be said of the European establishment, which sees Brexit as an opportunity for protectionism and doubling down on its failed integrationist policies. Their approach, despite the first round UK-EU Brexit agreement, remains a major threat to the British and European economies.

Let’s start off with Bitcoin, which is obviously being pumped up in a deranged bubble. Capital Economics, the consultancy chaired by Roger Bootle, has crunched the numbers. The total value of Bitcoin – as of this evening – was around $240bn (£179bn). That represents a 
big chunk of cash in one sense, of course, but not when compared to other assets.

The total value of all gold is about $8 trillion, for example. The value of Apple is about $900bn. As Capital Economics points out, even if the price of Bitcoin were to collapse to zero – and nobody is predicting this – the losses would be equivalent to a 0.6pc fall in US equity prices.

In the overall scheme of things, few other than those directly invested would even notice – the US equity markets bounce up and down by more than that every day. But the losses would be highly concentrated, and tens of thousands of people would be ruined and some businesses destroyed. The psychological impact would be great but the systemic and macro hit still pretty small.

This remains true even if the price of Bitcoin doubles again – though at some point the hit to wealth would undoubtedly become problematic. But we are not here yet, and an implosion over the next few days would be no Lehman Brothers moment.

Private monies are a good thing, and in time their value will become more stable and sensible, and there will be fewer bubbles like the present one. Cryptocurrencies are a spontaneous order, a bottom-up phenomenon, a product of private entrepreneurship – and are thus the very opposite of the constructivist, dirigiste top-down European structures. The former embody individual empowerment; the latter collectivist failure.

The emergence of Bitcoin, despite its bubbly state, and the gradual disintegration of the EU – we won’t be the first to leave, especially when the next centralising push begins – 
are great, if imperfect, allegories for our times.

I am therefore far more worried about Europe’s protectionists and arch-integrationists than I am about Bitcoin. The dramatic move by Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress to slash their taxes should remind us just how vital it is for the UK to regain as much control over its laws and fiscal affairs as possible.

The preliminary Brexit deal was far less bad than I feared it might be, but it was still pretty mediocre. It is fundamentally problematic in one key way: the concept of regulatory alignment to help smooth an Irish deal could easily be used as a means of stopping almost all regulatory divergence for the UK as a whole. This would be disastrous and unacceptable. But it’s too soon to tell whether that is the intention or not.

Yet we are clearly right to be leaving the EU: as Martin Schulz, the Left-wing German politician explained this week, he and his fellow-travellers want to build a United States of Europe with far greater centralised powers, and expel all nations that disagree.

But while we shouldn’t try to stop this, we should seek to warn as many countries as possible to stay well clear. The policies this new empire will seek to pursue will be detrimental to free markets and capitalism in all but trivial ways. Yes, there will be a largish internal market, but that’s about it.

There will be more and more regulations and ever high taxes. The creation of a single fiscal policy won’t truly counteract the side effects of a single monetary policy, and it will take one nasty recession or financial crisis to send the whole undemocratic structure tumbling down.

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