“Courage is grace under pressure.”
David Seaton's News Links
The most significant thing about the financial crisis, up till now, is that it is universal.
Something with its origins in the US financial sector has hit the entire world economy and the numbers are horrible everywhere. Millions of people are suffering from the effects of an economic philosophy and ideology that was hatched in America's nest, just as those same millions enjoyed the economic boom that nest and philosophy produced, until the bubble burst.
For the first time in history we are all sailing in the same leaky boat.
Spain in no exception. Their wish to be a major player and to end the long isolation Franco brought upon them has been amply granted, for good and for bad.
I have known the country in austere and dignified poverty and as out of the world as Tibet and now, only a few years later, its banks are considered the best run in the world, its film directors and actors win Oscars, and Spanish athletes like, Miguel Indurain, Rafa Nadal, Pau Gasol and the European champion national soccer team have lifted the self confidence and self esteem of all the younger generations.
The Spanish people have taken full advantage of the opportunities a fortunate economic and political context have brought their way and now the best nourished and best educated young people in Spain's history will face a crisis which pales in comparison with what their much less educated and less well nourished grandparents faced with such fierce stoicism in the 1930s.
Spain is not a continental power like the United States with its huge population and endless natural resources, but neither is it Iceland or the Ukraine: Spain is being hit hard, very hard. However I would argue that Spain is a country, a society, that as they say in boxing, can take a punch. I have personally seen Spain take quite a few.
I have seen three really bad recessions here: at the end of the 70s after Franco's death, with double digit inflation, in the late 80s when 50 banks had to be nationalized and at the beginning of the 90s with unemployment as high as 24%... and life went on just the same. I was living entirely on the local economy by then and the good humored "grace under pressure" and lack of self-dramatization of the average Spanish person in times of economic catastrophe made the deepest of impressions on me.
Looking for the formula I came to this, not terribly original conclusion: the Spanish extended family is probably the country's greatest resource in troubled times.
The closest friends of most adult Spaniards I know are their brothers, sisters and cousins, closely followed by people they went to grade school through university with. This correlates with the extreme reluctance most Spanish men and especially their wives, have for moving to another town, even if there are better jobs waiting for them there, since this would mean losing their family social network. If you marry a Spanish girl you can go and work anywhere in the world as long as she can eat lunch with her mother and sisters at least twice a week.
This lack of work force mobility creates several percentage points of normal Spanish unemployment. That is the downside, the upside is the strength of the social fabric.
Spanish social life is an endless round of weddings, baptisms, first communions, pub crawls with friends and late dinners with lively conversation into the small hours over the ruins of a copious, well irrigated, meal. High consumption of hard goods and services adds to the charms of this existence based on eating and drinking with family and friends you've known since childhood, but cutting back on it all doesn't affect the basic underpinnings of this extended family life.
There is just as much pain as anywhere else in Spain when jobs are lost and payments fall behind or mortgages are foreclosed, but in Spain there are many shoulders to cry on and helping hands to turn to. And if you haven't lost your job you are supposed to help family, through the cousins by the dozens, that have.
If we add to this social fabric a modern, universal health system of socialized medicine, where no one, adult or child lacks for a free family doctor, hospitalization, pediatrician etc, even if unemployed, then it is obvious that the stress levels of a Spanish recession are very different from those in the states or even socially advanced northern Europe, where, like the states, nuclear families or single parent families are the rule.
In short people here are not alone for a minute of their lives and not afraid of getting ill, they are usually surrounded, practically suffocated, by their family and childhood friends. I imagine that not a few of my readers could get a little wistful thinking that proposition over.
So, summing up: this recession is going to be hard on everyone, everywhere, for a long time. The traditional Spanish family and social values were developed for hard times: Spain, through its history has rarely known any others. Coming into this universal mess, Spaniards are healthier, better nourished and better educated than they ever were before.
In a universal recession/depression, where there is nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide, there are a lot worse places to ride it out than Spain. DS