Spain Bucks the Happiness Trend

By Delusional Economics, who is determined to cleanse the daily flow of vested interests propaganda to produce a balanced counterpoint. Cross posted from MacroBusiness.

Market and real economic divergence continues apace in the European periphery and, much like Italy, Spain is again showing worrying signs that further fiscal tightening is creating far more severe negative consequences than “expected”. The deterioration in the economy is once again leading to a re-assessment of targets:

European Union budget enforcer Olli Rehn signaled he might seek to ease Spain’s targets for cutting its budget deficit in a retreat from the demands that helped drive the economy into recession.

EU officials will make a decision on the best pace for Spain’s budget consolidation when they deliver a scheduled assessment of the program in February, Rehn said at a press conference in Madrid yesterday.

If there has been a serious deterioration in the economy, we can propose an extension of a country’s adjustment path,” said Rehn, the EU’s economic and monetary affairs commissioner, as he sat alongside Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos. “That’s what we did last year in the case of Spain.”

But it isn’t just the national government that is struggling under re-newed economic retrenchment. Regional governments are also in economic trouble and requesting life-lines from the state:

The regional government of Catalonia on Tuesday formally requested 9 billion euros ($12 billion) from a rescue fund created by Spain to save its financially beleaguered regions.

“The amount planned by the Spanish Interior and Public Administration Ministry is 9.073 billion euros,” the government of Catalonia said in a statement.

As I have noted previously, Catalonia is the not only a region with separatist history, it is also the area that has seen the largest fall in wealth from the country’s house price collapse. The latest report from Tinsa once again shows this to be the case with a 40.1% fall from peak on the Mediterranean coast, and I suspect that this is having an influence on the politics of the region.

In Spain as a whole the economic data continues to be very poor with the latest retail sales data being yet another example:

It was one of the most miserable Christmases on record for retailers in Spain as sales plunged last month in the midst of one of the worst consumer crises the recession-hit country has ever seen.

With sales tax hikes biting, unemployment growing and many workers and pensioners watching the real values of their income fall, Spaniards kept their wallets tightly closed, helping to produce a 10.7% fall in sales in December compared with the same month in 2011.

The retail slump actually accelerated, rising from a fall of 7.8% for November and an annual rate for 2012 of 6.8%. Retail sales in Spain have now fallen for 30 successive months, and the decline has quickened since the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, implemented further austerity measures to bring the budget into line.

And, as I’ve explained numerous times previously, the ongoing economic retrenchment caused by a balance sheet recession mixed with continued fiscal tightening is manifesting in ever-increasing bad debts and unemployment:

You can see from those charts we are still searching for a bottom.

As you would expect the Spanish public is becoming increasingly frustrated with the situation and Mariano Rajoy (not that this is a surprise to me, I was questioning the whole thing from day one ). This, however, is being made much worse by new revelations in the on-going Gürtel corruption affair that Mr Rajoy’s own party it knee deep in it:

Former Prime Minister José María Aznar instructed his attorneys to sue the newspaper El País. Current Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, a conservative like Aznar, threatened to sue anyone who leveled accusations at his People’s Party (PP).


The general outline of the affair was known, but not the fact that the former treasurer of the People’s Party, Luis Bárcenas, had amassed up to €22 million ($30 million) from dubious sources in accounts with Dresdner Bank in Geneva. The judge on the Spanish National Court only learned of this as a result of legal assistance from Switzerland. Even the conservative newspaper El Mundo could no longer refrain from delving into the scandal.

For as long as Bárcenas managed the PP’s finances, El Mundo writes, the politician handed party officials envelopes filled with banknotes worth between €5,000 and 15,000 every month. A former member of parliament for the PP confirmed this practice. Although accepting additional pay is not prohibited if a person declares it on his tax return, the conservatives are nonetheless worried. Bárcenas may have recorded the source of the funds in his notebooks (anonymous donations to political parties have been banned since 2007), as well as to whom the money was passed and why.

Much like Italy’s new banking scandal this one is another story to keep a close eye on. With the economy in its current state it isn’t going to take much for this story to ignite into something much bigger.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Chris Engel

    Forcing workers into destitution and suicide is a lot easier for the VSPs than printing money and spending it on jobs.

  2. NachoPepe

    As a matter of fact, El Mundo didn not only not refrain from publishijg the scandal, it was the one media revealing all about affair first.
    It is a widely extended idea in Spain that the whole thing smells strongly of in-fighting among the conservatives.

  3. Hugh

    Consolidation = austerity = looting

    If there are any political classes that are not completely corrupt, I haven’t seen them.

  4. from Mexico

    People here in Mexico — due to language, cultural and personal affinities — follow events much closer in Spain than people in the US do.

    Many have expressed concerns that Spain is on the precipice of flying apart, not economically but politically. And when this happens it will bring the entire European-UK economic project crashing down.

    They are of course fully aware of the devastating consequences this would have on the Mexican economy.

    Most people in the US I’ve spoken to believe, on the other hand, that the United States is completely above and beyond — imune you might say — to whatever might happen in Europe.

  5. J Sterling

    Yes, I’ve noticed the use of “expected” in European austerity outcomes. It is to the Global Financial Crisis and the recession what “no one ever imagined” was to 9/11 and the Iraq invasion.

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