A frontline dispatch from Spain, a country in crisis

Steve Kelman finds that Spain's economic worries are not obvious on the surface.

I have been in Barcelona for a few days at an academic conference, just as Spain is in the daily headlines with new crisis stories about possible bank runs, bailouts, and the collapse of the euro. I don’t want to say that the streets of the city show no evidence that the place is in the middle of a crisis, but you do have to look and ask to find the signs.

The banks are all open, with no lines or visible signs of panic. Despite a 25 percent unemployment rate, there are traffic jams at rush hour on the highways. There are some musicians asking for money in subway stations and on the trains themselves, but not noticeably more than in New York, and almost no beggars on the streets.

In Catalonia (of which Barcelona is the capital), the regional government has imposed a 5 percent wage cut for all civil servants, which includes professors at the (mostly public) universities, though this has not yet occurred at the national level or in many other regional governments. At a private business school where a friend teaches, the signs of crisis are more subtle: the faculty has been told to take economy class on the high-speed rail instead of first class, and the university has seen a dramatic improvement in the quality of people applying for junior-level positions as research assistants (that means lots of overqualified unemployed people are applying). Most people with jobs have received no pay increase for several years.

People I asked all said they had at least one, and sometimes several, friends who were unemployed, though with two-career couples, there was usually still one income. Somebody told me they were surprised recently to see a middle-aged person doing a pizza home delivery, rather than a teenager as would typically have been the case. Restaurant prices are noticeably lower than in sky-high London and Paris, with lots of meal combo specials at quite reasonable prices, and again apparently have stayed stable for several years; at the airport, I was surprised at the number of discounted items in the duty free stores (lots and lots of 20 percent off specials).

I guess one way of thinking about this is that standards of living have gotten high enough in rich countries that a fairly substantial belt-tightening can occur before the average person starts significantly suffering. It is still surprising that the level of unrest is, in spite of everything, so low with so many people unemployed.

Of course, the crisis could get much worse – say, if the Spanish government is shut off from debt markets or if the Euro collapses. What we see now might then be mild compared to that possible future.

In my free time, I have been looking a lot at the work of one of the most amazing architects ever, Antoni Gaudi. I am still amazed at how his mind conceived the concoction of strange shapes, wild colors, and asymmetries his architecture represents – there is nothing like this anywhere in the world. Here’s a link to some pictures of his work. Perhaps as amazing is that many of his buildings were private homes built for rich businessmen. My initial reaction was to wonder how these staid wealthy textile barons supported such unconventional architecture, but I got it when somebody said to me it was a way for the ultra-rich of Barcelona to show off.

Gaudi was very religious, and I spent an afternoon at his unfinished masterpiece the Sagrada Familia church, his take on Gothic. I knew the church was unfinished, and the derricks around it make clear that an attempt is underway almost a century later to complete it (using private contributions). But I was surprised at just how unfinished Sagrada Familia was at the time of Gaudi’s death in 1926. He had been working on it for 42 years; for the last 12 years of his life, it was the only project he was working on. Gaudi was a master of the change order -- I had assumed “unfinished” meant a few touches left to go, but in fact the building was about 10 percent complete when he died. They are estimating the church will be completed in 2035!

In short, a project management disaster…

In the square around the church there are a Burger King, KFC, Subway, and Starbucks.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.