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OPINION
Text in which the author defends ideas and reaches conclusions based on his / her interpretation of facts and data

Poor and competitive

The smokescreen of austerity blurs the line between obligations imposed by necessity and ideological designs of choice

The holiday season is behind us, but now our joy knows no bounds at the improved indices of competitiveness in the Spanish economy. As Joaquin Estefanía explained in a recent column, these indices derive not so much from improved technological processes as from the impoverishment of the workers employed in them. Once we were taught that if we were as children we should inherit the kingdom of Heaven; that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. Since the Council of Trent we had been living under this and other parables to the same effect. The profit motive was dirty, and led you straight to damnation. Meanwhile, the Protestants preferred to regard the parable of the talents, and earnestly took the road to maximum profit.

Money, especially big money, had always been thought morally suspect in Spain, unless it came by providential design in the form of inheritance, especially the inevitable, mortmain sort of inheritance -- the prestige of a family being based on the number of generations gone by since it last had to work. But in the declining years of Franco, unexpectedly and thanks to the technocrats, came the Spaniard's reconciliation with the world of money. The profit motive was at last respectable here on earth (as well as being considered, in the Protestant eschatology, a sign of predestination to eternal life).

Money had always been thought morally suspect in Spain, unless it came by providential design in the form of inheritance

This was the state of things when, in a sudden ambush, the scourge of the crisis fell upon us. We are now being told that for our own safety we should draw in our horns, and apply the strictest austerity. Such has been the prescription of Angela Merkel, adopted by the EU, and endorsed by the IMF -- although the latter has recently admitted the serious errors in its forecasts of growth and fiscal multipliers. Estefanía highlights how the IMF report makes a devastating criticism of the austerity prescriptions the Fund itself advocated -- which in Europe, for every euro unspent, have destroyed 1.5 euros' worth of activity and employment.

But not even this IMF report alters the line of the CEOE Spanish employers association, which was back at it again the other day, calling for tougher application of last year's labor market reform and further "flexibility" and "salary moderation." These prescriptions will, for the sake of competitiveness, bring more unemployment and more impoverishment, and will push our country further in the direction of another invention: the consumer society without consumers.

Now, as cheerful voices keep telling us that "together we can do it," it is useful to ask just what job it is we are supposed to do; or whether, rather than a job, it is a case of mere submission and docility. The ultraliberals are walking tall and talking loud. For them, as Tzvetan Todorov puts it in The Totalitarian Experience, "the state must intervene only to promote the free functioning of competition, greasing the gears of a natural clock (the market), though the result may be the sidelining of losers, the outcasts of the system, doomed to poverty and contempt, who are considered guilty of their own disgrace." So that it is pointless, and indeed counterproductive, for the state to help them.

Observe the insistence on cutbacks and easy firing. Behind the smokescreen of austerity you can advance easily, the line being blurred between obligations imposed by necessity and ideological designs of choice. Observe, too, the blind adherence that the ultraliberals demand for their postulates, venerated as scientific truths or the dogmas of a secular religion. These dogmatics consider themselves exempt from all responsibility. As for where Rajoy's measures may lead us in the fields of health, education and pensions, once their more profitable aspects have been privatized, I recommend a look at the present third-world standard of the British railways, the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. Stay on guard.

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