On 14 April 2014, SID NL welcomed Enrique Lluch Frechina, Professor of Economics and Economic Ethics at the University CEU Cardenal Herrera, to give a lecture about the diverse solutions citizens put into practise in times of crisis. He mainly addressed the current economic situation in Spain. The discussion was moderated by Sandra Rottenberg, Board Member of SID NL and Director of “De Globaliseringslezing”.
Before beginning his lecture, Enrique Lluch Frechina was asked by Sandra Rottenberg about a comment he made earlier about statistics. According to Frechina, the criteria of national statistics are often changed by the government, so that poverty and inequality are masked. In 1988 the government finished with a research on poverty and inequality on mandatory demand of the European Union, yet Spain changed all the criteria in this survey. While working with this data Frechina experienced a lot of problems since it was so inconsistent. Therefore, Frechina accumulates his own statistics with the FOESSA foundation, to map social injustices and exclusion. According to the data he collected, the national available income per capita has decreased with almost 15 per cent. Youth unemployment has risen to around 55 per cent of the population. There are approximately 1.8 million families in Spain whereby no family member is employed. To give an indication of the future prospects, the last crisis in the 1970’s took Spain 20 years to recuperate from.
The number of people receiving government support has more than doubled in the period between 2007 and 2011. Depending on the autonomous community, families receive between 300 and 658 Euros of (public) support. Gas and water as well as public transport prices have gone up, while people have lower or even entirely lost their incomes. Families are often the main ‘institution’ to provide for the unemployed. Many people, often with ages above 30 are moving back in with their parents.
Older people who had good salaries their entire life are now receiving pensions that are proportionally bigger than most incomes. This distribution of wealth seems not only inefficient, since these retired people already have enough money, it is often perceived as unfair. The employed of this generation have to work more to make these pensions available in times of crisis. Many are not even building up pensions for themselves. The solutions that are put into practice by Spanish people are unsurprising; people acquire several temporal jobs, or keep their old job under worse conditions and lower wages. Furthermore, informal labour is on the rise and people stop buying luxury goods.
The migration to other countries, even overseas to Latin America is often mentioned as an individual solution to the crisis. However, there are no clear statistics since the government does not differentiate between natives or naturalised Spaniards. This is why, according to the statistics, Ecuador is the fourth biggest migration-destiny, (Ecuador can hardly be labelled a vibrant economy as it is one of the poorest countries in Latin-America). The (native) Spaniards who do migrate are often qualified and education, albeit they do not leave the country in large numbers as was the case in the 60s and 70s.
Contrary to our expectations, alternative economic strategies such as responsible local consumption, cultivation of own food, becoming self-sufficient, creating barter structures, time banks or social money, assembling in consumption groups, switching to bike transportation or buying goods on second hand markets are not yet very popular among Spanish people. Yet, a change in mentality is underway.
Frechina is very critical about the strategies Spanish people pose as solutions, though there are some positive changes. A minority is finally recognising the problems of the poorest groups in society. Government policies that do not address the growing inequality are starting to receive more criticism. Moreover, a minority is using ethical banks and are starting to buy in a more conscious and responsible way. According to Frechina most importantly, Spanish people realise that living with less is not a big problem if you can meet your basic needs. To have more goods does not automatically imply that one has a greater welfare; therefore relational goods are gaining importance as a way to measure welfare. Needs and desires should be distinguished, goods that represent status should be reconsidered. Businesses should take more social responsibility and should care less about profits for shareholders.
Sandra Rottenberg mentioned the Spanish immigrants from the 1960s and 1970s that came to the Netherlands and who were actually worse off than the Spaniards that stayed in their home country. Furthermore, because Spain is a rural society, people are more rooted in the village they live in. According to Rottenberg this is why the Spanish are not so willing to emigrate.
When asked about the general atmosphere, Frechina answered that in Spain most people do not show frustration. However, people have decided to stop reading newspapers, stop watching the news and they have lost interest in politics altogether. The bad news in the media leaves a negative impression of politics which results in despondency. The government appears to be positive because the economy is growing once more and the investors are returning. Yet, Spanish people are still left without jobs.
Does it appeal to Spanish people that they are part of the European Union? Spain receives the most European students, yet Frechina thinks this is because of the beach and the “fiestas”. But the actual European feeling is only vivid amongst educated people. The support people used to have for Europe has vanished. Frechina also informed that although education is free, since last year students do have to pay if they remain longer in school than necessary, which is disadvantageous to the poorest.
A question from the audience was if alternative economy approaches such as the “Vivir bien” ideology of indigenous populations in Ecuador and Bolivia serve as an inspiration to Spaniards. To a minor extent they do, yet the focus is very different. The “Vivir bien” economy comes from Marxist, indigenous and ecological currents. It is very mixed, they are especially thinking about the rights of the natural resources. A similarity between the “Vivir bien” and the Spanish approach is the rejection of the thought that “having more is our only goal”. Acknowledging economic growth as the main goal promotes selfish behaviour of the human being. This is contrary to the way we educate our children, since being selfish is usually taught to be a negative characteristic.
So why have Spanish people chosen individual strategies over social and political movements that might have a bigger chance of addressing the root of the problem? Of course there is the 15-May Movement –the Spanish equivalent of the Occupy Movement-, but it had little or no impact. There was no desire to form a political party. People are worried about personal problems and find it hard to see their problems generalised in legislation.
On a last note, Frechina once again stressed the need for people to be aware that “having more” is not a sustainable path to the future since it brings out the selfish part of humanity.