Sunday, 19 August 2012

Whatever you say, say nothing

By the time you read this I will be away on my holidays and Mariano Rajoy will be back from his: I am going back to England, which is where I am from, and he has gone back to Galicia, which is where he is from. I am travelling home through France, with my wife, in our van. He is unlikely to have travelled through France, most certainly travelled with his wife, and whether or not he travelled in a van, I cannot say.

There are those who are unhappy that Rajoy is on holiday, even though he is cutting it short and not taking the whole, traditional, holiday month. (Not that everybody does actually take a month's holiday. But the Rajoys apparently do.) Some think he should be on duty trying to prevent the apparently-inevitable rescate: they include PSOE, but not the present writer, since he can recognise a piece of shameless politicking when he sees it.

Personally I don't care a fig whether Rajoy spends all month on holiday or all month in the Palace of Moncloa. Or, if he wants, a month walking the Camino de Santiago. His capacity to do anything about the rescate, or indeed anything else where the economy concerned, is nil, not because of any limitation in his own abilities, limited though they be, but because there is nothing that in his power to do except ask for the rescate when he is told to ask for it and not do so until that moment comes.

There really is nothing that Spain, or anyone in Spain, can do. Spain is in the same position as one of its nearly six million jobless, or at least one of them with a mortgage. (I pause to note: just as any rescate is likely to be draconian, so are Spain's mortgage laws.) Spain is acquiring more and more harrassed and hopeless debtors, who lose their property yet still face growing, insuperable and permanent debt. One of those harrassed and hopeless debtors, shortly, will be Spain itself.

But today, the holidays. Obviously Rajoy's capacity to work is, in some small and frankly unimportant sense, inhibited by being on holiday. As is mine, so for that reason I am relying on an unpaid blog comment, and not a new one at that, to do much of my work: it comes from the Naked Capitalism blog, last month, and explains, at least as well as I could do myself, the situation in which the government of Mario Rajoy, and his Partido Popular, find themselves.
In the case of Spain, the PP has a radical vision of massive privatisation, sale of public assets and property, dismantling of the social welfare apparatus (to the point of charging for public schooling) and so forth, and the economic crisis has given them a marvellous opportunity to implement it without all the compromising that would otherwise have been necessary. Their vision is a sort of restoration of an aristocratic oligopoly, in which there is no middle class, and everyone works for a few.

When the PP got into power, to some extent it believed its own propaganda, thinking everything was the fault of the Reds (how their more radical elements, like Esperanza Aguirre, call the socialists) and imagined that in a year or two the economic situation would take care of itself and they would hailed as heroes for having solved such a difficult problem. Obviously not all of them are idiots and some of them knew better, but the more political hack types amongst them thought (and to some extent still think) along lines like this. They saw the opportunities to implement their societal vision - and to establish themselves for a long time in power – and this was exacerbated by being in absolute majority. And they failed to see the gravity of the already extant problems. To this day it remains hard for them to see that the fundamental problems are not too many labour union representatives and too many public employees (both shibboleths also of minor significance in the current context).

Of course, by now it is fairly clear that the PP cannot do what it wants – it takes its orders from higher up. Half a year ago they criticized the PSOE for raising the VAT by 1 point – now they raise it by 3 and change categorizations so that the general rate is more generally applicable. As much as I detest the PP, I would not claim that they wanted to raise the VAT – they certainly did not – and they did so because it was a quid pro quo that came more or else explicitly with the bank bailout. The hacks keep floundering around because they are incompetent and oblivious, and the more serious players in the PP don't know what to do, because it is already probably too late to right the foundering ship.
it is already probably too late to right the foundering ship. Precisely*.

There are knaves and fools, and ideologues. Some of the PP obviously thought that removing Zapatero and going back to Aznar's philosophy would turn Spain almost instantly around. These were fools.

There were some who didn't care what they were saying as long as they got back into power (or, in many of the regions, retained and extended it.) These were the knaves, and quite probably the largest single section of the party.

Then there are the ideologues. Many of these undoubtedly want the IMF to come in, and implement, drastically and irreversibly, the program they really want. And also to play the role of the power who cannot be contradicted, of the lender or last resort who we cannot do without - and also of the voice of authority, the wise ones from outside the brawl of Spanish politics who confirm that one side of that brawl is in the right.

Most economic ideologues are really social ideologues with markets playing the role of God - but Spain resembling the US in this respect, in this country both God and the markets share the same role and the same opinions. What do their disciples want? What are these ideologues expecting? That things will get better when they get their way?

I do not think so. I think they are just expecting that, to get their way.

No doubt some of them believe, in some sense, that living standards will improve again once all traces of the social model are extirpated. But these are the children of Franco as well as Hayek and Los Reyes Católicos, and all they really want is to get their way. To see that they are in the saddle while the unions are crushed and the people are firmly under their feet again. Or emigrated.

That it what the more intelligent of the PP want. Others just want to keep their noses in the trough. Others are just thrashing about because they do not know what to do.

But what all of them did, at the last election, was to lie.

[*Or nearly precisely. I have made some small adjustments of punctuation.]

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