This article explains why “España va bien… ho-dee-da”. It was former Premier José María Aznar who made the motto “España va bien” (Spain is on the move) popular in his first mandate between 1996 to 2000. Spain’s real estate bubble had only started and Spaniards welcomed a new right-wing government after the corruption excesses of the fourth and last Felipe González administration. Spain was indeed on the move at the time, and this momentum continued all the way through 2008 when José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was appointed Premier for a second consecutive time.
Spain is still on the move today, on the move to hell and beyond, the opposite direction indicated by Buzz Lightyear, my favorite toy in Toy Story. We may recuperate and update Aznar’s maxim to “España va bien… ho-dee-da”. Ho-dee-da is this article’s buzzword, written exactly as it is pronounced in Castilian Spanish.
What does ho-dee-da mean? The term incorporates a number of English adjectives including the following: damaged, hurt, knocked-out, screwed. Spain quotes at a severe discount of the once-upon-a-time “delirios de grandeza”. What caused the promising land to fall in such a deep ditch?
First of all Spain benefitted extensively from the European Structural Funds. For many years Spain received about one percent of its Gross Domestic Product through European Union’s Structural Funds, which were invested largely in infrastructure. This funding contributed to an infrastructure-inflation in which an excess of highways, airports, high speed trains and desalinization plants were built, many of which are underutilized today or even closed.
Spain’s devolution process created 17 federal states (the Autonomous Communities) where cacique Presidents decided their regions were worthy of expanding their infrastructure, building one public University in every province (Andalusia has 9 public Universities in eight provinces), one theater and swimming-pool in every average town. After all it was time to devolve after 36 years of imposed Madrid-centralism during the fascist Francoist dictatorship (General Francisco Franco Bahamonde ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975).
The incorporation to the Eurozone in 2002 did not contribute to maintaining the real estate bubble under control, but otherwise it boosted the bubble to further horizons. As a result with a high inflation in Spain coupled with very low interest rates in the Eurozone, real estate promoters and investors were literally funding their developments with negative interest rates. Spaniards and foreigners speculated flipping over real estate, amazed at how easy it was to become wealthy overnight. Savings Banks (Cajas de Ahorro) were increasingly managed by boards of politicians and trade unionists, significantly increasing their mortgage portfolios with very poor risk management terms and procedures. City halls and mayors would obtain fees granting construction licenses with which they would fulfil electoral promises (building a theater, a swimming-pool). We thought we were rich. Everything worked just fine.
José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero arrived at La Moncloa in 2004. He thought he had inherited the goose with the golden eggs. He undertook a serious expenditure plan, subsidizing renewable energy (particularly photovoltaic solar), building high speed trains, and embracing the “Ley de Dependencia”, a law granting a monetary allocation to the elderly. Right-wing governments know how to tax. Left-wing governments know how to spend it all, la dolce vitta.
It all finished and the party is over. We thought we were the new rich, we will never learn. What follows suit is the hangover, a terrible and long hangover, perhaps as long as one or two decades. So Spain is on the move but ho-dee-da.
To my astonishment and that of millions of Spaniards, the same politicians that are partly responsible for this mess continue to operate the Situation Room. Everybody knows what Donald Trump does with the apprentices that do not perform: “You’re fired”. Nobody resigns in Spain, what a calamity, impunity remains.
In a developed country with tens of thousands of well-prepared professionals, how can we leave our governance to the current politicians who are predominantly the mediocre of their generation? Why don’t we demand change on the streets? Resignation and conservatism are attitudes that explain part of the phenomenon.
The Portuguese say that Spaniards are more demanding. Spaniards think that the French are most demanding. The French did conduct a real revolution, with guillotines in the streets. There is no solution within the political system. The solution to finding an alternative governance must come from outsiders, as it has been constantly reminded in the arguments of Spain’s intellectuals during the last two hundred years, including Joaquín Costa, Miguel de Unamuno and particularly José Ortega y Gasset.
There has been public propaganda since Franco’s death about what an exemplary non-violent transition Spain conducted in the late 1970s with the command and leadership of Premier Adolfo Suárez and King Juan Carlos I. Critical voices are emerging arguing that the exemplary transition was indeed a manner to grant all political power to the two major parties which have invaded every single corner of Spain’s public space, from the media to Universities to the judiciary. These new gods deserve everyone’s respect, admiration and devotion, to an extent which is worse than during the Francoist regime, they drive in official cars and have dozens of personal advisors who of course are not subject to due diligence or control of their academic and professional backgrounds. Advisors who are “personas de confianza”, an euphemism to refer to cousins and childhood friends.
I am not sure if there is one developed country in such dire straits, perhaps Italy. Spain is literally on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Then why doesn’t Spanish society fall over the cliff? We like to live on the verge of a nervous breakdown, I literally cannot find a better explanation.
Yes we do complain, every minute of the day, that our political leadership stinks. Yet we comfortably sit down at home watching Real Madrid or FC Barcelona and reading the sports newspapers Marca while drinking Ana Botella’s relaxing cup of coffee. In the meantime we continue to accept the status-quo. This is no way to run a Revolution with fictitious guillotines. The French did it and then tried to invade Europe under Napoleon Bonaparte’s rule. Spaniards managed to expel José Bonaparte.
As a result we will continue to accept our “fate” and remain ho-dee-dos. We deserve it as a society for not being able to stand up as the Americans or the Japanese and react against this so called evils of our land (males de la patria). The Sleeping Beauty remains asleep.