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

Remember when

If this is what you call recovery, it doesn't feel that way to most of us

Joaquín Estefanía

There is an element of the obscene in the prime minister going on TV to tell us that this is "the year of economic recovery," even while freezing the minimum wage at 645 euros a month - and hiking electricity and rail prices into the bargain. The circle is complete with an insufficient rise in state pensions (0.25 percent). If this is what you call recovery, it doesn't feel that way to most of us.

Rajoy has labels for years: 2012 was the year of austerity, 2013 of reforms, and 2014 of recovery (and 2015 of elections). Few citizens would care to use the term "austerity" for huge and unequal sacrifices, "reforms" for permanent cutbacks in the systems of welfare and defense of wage levels, and "recovery" for anything that fails to effect any substantial improvement in the horrific levels of unemployment.

The 15th season of the hit TV series Cuéntame cómo pasó (Remember when) will soon be starting. The show reviews the events of the 1970s and 1980s in Spain, at the end of Franco's regime and the Transition to democracy, as experienced by a middle-class family in Madrid.

The series is now into 1982, the year when Felipe González and his Socialists began the huge task of building a modern welfare state (pensions, education, healthcare, unemployment benefits, collective bargaining), and of putting a heavier focus on equality in economic policies. Cuéntame is the sugar-coated version of a time of putting the past behind us, of dragging ourselves out of the underdeveloped world toward modernity.

The prime minister also said that 2014 would be the year in which we leave fear behind

But now our country, Spain, is in a spectacular phase of regression. In this paper, David Trueba recently wrote that, to be exact and show what is going on right now, there ought to be an inverse version of the series: "It would begin with the enthusiastic voice of Carlitos [the child in the series], who would tell you about the progressive land he lived in - with free education, healthcare available to all, a welfare safety net, sparkling new architecture going up right and left, prospects of progress and stability - and then move on into a future that stinks of the past."

An immediate future with 26 percent of the active population unemployed, in the European country (with the exception of Cyprus) where wages have fallen most in the year now ending; with more than 200,000 companies defunct; with a public debt that is rising at the rate of 10 billion euros a month (in two years it has gone up 24 points, from 69 to 94 percent of GDP); with spectacular growth in the number of households that find difficulty in making ends meet; with almost two million families where no one receives an income; with rising emigration of the young and educated; and the unwillingness of many to register as unemployed, because it is useless (the last two circumstances explaining why the number of people thus registered has diminished in 2013 - not because they have found jobs, as Rajoy had the effrontery to say in his year's-end press conference). Etcetera.

The prime minister also said that 2014 would be the year in which we leave fear behind. He did not specify what sort of fear the citizens feel. But it is spelled out in all the surveys: fear of losing your job, of failing to make ends meet, of falling behind in a distribution of income and wealth that is becoming more regressive as a result of the economic policies being implemented; fear of losing even more of the good things of ordinary life. And a more diffuse, but growing sort of fear that the politicians elected to help us to fix public problems, cannot do so because the most important decisions are made far from where those politicians are. All of which generates a distrust of democracy and of its capacity to find solutions.

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