Sunday, 23 September 2012


As the "bail-out" draws ever closer, the narrative changes, and shrinks. Everything that is wrong with Spain derives from Spain itself, and nothing is external. Everything that is wrong with Spain is classifiable as waste, or overspending, or corruption. Everything that is wrong with Spain is wrong with Spain, for there is no need to distinguish between different regions, different parties, or different personalities. Spain, waste, overspending, prestige projects, corruption. Overspending, waste, prestige projects, Spain, corruption. It is like a kaleidoscope, but one that shows you the same pictures every time.

Perhaps it just feels like that, but then again perhaps it doesn't. I am sure there was a time, not very long ago, when you would regularly read that Spain's public finances had actually been the best in the EU, that the deficit was rather smaller than, for instance, Germany's, or that its real problems lay with the ending of a construction boom. I am also sure that I have seen a lot less of this recently. There is none of it in, for instance, Paul Mason's latest, about a Valencia with prestige projects and pharmacists going unpaid, but one without Francisco Camps or the Caso Gürtel, one where the problem with the banks was the "appointed politicians", as if the banks themselves had had no choice.

Paul Mason, according to his reputation, is usually better than this. The Economist, according to its reputation, is not, and it excelled itself in a tendentious piece* discussing Catalonia's aspirations to independence, which piece carried the remarkable and offensive line
Regional governments, which spend almost 40% of public money, blithely ignored deficit targets last year.
Blithely ignored. You may as well argue that the British public blithely ignored the Olympics, or that Saladin blithely ignored the Crusades. Is the Economist under the impression that the cuts only started this year? If it is, then it is under a very stupid impression indeed.

But it doesn't matter. We are to be cut, therefore it must be our fault, and our collective fault at that, and no-one's fault but ours. And when it doesn't work, that story will be told and told again.

I work - for as long as I am able, before the education cuts destroy my business - selling books to children. You can tell a story to a child, and they will ask for the same one over and again. But eventually they will get tired of it, just as a cat will eventually tire of its cushion. This story, though,is one that some people never seem to tire of.

This is not to say that there hasn't been waste on public projects, or corruption, or that political interference wasn't an issue with the banks, or that none of Spain's problems derive from Spain itself (although I don't believe that political interference made any significant difference to bank policy, nor that the solutions to its problems lie within its borders). And Paul Mason will probably write better than that next time, though the Economist will probably write worse.

But it does seem to me that the aspects of our particular situation that don't fit the Spain-is-wasteful-and-they're-all-guilty narrative - which includes all or most of the important ones - have disappeared from view in recent weeks. Not from our view, for sure, a view which naturally has its own failures of perspective. But from the view of mainstream English-langauge commentary, external commentary, commentary which forms of the views of those who cannot see directly.

When the crisis in Greece broke, it was necessary to blame the Greeks, and it has remained necessary, since the responses to that crisis, imposed on those same Greeks, have made it immeasurably worse. At the time, Spain wasn't Greece. It was defined by its differences from Greece. But now, we are about to be Greece. Not quite so much, since we cannot be quite so easily kicked. But Greece-lite, with the responsibility of suffering falling heavily on those least equipped to do so.
Watch, as along with the burden of paying for the crisis, the responsibility for causing the crisis is shifted to the Spanish. Watch, as the crisis turns out not to be about construction bubbles but about public sector pensions and employment rights. Watch, as the role of international lenders in financial profligacy is forgotten and the blame falls entirely on Spanish banks and political interference in those banks. Watch, as the blame falls, like Plymouth Rock, on Spain. Or on "the Spanish". Because we all know what they're like.
Así. Así hablé yo.

[* thanks to Tom Clarke]

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