The Bells Of Barcelona

toll for Europe:

Catalonia, to be sure, has trampled on the Spanish Constitution. But constitutions depend on the consent of the governed, and Catalonia refuses to be governed by Madrid. Rajoy now faces a political crisis without a clear solution. His minority government depends on the support of a Basque regional party, and the Basques are sympathetic to the Catalans. The governor of the Basque Autonomous Region proposed yesterday that Madrid adopt a British or Canadian solution, allowing the Catalans to vote on secession as did the Scots in 2014. The difference, of course, is that the Scots depend on British subsidies and voted to stay, while the Catalans subsidize the rest of Spain and would vote to leave. The Basques well might follow.

This is an existential crisis for the Spanish state, for reasons I laid out on Sept. 30. Spain is at the cusp of a steep rise in the proportion of elderly dependents (from 25% of the economically-active population to an insupportable 50% by 2050). The question comes down to who will be eaten first in the lifeboat: with the lowest fertility rate of any large European country, Spain cannot support its elderly, and the Catalans want to maintain themselves first.

There is a great deal of speculation about the possible knock-on effects in the rest of Europe. Catalonia is a singularity. The notionally separatist Lombard League has no stomach for a real fight, and no ambitions to create an independent country, as the League-affiliated Mayor of Bergamo explained in an interview yesterday. The Lombards merely want to keep a higher proportion of their tax revenue. The Italian regionalists are playing comedy, while the Catalans are enacting a tragedy: They perceive this moment as one of existential import for their future existence, and will not back down.

The first response of the rest of Europe, to be sure, will be to ask the Catalans as well as the Rajoy government to put the genie back into the bottle. We are well past that point. After demonstrating that mass civil disobedience could defeat the heavy-handed efforts of the national government to suppress them, the Catalans will not turn back. Nor should they. Europe’s infertility leaves the more productive regions of Europe with the choice of impugning their own future by picking up the retirement bill for the continent’s dead beats, or going their own way.

Something that cannot continue will eventually stop.

13 thoughts on “The Bells Of Barcelona”

  1. Political analysts are blinking in disbelief at yesterday’s events in Catalonia, trying to recognize the political phenomenon that took the world by surprise over the weekend.

    Why are these analysts always surprised? Brexit, Trump and now Catalonia. Are they such sycophants to the powerful that they ignore what is happening before their eyes?

    There should be a name for this. Marie Antoinette Syndrome?

    1. “Why are these analysts always surprised?”

      Let me guess? Because, like economists, they’re paid to tell people what they want to hear?

      But it’s not just Spain. The entire West is about to reach the point where there aren’t enough productive people to keep feeding the unproductive.

      It’s not going to be pretty.

      1. Yes, it’s like the latest “Economics of Wishful Thinking” idea known as Universal Basic Income. The idea is that everyone would get money just for existing. What they can’t explain is where to get the money. In discussions with some UBI proponents, I ran some basic numbers. If the UBI gave $300 a month to everyone under 18 and $1,000 a month to everyone 18 and older, it would cost about $3.5 trillion (with a “T”) every year in the US. That’s not very different than the entire US federal budget.

  2. I dunno. Back when the Confederacy wanted to secede the US Federal government didn’t allow them to either. Then again the Confederacy did declare war first. So I guess they lost the “moral” high ground right there.

    The Spanish Conservatives (which is what Rajoy is) merely see this as a repeat of the events just prior to the Spanish Civil War back in the time of the Republic. That’s why they repress any independence movements this fiercely. Personally I think they should have simply declared any such referendum as null and void (again) since it goes against the Constitution. It was really dumb of them to send the police to stop the vote. It’s not like it would be the first referendum they would ignore (i.e. 2014).

    I think the Spanish Conservatives might accept some sort of Federal government in Spain, but I doubt they would allow independence. Because as you rightly pointed out if Catalonia leaves, then the Basque might leave next leaving only a bunch of impoverished areas with the sole remaining strong economic nucleus around Madrid. Most of southern Spain is highly desertified, hot dry climate with little water, so it’s never going to be prosperous, except for some coastal areas which have tourist revenue.

      1. From my understanding the Secession of the Confederacy was done because the Southern States felt like they were being increasingly marginalized economically and politically by the Northern States. The Slavery issue was just the last straw on what they saw as a continued attack on their well being by the North as it directly impacted their main means of production and subsistence with plantation farming. I can’t say I agree with the institution of slavery but I can understand their rationale.

        1. Slavery was in no way a “last” straw. It was the reason for sectional contention going back decades before the war began. While northern states’ politicians did seek to limit the adoption of a slave economy in new states made from the territories, the South was marginalized more by the consequences of its stubborn refusal to modernize and diversify, as the North was doing.

    1. Personally I think they should have simply declared any such referendum as null and void (again) since it goes against the Constitution. It was really dumb of them to send the police to stop the vote.

      This ^

      It was basically just a poll with some admission requirements. It wasn’t legally binding so why stop it? Beating people and shooting them with rubber bullets just turns public opinion against the national government.

        1. May actually be the case. Never let an emergency go to waste, particularly, the emergencies that you created.

  3. Corsica for Corsicans!!!!!

    Well anyway……

    What would happen if a lot of illegals who have “acquired” the ability to vote move to Arizona.

    Then they call for a referendum on secession. Perhaps to join the territory to Mexico.

    1. You mean like in Kosovo? It would be hypocritical for the US to not officially recognize such an invasion.

  4. “the Catalans subsidize the rest of Spain and would vote to leave.”

    While the first part is true, there’s little evidence for the second. Support for separation ran at around 40% before the vote. Undoubtedly the Spanish government’s heavy-handedness will have swayed some, but although the declared result was 90% in favour, only about a quarter of the electorate actually endorsed the proposal. Clearly supporters were determined to vote in spite of the police, so it seems fair to assume a determined boycott by opponents. Worth bearing in mind when we talk of “the Catalans”. They’re actually deeply divided over this, and most of them don’t “yearn for independence” at all.

    Moreover, by nobody’s standards could this be called a free or fair vote: there’s the well-publicised intimidation from one side, but also strong evidence of fraud on the other, although it’s hard to say how widespread it was.

    Godzilla’s absolutely right: the smart thing for Madrid to have done was to calmly declare the vote void and start discussions with the Catalan administration on greater autonomy or a referendum on more amenable terms. It’s too late for that now, but don’t take that to mean that the majority of the Catalan population has suddenly (and, as I say, it would be suddenly) turned against Spain. It’s certainly not impossible, given what’s happened, but it doesn’t follow from the referendum result.

    One of my greatest fears at the time of the Scottish referendum was that the seperatists would win by a tiny margin. How do you govern a fledgeling state when half its population doesn’t want it and owes it no allegiance?

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