Enough of this ****, let’s try liberalism

Since they kicked out the Jews and the Moors, Spain has “enjoyed” 500 years of illiberal policies, from both the left and the right.  Now there are some signs that Spanish voters are beginning to get tired of failure, tired of 21% unemployment:

As Spain’s rising political star, Albert Rivera has charmed many Spaniards with his easy-going manner and his critique of the political establishment. His pro-market agenda is also reassuring bond investors.

Having overtaken the anti-austerity group Podemos in polls for the first time this month, Rivera’s Ciudadanos party is likely to be kingmaker after an election in December. Whether he opts to support Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party or the main opposition Socialists, investors are just happy it’s Rivera who holds the key.

.  .  .

Ciudadanos went national last December with Rivera announcing he would be running for prime minister six months later. Since then, the 35-year-old lawyer has become inescapable for Spaniards, debating policy on news shows, talking family life on morning TV and discussing his fashion choices in style magazines.

Four national surveys released in October showed Ciudadanos in third place and one placed the group in a statistical tie with the traditional parties. The most recent, Telecinco’s poll of 1,800 people published Tuesday put Ciudadanos at 18 percent with the PP at 27 percent and the Socialists at 24 percent.

With neither Rajoy’s PP nor the Socialists within reach of an outright majority, that would make Rivera’s party the go-to option to support the next government. Podemos, the ally of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that led in one January poll, dropped to fourth place with 16 percent.

“Having Rivera play this role would be seen as a positive by the market,” said Geoffrey Minne, an economist at ING Bank in Brussels. “His party is coming with a pro-business program, a willingness to improve transparency in government and tackle the issue of labor market duality.”

Staying Sensible

Campaigning on a platform of “sensible change,” Rivera combines pro-market measures with socially liberal views. His party wants to cut taxes, simplify the sales tax and reduce duplication at regional government level. But he’s also advocated legalizing prostitution, investing in innovation and modernizing the education system.

By blurring the lines between conservative and progressive ideas, Rivera is attracting support from traditional supporters of both the PP and the Socialists and can seal alliances with both groups. According to a Metroscopia opinion poll published Oct. 11, Rivera has the highest approval rating among Spanish politicians.

With Spain set to move beyond the two-party system that has controlled parliament for the past three decades, Rivera’s ability to draw support from across Spain’s polarized political map could be his biggest asset.

Let me anticipate the inevitable complaints from the usual grouchy commenters who are lacking in imagination:

1.  Yes, Ciudadanos is not a purist libertarian party, those sorts of parties have no chance in Europe, or anywhere else in the world for that matter.

2.  Yes, they will only be the junior party in a coalition, and powerful special interest groups will prevent many of their proposed reforms from being enacted.

But I’d rather focus on the positive.  Finally, Spain is considering liberalism, and the appeal seems to be strongest among the young.  This is surely a good sign for the future.  If they join up with the right they are likely to get at least some of their economic reforms enacted.  And if they join with the left they should be able to enact some of their social agenda.

In my view the most important characteristic of Ciudadanos is not its position on this or that issue, but rather it’s strong opposition to Spain’s culture of corruption, its culture of crony capitalism.

PS.  By encouraging Syriza to reject the EU bailout in a referendum, Krugman, Stiglitz and Sachs greatly helped Ciudadanos, by discrediting Podemos.  Thank you.



16 Responses to “Enough of this ****, let’s try liberalism”

  1. Gravatar of Amelanchier Amelanchier
    22. October 2015 at 06:08

    Citizens is just a standard-issue Spanish nationalist, right-wing party. Prostitution is already legal in Spain. Citizens talks a lot about eliminating corruption, but otherwise I don’t see much of a “pro-market” agenda. They want to centralize power in Madrid even more than does their alter ego, the incumbent Popular Party.

  2. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    22. October 2015 at 06:44

    ‘Since they kicked out the Jews and the Moors, Spain has “enjoyed” 500 years of illiberal policies, from both the left and the right.’

    True, which is why I’m not optimistic about Spain’s prospects. It’s a wonderful place to visit…but, politics there has always been bloodsport. As it has everywhere Spain exported its political-economic culture.

    There’s a reason why the English speaking world is successful everywhere it’s been tried, and Spanish isn’t.

  3. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    22. October 2015 at 06:45

    Is it April Fools in October? Sumner’s lead sentence, obviously a hook, is ludicrous. Note however the Sumner trait to call for a reversal (“Now there are some signs”), after supposedly 500 years of a trend, based on flimsy anecdotal evidence. This is common with this kook.

  4. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    22. October 2015 at 06:46

    Patrick, Yes, but there are degrees of failure. Chile isn’t Venezuela.

    I see your point, but I’m optimistic that things will get at least somewhat better in Spain.

  5. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    22. October 2015 at 09:33

    ‘Chile isn’t Venezuela.’

    Yes, though Allende tried to make it Cuba, as Chavez and Maduro are doing in Venezuela. One of the reasons Chile is different is the cultural mix is different due to the geography. Chile is isolated from South America and is more like an island like New Zealand.

