29 September 2015

Rational arguments fail against the Catalan regression


The regional elections in Catalonia have been won by the independentist, Europhobe, anti-capitalist parties, although it seems the independentists would be just under the majority in terms of the number of votes if it came to a referendum. These local ballots have however revealed a real draw to independence, as well as an unsurprising alliance between anti-capitalism and hostility towards Europe in the coalition of the now majority parties. Catalonia smacks of Scotland and seems to be firmly in the spirit of the times, which in our eyes represents a truly regressive attitude.

Today’s Catalans enjoy the unprecedented privilege of being citizens of Catalonia, Spain, Europe and the world. Thirty years ago the same Catalans were subject to a dictatorship and cut off from the world. Today this multiple identity affords them a choice of language, culture, travel, academic opportunities and employment. Yet it seems such freedom troubles some sensitive souls, who are tempted to return to the hearty camaraderie of a tribe in the form of a reinvented Catalonia: a medieval myth used to escape freedom and avoid facing the openness of today’s world. In reality, if this return to tribal society wins out, only the tribe’s leaders would reap the benefits and enjoy the power. The other, weaker members would inevitably find themselves faced with the restrictive, impoverishing ways of the old world. Some may find some sort of psychological comfort in this scenario, although there would evidently be no practical advantage.

I recently asked the mayor of Barcelona what would happen if Catalonia legally excluded itself from the European Union and the Eurozone; an inevitable consequence of independence. He retorted that “Europe could not do without Catalonia”. Very well, but any reintegration would require years of expensive negotiations funded by the Catalan economy. Although I must admit we are only dealing with rational arguments here, whereas the movement for independence, despite claiming the opposite, is appealing to the most primitive instincts. It is Man’s nature to seek a balance between reason and instinct. The only regret in this case is that the so-called leaders of Catalonia are peddling the idea that instinct is a form of reason, instead of ensuring its people are well-informed.

Let us imagine an independent Catalonia. The tribal chieftains are certainly painting a pretty picture, but what language would be spoken by these new Catalans? Less than half of the population currently speaks Catalan. They all speak Spanish, but are reluctant to admit it in public. Meetings between Catalan and Spanish officials are conducted in English. Half of the people living in Catalonia are originally from other Spanish provinces or immigrants from Northern Africa, and are far from enthusiastic about learning Catalan. If Catalan became the national language, some 50% of the population would be relegated to the status of second-class citizens. There seems to be very little to boost the operation of this new state, nor to contribute to its prosperity.

The economy is a favourite lie peddled by the independentists. Of course they claim the new state would bathe in wealth, free of its obligation to support the poorer states in southern Spain. But the complicated attempts to reconstruct a theoretical exchange table show that Catalonia would in fact be unable to pay its debts to Spain, despite enjoying the trade advantages of the Port of Barcelona. But this is a theoretical exercise, as there is currently no purely Catalan economy and most companies in Catalonia stretch far beyond the province’s borders. Instead of repatriating all their Spanish lines of activity to Catalonia, the opposite is far more likely; the leading Catalonian banks are already gearing up to move their registered offices to Madrid. And which currency would be used for trading? An independent Catalan state would either have to negotiate its return into the Eurozone, or create its own national currency. It is highly doubtful this new currency would win over the Catalans themselves, and the international markets even less so. The independentists’ socialist, anti-capitalists leanings would more likely lead to corporate nationalization, unbalanced budgets and huge inflation. But once again, these are simply rational arguments put forward to counter the independentists’ party-line hoax. Catalonia is yet another illustration of how partisans of free-trade and popular capitalism are unable to present an educational vision on a national scale. Let us not sell dreams about the market economy, nor produce myths in response to myths. Let us rather destroy all myths to restore reason as much as we possibly can.

Guy Sorman is a contributing editor of City Journal, a French public intellectual, and author of many books, including Economics Does Not Lie.