I used to throw out the salmon-colored business section of the paper, like you pluck a chicken before taking it into the house. Then came the crisis, and I began to inspect those pages, in search of solutions. But even the most renowned of the economists have a record of gross errors and unfulfilled predictions; and in many cases, by endorsing financial aberrations, they have played roles of complicity in arriving at the situation we are now in. So I no longer open the salmon pages in the hope of finding information that might offer a glimmer of hope. All I feel is apprehension.
Even the articles of the Nobel laureate Paul Krugman have begun to scare me, though I can see his essential point: countries drowning in debt have no chance of recovery.
I feel a chill every time I read the word corralito (freezing of accounts), and I think - knowing as he does that the economy is based on confidence and speculation - that even to speak of a corralito is to bring the thing itself a little closer. An economist friend told me the other day that Nobel laureates are very dangerous, in that people are too prone to trust what they say. Between the catastrophism of Krugman and the breezy optimism paraded by Rajoy when they gave him the now-denigrated loan, there must be some straw you can grab at.
Lately I am concentrating on the Society section. At least it tells me how the economy is affecting real human beings. Immigrants who, having lost their jobs, are returning to their land of origin; evictions; soup kitchens; families who live on granny's pension; elders who have to leave the nursing home and go back to living with the family; young people who go back to living with their parents; substitute hospital workers who are left jobless at the age of 50; substitute teachers who - no longer needed due to higher pupil-teacher ratios - are jettisoned by the public schools. To understand these realities you needn't be an economist, nor work in an EU agency.
All these stories ought to be collected and suitably classified by countries, according to chronological order of bailout: Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Italy, Spain. The chastised countries. And having assembled all these individual miseries that express so much about the consequences of this economic martyrdom, I would send the dossier to persons such as Christine Lagarde, director of the IMF, who must take a rather distant view of the hardships of these families of southern Europe, when she says that we should reserve our pity for the children of Africa. Or to Angela Merkel, whose personal responsibility for her country's policy should not be exaggerated, though she no doubt shares the widespread German opinion that the Mediterranean countries only learn a lesson when it is beaten into them.
I have often written about the squandering that has gone on in Spain; so often that I cannot be accused of defending what was indeed an economic outrage. Visit any North European city, and compare its airport to the T-4 terminal in Madrid for evidence of overspending.
Nobel laureates are very dangerous, in that people are too prone to trust what they say
I have also written that austerity must be for everyone, and that there are no rights without obligations. We have to learn to live otherwise - knowing what university tuition costs, and a visit to the doctor. But this has nothing to do with the onslaught on the public health and public education systems. Plenty of us have been paying our taxes, telling our children that nobody owes them a living, and that democracy is a reciprocal exercise of generosity. When a Greek woman has to give birth without a midwife, or a Spaniard of nearly 60 loses his job, the innocent are paying for the sinners. Every time our salary is pared down, we are paying the bill for our irresponsible political class, who squandered the money that came from the taxes we pay.