Thursday, December 17, 2015

"The Economist" and some economists are nudging Spain to support a smaller state

Edward Glaeser has a fantastic academic article written in 2005 where he explains the relationship between soft paternalism (public interventions that do not alter the choice set) and political manipulation. He argues that departures from full rationality are endogenous and therefore subject to manipulation and vulnerable to strategies of persuasion. In Spain (including Catalonia), right wing parties and institutions controlled by them seem very aware of that: they are spending the last hours of the election campaign (for this Sunday`s general election) trying to turn the two issues that have dominated Spanish politics in the last four years into their favour. One issue has been the independence campaign in Catalonia, under the leadership of right-wing nationalist leader and president of the Catalan autonomous government, Mr. Artur Mas. And the other has been the succession of coruption scandals and the protest movements against them and simultaneously against the unequal distribution of the costs of the economic and financial crisis. In Catalonia, Mr. Mas has used all the resources of his regional government, including public broadcasters, to support the independence drive, and to promote a new elite of opinion leaders identified with this drive. Among this new elite there is a right-wing famous economist that plays an important role, Xavier Sala-i-Martín, who combines the defense of Catalan independence with the support of the ideas of radical neo-liberalism in economics, including his admiration for Ronald Reagan and the policies of the Republican Party in the USA. The bookstores are full of books by this colourful economist, who has his own program on the regional public TV. However, this program is not enough dose, so he also appeared in a routine talkshow today two days before the end of the election campaign. In Spain, the movement against corruption resulted first in the emergence of a left wing populist party, Podemos, who will still have a good result in the election. But in the last few months, a lot of the protest energies have gone to benefit an emerging party with a "laissez-faire" economic program, Ciudadanos. Their economic program has been coodinated by another famous economist, Luis Garicano, whose admiration for Margaret Thatcher is not difficult to find in the Internet. Both Garicano and Sala-i-Martín have good academic credentials, but their bias is clear and identical: they support a smaller state with lower fiscal pressure and weaker egalitarian and welfare policies. The Economist is consistent with its liberal ideology in economics when it supports a coalition of the right wing incumbent Popular Party (PP) and Ciudadanos, but fails to be consistent with its tradition for a better democracy (which it showed for example in its campaign against Berlusconi) when it thinks that a government with a party that has not come clean with its amazing corruption scandals, will be able to lead regeneration is Spain. The claim that Ciudadanos is somehow more able than PP to address the Catalan issue is ridiculous: Ciudadanos was born in Catalonia to oppose Catalan nationalism with Spanish nationalism. PP+Ciudadanos in the Spanish government guarantee that a war of nationalisms will dominate Spanish politics in the years to come. That is why old supporters of the also Spanish nationalists PP, like former MEP Alejo Vidal-Quadras, now support Ciudadanos. What Spain needs is a federal Constitution that openly recognises its diversity and that can be supported by a majority of Catalans and Spaniards. Neither PP nor Ciudadanos (nor the Catalan secessionists) are supporting that. But their economic leaders and supporters all agree that we need smaller government.

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