Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Homage from Catalonia to the tolerant Britain (a love letter)

My first flight was to London when I was 12. I fell in love with the parks and with ethnic diversity in the streets. In 1999, I remember the day when I was selected for a fellowship at the London Business School (LBS) as one of the happiest in my life. Before that, I had spent six weeks at Oxford, where I met giants of academic economics like Colin Mayer or John Vickers, while I was doing my PhD in Florence under the supervision of another English professor, James Dow. I did not become friends with any of them, but I admire them not only for the professional excellence, but for their honesty, tolerance and willingness to help in an effective way (that is, making you better). Of course, all this was possible because of the European Union budget and research programs. Then in London, I had the pleasure to work and have fun with excellent co-authors and friends like Paul Levine, Jon Stern and Neil Rickman. I also wrote the speech in Spanish of another great British economist, David Currie, when the construction of his house in Sitges (near Barcelona) was completed. All these friends are not exceptions. There is a long history of open-minded, tolerant, pro-European Britain. Not only Churchill wanted to see the United States of Europe, but the British federalists of Lionel Robbins were hugely influential in the Italian federalists of Spinelli that did so much to promote the idea of a united Europe. London, Oxford, Cambridge are much more open and tolerant than any city or region I lived in my life (perhaps with the exception of Berkeley). While I was in London and later, the deans of my institution (the LBS) where Canadian or American, and the managers of the national football (soccer) team were either Swedish or Italian. Nobody asked about your nationality or your origin. Apparently, next to this Britain that I know and I love, there is another Britain, the Britain of the demagogues and the opportunists, and the Britain of the fearful and vulnerable to cinicism (every society, as any individual, has a dark side). It is a mistake to think that a European Union without Britain could be better because it would make faster progress towards unity. A post-Brexit EU would be weaker and poorer not mainly economically, but politically, culturally and socially. And it would have to confront the precedent of a huge victory for the nationalists and populists supported by Trump and Putin. Catalonia and Spain have nothing to teach the UK about tolerance. I chose this title because one of the heroes of tolerance, the British writer George Orwell, wrote a book decades ago with the title "Homage to Catalonia," where he explained his experiences with the many British that came to Spain to fight for freedom against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War. Dear friends: thanks for everything, I hope you prevail tomorrow.

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