Vacations again

Stories of nepotism are legion. They are greeted with tolerance, even with tribute and applause

Four years ago, in this newspaper and at this time of year, I published an article called Vacations 2008, where I pointed to a slowdown in our economy, while confident Spaniards were cheerfully heading off to holiday spots throughout the world. The Zapatero government's desperate insistence on shunning the word "crisis," on using the decaffeinated term "deceleration," and on disregarding the destructive effects of the construction boom, suggested something serious was going on. But in the worst of cases, it seemed, there would be a transitory depression, and a time of insecurity - not a slump like we now have.

The present pinch is accompanied by the complaint of a lack of assistance from the European Union, the brutal effects of cutbacks imposed without regard to social justice, the destruction of demand and consequently of fiscal revenue. It is forgotten that, while the word crisis and the mistakes of recent Spanish economic policy acted as detonators of the implosion, the successive collapses prove that the errors were not those of particular governments or persons, but due to the deformations inherent in a system of power where, even amid the crisis, decisions were dictated by particular interests, to the detriment of collective ones.

Hence the wariness on the part of the "markets" when European newspapers wonder aloud whether Rajoy decided to "nationalize" the ruinous Bankia to prevent, at everyone else's cost, the grave damage its bankruptcy would cause to the real estate and soccer empire of Florentino Pérez.

A system that was unable to establish rational criteria of management, or free itself from a long legacy of corruption and nepotism; which failed to perceive the requirements involved in belonging to the EU (seen only as a source of manna); which in times of boom ignored the structural imbalances of a regional government system where this corruption, and the absence of mechanisms to control spending, generated a situation of extreme fragility.

The stories of nepotism are legion. They are greeted with tolerance, even with applause

This is a question of ingrained social habits, where personal influence, client networks and social tolerance of illegal or arbitrary actions, create an environment where rational choice is often frustrated. We should keep this in mind when we criticize the empty airports, or Bankia, or the empty high-speed trains, which were applications of the same logic. It is the idea that the general interest doesn't count, while public resources are discretionally available to whoever has the power of decision at any level - be it financial, or in the management of everything from cultural institutes to universities. The story of the rackets in the construction boom is well known, but it is naïve to suppose that it ends there.

The stories of nepotism are legion. They are greeted with tolerance, even with tribute and applause. The people who figure in them are often ignorant even of the language, and possess no particular merit. They are appointed to privileged international posts, like the professor who, from total obscurity, is elevated to a cultural post in the EU, thanks to the fraternal protection of a politician. Among recently appointed directors of Cervantes Institute branches, for example, consider the director in Rome, whose credentials are being "Catalan and Christian, with a Gypsy vocation." Hard to believe there were no better aspirants, in terms of intellect and education. But what matters is political loyalty, and capacity for intrigue. And those outside the circle of power have reason to fear any kind of arbitrary aggression, to the benefit of those within. It cannot be asked of either of the major political parties, PP and PSOE, that they combat nepotism and corruption, because both practice it. And we ask foreign investors and governments to have "confidence" in Spain.

It is not enough to feel indignation. We have to define concrete actions. The congressional deputy Andrea Fabra yells an aggressive insult to the Socialist opposition, "screw them." And she is no doubt right - if, having been screwed as we have been, we neglect to demand punishment of those who have brought us to this situation. It demands a real change of course.