Spain: A Socio-economic Laboratory Par Excellence?

The most recent issue (#104, Nov/Dec 2012) of the always thought-provoking Adbusters magazine contains an editorial-style article authored by Micah White entitled World Revolution. Knitting together numerous developments from the United States to Chile, China and Greece, White posits that a ‘global revolution’ could soon be upon us. While the concept is somewhat hazily-defined, the general thread of the article appears to suggest that new forms of protest and activism are challenging even the most ingrained social, political and economic structures in a way that may engender a popular worldwide revolt with near-mystical consequences.

It seems dishonest to cast aspersions on the assertion that remarkable developments – the result of many factors, including advances in communications technology, sinking developed world economies and desperate levels of corruption (particularly though by no means exclusively in Mediterranean states) – are discernible. But White’s extolling of collapse-defined Spain as a model leaves us wondering once more how much leftist economic theory has advanced since the November 1989 collapse of the Berlin Wall: the emphasis on communal living, the substitution of hard currencies such as the euro for time-based currencies like the ECO, and Robin Hood-style raids on large supermarkets seem broadly familiar.

These are no doubt timely and perhaps even necessary measures for millions of people – including those members of the credit-bubble middle class who now face living out the rest of their lives as negative equity statistics – for whom the formal economy is practically an almost-fictional construct. But a largely barter-based economy hardly seems like the ‘replicable solution’ White claims it to be: the minute one cannot trade services (owing to say illness or old age), the system theoretically leaves a person far more vulnerable than under many capitalist models. Communal living may be perfectly acceptable at the age of 20, but preposterous to most at the age of 35 or 40. And theft from retailers – while understandable in the context of the risk of mass malnutrition facing large sections of the Spanish population – is a paradigm of unsustainable practice. If White’s article is at all representative of cutting-edge social theory, then the Occupy movement has to ask itself some serious questions.

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6 Comments

Filed under Economics, Political Science

6 responses to “Spain: A Socio-economic Laboratory Par Excellence?

  1. Food of thought.

    It’s interesting to note that the ‘sunshine’ countries which believed in the party/take-it-easy lifestyle such as Spain and Portugal are going to the wall one by one. While it may not sound sexy to say, work does pay.

    • The general rule of thumb to apply is that anyone who spent the 2000s drunk is in trouble; anyone who spent the 2000s in the library or taking additional classes might just get out of this global economic meltdown alive.

      • Occupy is still in its infancy, so don’t be too harsh on it yet. The world is changing rapidly and I think we have yet to get to the stage where a new ideology has emerged. But I think it will. I think the impact of the internet and its capability to form a mass movement has not yet been appreciated. The younger generation require higher levels of transparency and accountability, and they are a global community unlike anything the world has ever previously seen.

      • I think you are quite correct to point out that it is still early days, but for structural and historical reasons I believe that Occupy may struggle to come up with a cogent new theory of everything. However, another group or movement may well do: particularly interesting imho are some of the ideas posited by the rapidly-expanding pirate parties, who are arguably best-placed to tell us something about the potential for technology to transform democracy.

  2. I think the Pirate parties are extremists or reactionaries, but I also admit little knowledge of them. Occupy are starting to publish books and they are starting to get support from mainstream figures. The middles classes are perhaps too easily led, but they tend to be thoughtful and sometimes wise. European middles classes are where the action is going to be when it comes to important ideological changes, and I think Occupy have a chance of influencing that.

    • There do indeed appear to be some reactionaries and extremists in the Pirate movement, but there are many others who are far from this description. Their strength tends to be in conceptualising ideas about technology and democracy, and my understanding is that on this front at least they are liberal. Personally I am not so optimistic about Occupy at least in the medium term – a lot of historical baggage is going to have to be transcended – but nevertheless there are some good ideas within that movement. Whether they coalesce into a unified theory is another matter, but it is probable in the longer term.

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