In this article I propose a theory of Spain’s political class to make a case for the urgent, imperious need to change our voting system and adopt a majority system. A good theory of Spain’s political class should at least explain the following issues:
1. How is it possible that five years after the crisis began, no political party has a coherent diagnosis of what is going on in Spain?
2. How is it possible that no political party has a credible long-term plan or strategy to pull Spain out of the crisis? How is it possible that Spain’s political class seems genetically incapable of planning?
3. How is it possible that Spain’s political class is incapable of setting an example? How is it possible that nobody – except the king and for personal motives at that – has ever apologized for anything?
4. How is it possible the most obvious strategy for a better future – improving education, encouraging innovation, development and entrepreneurship, and supporting research – is not just being ignored, but downright massacred with spending cuts by the majority parties?
In the following lines I posit that over the last few decades, Spain’s political class has developed its own particular interest above the general interest of the nation, which it sustains through a system of rent-seeking. In this sense it is an extractive elite, to use the popularized term. Spanish politicians are the main culprits of the real estate bubble, of the savings banks collapse, of the renewable energy bubble and of the unnecessary infrastructure bubble. These processes have put Spain in the position of requiring European bailouts, a move which our political class has resisted to the bitter end because it forces them to implement reforms that erode their own particular sphere of interest. A legal reform that enforced a majority voting system would make elected officials accountable to their voters instead of to their party leaders; it would mark a very positive turn for Spanish democracy and it would make the structural reforms easier.
The principle is very simple. Spain’s political class has not only turned itself into a special interest group, like air traffic controllers for example; it has taken a step further and formed an extractive elite in the sense given to this term by Acemoglu and Robinson in their recent and already famous book Why Nations Fail. An extractive elite is defined by:
“Having a rent-seeking system which allows, without creating new wealth, for the extraction of rent from a majority of the population for one’s own benefit.”
“Having enough power to prevent an inclusive institutional system – in other words, a system that distributes political and economic power broadly, that respects the rule of law and free market rules.”
Abominating the ‘creative destruction’ that characterizes the most dynamic forms of capitalism. In Schumpeter’s words, “creative destruction is the process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” Innovation tends to create new centers of power, and that’s why it is detested.
What does this simple theory have to say about the four questions set forth at the beginning of this article? Let us see:
1. Spain’s political class, as an extractive elite, cannot effect a reasonable diagnosis of the crisis. It was their rent-seeking mechanisms that provoked it, but obviously they cannot say that. The Spanish political class needs to defend, as it is indeed doing to a man, that the crisis is an act of God, something that comes from the outside, unpredictable by nature, and in the face of which we can only show resignation.
2. Spain’s political class, as an extractive elite, cannot have any exit strategy other than waiting for the storm to pass. Any credible long-term plan must include the dismantling of the rent-seeking mechanisms that the political class benefits from. And this is not an option.
3. Nobody apologizes for defending their particular interests. Air traffic controllers didn’t, and neither will our politicians.
4. Just as the theory of extractive elites states, Spanish political parties share a great contempt for education, innovation and entrepreneurship, and a deep-seated hostility towards science and research. The loud arguments over the civics education course Educación para la Ciudadanía are in stark contrast with the thick silence regarding the truly relevant problems of our education system. Meanwhile, innovation and entrepreneurship languish in the midst of regulatory deterrents and punitive fiscal measures. And spending on scientific research is viewed as a luxury that politicians cut back savagely on, given half a chance.
Poor Spain – Dugutigui free translation on an article by César Molinas