As I mentioned, I’ve had a shameless, life-long, torrid love affair with Spain. Since the financial crisis, the country’s economy has been in a world of hurt, with the highest unemployment rate in the eurozone at 21.5%, and roiling civilian unrest that long precedes the Occupy movement. Just as it did in the U.S., the real estate boom fueling much of Spain’s economic growth for almost a decade eventually burst. In the midst of the turmoil, yesterday the country held an election. And like the deeply troubled Greeks, Irish and Italians before them, Spaniards threw out their governing party. And they elected… conservatives.
Iris haz a sad.
Quite understandably, the opposition candidates campaigned on a message of preventing Spain’s economy from imploding any further and turning it around. Being conservatives, they offered precious few details as to how they intended achieve this noble goal:
Spanish opposition leader Mariano Rajoy … has said little — other than lower taxes on small- and medium-size companies — on what his party would do to fight Spain’s 21.5 percent jobless rate and precisely what kind of austerity measures he would enact.
Tax cuts do not spur job creation: demand for products and services does. “Austerity measures” are almost never a good idea under any circumstances, but they are particularly egregious when deep cuts in government funding affect the vast majority of citizens mired in an already terrible economy. Unemployment worsens as citizens and families respond by tightening their belts, demand for products and services declines, and the economy inevitably dives even further into a tailspin. Tax revenues plummet further, and conservatives respond with… more austerity measures.
As with most conservative wins, low turnout seemed to play a factor on Spain’s election day. Remember, one of the hallmarks of Conservative Personality Disorder is compulsive voting in the service of right-wing politicians. Irrational by nature and motivated by fear and rage on the primal, lizard-brain level, conservatives nearly always vote. The corollary to this is synergistic: in a devastating economic climate such as Spain’s, normally sane citizens become more fearful, angry and irrational — how could they not? — and they make a beeline to the polls to vote for conservatives. Just like austerity measures, a negative feedback loop takes hold.
According to election office spokesman Felix Monteira, voter turnout was running lower than during Spain’s 2008 election. Bad weather meant many polling stations opened late, and at least one station in the south had to be relocated because of flooding. Bad turnout almost always favors conservatives: that is why in the U.S., conservatives have for years attempted to disenfranchise as many voters as possible, via redistricting, I.D. laws, placing hurtles in front of college students, ex-prisoners, everyone except affluent whites, the military, and other blocs who tend to vote conservative generally — and who tend to vote at all, consistently.
The outgoing Socialist party in Spain became unpopular in large part because of the austerity measures adopted under its tenure: in the past year alone civil servants’ wages were slashed, government pensions were frozen, and legislation passed making it easier for companies to hire and fire workers while unemployment remained intractable. New conservative leader Mariano Rajoy’s platform includes plans for business tax cuts to encourage hiring and lower unemployment. But the only thing business tax cuts are likely to accomplish is exactly the same thing they accomplish here: soaring corporate profits at the expense of the vast majority of citizens.
The same problem of conservative voter stupidity as it exists in the United States is on full display in Spain:
In Barcelona, Juan Sanchez said he had voted for Rajoy’s party because unemployment fell while it was in power from 1996 to 2004, while it has skyrocketed to nearly 5 million people under Zapatero.
“Hundreds of small and big businesses have closed down,” Sanchez said.
Mr. Sanchez’s understanding of economics, history and logic is not particularly impressive. In 1996 as the West was emerging from a recession, employment grew, sustainably at first, and then as conservatives knocked out more and more bank regulations and other economic safety valves in the name of their Free Market Fairy, growth spiraled more uncontrollably. Unfortunately the bubbles it spawned (housing, credit default swaps, staggering income inequality, the egos of bankers and politicians) proved to be full of nothing but hot air, and all of them inevitably burst (except the egos of bankers and politicians). Conservative economic policies are directly responsible for the economic wasteland we see all around us, and Mr. Sanchez is helpfully ensuring that his country is in for a whole lot more of it.
On the bright side, at least one voter appears immune to the ravages of CPD:
“I voted for the Socialists because I am sure that if the Popular Party comes to power it is going to begin to cut everything,” said civil servant Diana Bachiller after voting.
Not everything, Ms. Bachiller. Just everything that matters.