    And there are plenty of English speakers in Chile. The Edwards family being one prominent example.

  6. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    22. October 2015 at 09:43

    Btw, the Canadian journalist Eleanor Wachtel has some entertaining podcasts with Chileans from 2010 (iirc). This one is with the novelist Alberto Fuguet (the first half) and followed by one with Sebastian Silva who directed a quirky movie (The Maid).


  7. Gravatar of Bababooey Bababooey
    22. October 2015 at 09:56

    What is your “take” (to borrow a sports term) on the role played by mass quantities of gold and silver pouring into Spain during the first centuries of that period? Resource curse?

  8. Gravatar of Anthony McNease Anthony McNease
    22. October 2015 at 10:00

    “PS. By encouraging Syriza to reject the EU bailout in a referendum, Krugman, Stiglitz and Sachs greatly helped Ciudadanos, by discrediting Podemos.”

    Maybe this can be explained by Robert Conquest: “The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.” Maybe Krugman and Stiglitz are secret conservatives doing a really good job of discrediting the international Left.

  9. Gravatar of Floccina Floccina
    22. October 2015 at 11:26

    The big question that I have, is why is true liberalism (not the USA Democratic mis-branded thing), so un-popular?
    Conservatives want wars on sin and foreigners even though they fail again and again and Democrats like Bernie Sanders sell the people on redistributing consumption from the middle-class to the middle-class with big losses in the process due to dead weight loss and inefficiency!

  10. Gravatar of benjamin cole benjamin cole
    22. October 2015 at 16:18

    I refuse to be optimistic on Spain. The ECB will suffocate the Iberian Peninsula for generations.

    Money may be long-term neutral, but you get several decades in between. And once long-term economic decline is induced…can a policy really be said to be neutral? Cultures change, best minds migrate…

  11. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    22. October 2015 at 18:44

    It’s well known that “culture” is a fudge factor when describing developmental economics, and why one country outperforms another. What culture is special in South Korea, vs North Korea? If Spanish culture is so bad, why does the Philippines trail most countries, when they switched to English culture (fact: in the Philippines, nobody speaks Spanish anymore, sad but true, since WWII. They all speak English and if you mention that a loan word found in Tagalog is from Spanish you get a blank stare. Pretty amazing actually).

  12. Gravatar of TallDave TallDave
    22. October 2015 at 19:25

    These strange coalitions involve so much horse trading, party-slate democracy always seems inherently dishonest.

    The Philippines are not in the Anglosphere and thus have no tradition of English legal philosophy, their system is really more Spanish. Most Filipinos have only basic familiarity with English (many are even a little vague on Tagalog), and the educated are quite aware that Spanish is considerably more similar. Aside from the natural phenomenae (flora, fauna, earth, water, air) that is all constantly trying to kill them, the seven thousand islands and nearly as many distinct cultures, many of whom know nearly nothing about each other and speak different native languages, and the fact some have been living there for nearly 100,000 years and are pretty damned set in their ways (ahem Aeta), they have fairly ridiculous levels of corruption and a tradition of intrepid itineracy that has given them the highest remittances of any country in the world but also drained the country of its most productive citizens. They’ve been improving recently though, and are getting in on the IT offshoring for big consulting firms now.

  13. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    23. October 2015 at 05:39

    Bababooey, I answer your question in my new Econlog post.

    Floccina, It’s unpopular because it goes against common sense. (Of course there is also opposition for special interest politics reasons, but you don’t even need that assumption.)

    Ray, Have you ever considered the possibility that there might be two or more factors involved?

  14. Gravatar of How I think, by Scott Sumner – Citizens News How I think, by Scott Sumner - Citizens News
    23. October 2015 at 07:30

    […] at MoneyIllusion a commenter asked me the following […]

  15. Gravatar of Bob Bob
    24. October 2015 at 13:53

    It’s not as if more liberalization wouldn’t help Spain, but I wonder if the level of liberalization that someone like Ciudadanos could force would actually help.

    Spain’s trouble is one of trust: Competitiveness in Spain has more to do with trust than it has to do with actual performance, and that has a lot to do with how few repercussions are there for doing things like breaking contracts. So those that are most trustworthy are those that would suffer the most social consequences from misbehaving, instead of those that just have a good track record. It’s still the country of the ‘cultura del pelotazo’ after all.

    If major scandals lead to no judicial prosecution, whatever a party promises means nothing, as there are no consequences. The entire top hierarchy of PP was getting paid illegally, from illegal political contributions of their good friends. PSOE had similar situations, although it was more regional. If people can get away with that, ultimately no party in power will do much for a country, as they best they can do is line their pockets, and become customers of companies that want laws to fit them. And when a company is paying, liberalization is never really what they want, as liberalization would also help their competitors. This is why Spain has a huge public sector and regulations: It’s an ideal way for a company getting good kickbacks from illegal contributions.

    So what does Spain need first? A real law enforcement and justice system that moves faster and is less corrupt. Without that, everything else is window dressing.

  16. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    25. October 2015 at 18:48

    Bob, How do you get that?

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