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Friday, April 04, 2014

What Most Americans Don’t Know about Europe



I watched an older episode of Vice (HBO) about some political demonstrations in Spain and Greece and had I not known better I would have been led to believe that these two countries were on the verge of total anarchy. In one segment of the pseudo-documentary a group of Spanish anarchists were—as the filmmakers stated—about to “shut the country down.” First of all, the protests they were referring to lasted perhaps three days here in Spain and concerned a very small segment of the population and affected a very small part of the country. Secondly, these teenage anarchists probably wouldn’t have acted as destructively as they did had they not had an American film crew following them around. Even so, their attempt to “shut the country down” consisted of nothing more than graffiti and petty vandalism. And finally, things are not that bad in Europe. In fact, for most people life is damn good.

Sure, Spain now suffers from a very high rate of unemployment at something like 23%, levels we saw in America during the Great Depression. Things are tough for a lot of people here but there are a number of important factors to consider. These unemployment numbers reflect a huge age differential as young people are not working at rates as high as 44%. This sucks for the youth of the country but you also have to keep in mind that they mostly live at home. This means that they have a place to live, food, and some amount of money. What you don’t see in Spain are legions of homeless and desperate people sleeping in doorways, like you do in most big American cities today so imagine if we had Spain’s unemployment numbers.

Along with this there is a huge black market economy in Spain as people do everything and anything they can to make money and a lot of it isn’t reported in government statistics. I would estimate the black economy in Greece is ten times what it is here in Spain as Greeks are famous for avoiding government oversight and thus taxes.

I’m in no way saying that these countries don’t have a lot of problems but the situation here is hardly the chaos that many conservatives in America would like you to believe. An Ikea is soon to open up near Valencia and there were a reported 8,000 applicants vying for a little over 200 jobs so, yes, unemployment is a huge problem and especially so in the Valencia Community. This problem has not caused any major problems in political stability—at least not yet. It even looks like things are improving in the jobs sector. It is also important to point out that Spain and the rest of European Union haven’t tried to completely dismantle their security nets for the less fortunate as we have done in the USA. It is also important to stress that this global economic crisis wasn’t brought on by socialism; it was unbridled capitalism (if that’s how you would describe our banking sector).

American conservatives love to point to Europe as an example of how socialism has failed. What conservatives rarely note is that the European economic crisis was brought on a collapse of the baking sector as countries adopted American banking and mortgage policies that led to the American financial meltdown of 2008. Spain had almost no problem with its internal debt before 2008, ditto this with Greece. This is another of the inconvenient truths that American conservatives avoid at all costs.

In fact, American conservatives used the financial crisis brought on by Wall Street to attack social welfare programs in the USA, as if they had anything at all to do with the precipitous fall in real estate values in the US and Europe. But what do you expect from a group that is all too accustomed to smashing anything to bits in order to make it fit their completely ridiculous narrative?

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