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Thread: How do they do it?

  1. #1

    Default How do they do it?

    Americans coming through my corner of the world always ask me: how do they do it? People look stylish, happy... the shops are busy, restaurants and cafes full, the air is kind of joyous... there's a feeling of abundance and you see seem to see it in everyone.

    But isn't the economy bad? Wages low? Chronic high unemployment? How do people do it?

    I always answer: widespread corruption has a lot to do with the high quality of life here. The black market is a main contributor and keeps money circulating.

    That always elicits a gasp.

    But also: people just know how to make do: "small" things like food and social interaction (at every opportunity) are important. Just buying a loaf of bread is a fullfilling social event.

    People are used to not having a lot of money.... but they also don't have debt. People pay with cash. There are no credit cards. Banks are not generous with loans. Health care is provided by the state. Home ownership is high... higher than in the US. Families often live together. Humble jobs are given respect. And on and on. Add it it up and people tend to live well.

    It's not a formula I would recommend for the US... the US is on another path with another history and set of expectations... but if you ask me "how do they do it here" these are the things I will tell you.

    So with this in mind, you might want to take a look at this article about Càdiz Spain.... how do they do it?

    While Italy does not have Spain's wild unemployment rate, and still has a valid industrial base, it too shares a lot of Spain's woes... but manages to maintain a certain dolce vita in much the same way:

    Persistent Unemployment, Without Lingering Pain

    Published: February 21, 2010

    CÁDIZ, Spain — Beyond its pink-hued Atlantic light and the distinction of being the oldest city in Europe, this Andalusian outpost is best known for two things: its famous carnival, which wraps up Monday after two raucous weeks, and its chronic unemployment.

    Both were on vivid display on a rainy recent afternoon, as a group of roving musicians called “I’ll Start Monday” belted out a “chirigota,” or satiric song. A crowd cheered, drinks in hand, as the group sang of an angel on the narrator’s shoulder telling him to “grow up” and get a job; while a devil on the other said: Why bother? Go have fun.

    The song explains a lot about the situation here in Cádiz, in southern Spain just north of Gibraltar. Joblessness has climbed to 19 percent in Spain, the highest in the euro zone, after the collapse of a housing bubble. But here in Cádiz, it is at a staggering 29 percent — and has been in double digits for decades.

    Elsewhere in Europe, such high numbers would lead to deep social unrest. Not so in Cádiz. Here, as across the Mediterranean, life remains puzzlingly comfortable behind the dramatic figures, thanks to a complex safety net in which the underground economy, family support and government subsidies ensure a relatively high quality of life.

    “This is a place where you can live well, even when unemployed,” said Pilar Castiñeira, 30, as she attended a performance of carnival skits in a downtown theater. “Life is four days long,” she added, recounting a Spanish saying. “On one you’re born, on another you die, and in the two in between, you have to have fun.”

    That was certainly the case during carnival. People walked around the city’s colorful and cheerily shabby downtown, which has been used in movies as a stand-in for Havana, drinking, listening to the roving musicians dressed in outlandish costumes and eating fried fish out of paper cones. The party even continued for nearly a week after the start of Lent.

    Yet beyond the bar hopping, there were other realities. Over lunch in a restaurant with a view of the port, Miguel Cervera García, a grizzled 47, explained how he made ends meet. He said he had picked olives and worked as a plumber, but never officially. “I’ve always worked, but without a contract,” he said amiably. He added that jobs with contracts were better, “since you get social security and paid sick days.”

    Payroll taxes and unemployment benefits are high in Spain, and many people avoid them by hiring workers under the table or by offering them temporary contracts that avoid the high costs of hiring and firing. Always popular in the Mediterranean, tax fraud has grown during the economic crisis, to the point that many experts see it as the biggest reason why high unemployment has not translated into mass protests.

    Officials say that one-third of Cádiz Province’s 170,000 unemployed people are no longer receiving state unemployment subsidies, indicating that the underground economy and families must be taking care of the rest.

    Officials estimate that Spain’s underground economy equals at least 20 percent of the official economy. In Andalusia, it is believed to be higher.

    Families remain a strong support network. Home ownership is highly valued, and even out-of-work Spaniards often live on the cheap in homes their families paid off long ago. “If one person in the family works, he’s a net for the whole family,” said Juan Bouza, Andalusia’s point-person for employment in Cádiz.

    Mr. Bouza reiterated a central tenet of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s approach to the crisis: extending unemployment benefits even as the state deficit is growing. “We don’t think that people will find a job more easily if we remove help,” Mr. Bouza said. “We think the weakest people need help.”

    To some, the cultural acceptance of unemployment is part of the problem. “For most people here being unemployed and — while it lasts — living off state benefits is perfectly natural,” said David Pantoja, 36, an out-of-work carpenter who founded an association for the unemployed in Cádiz. “It’s just a fact of life, like love or death.”

    Indeed, for decades Andalusia has had the highest unemployment levels in Spain. The jobless rate here was 13 percent four years ago, when levels elsewhere in Spain were at a near-historic low. But there were signs of improvement. In early 2008 local politicians made campaign promises to bring full employment to Andalusia, but with the collapse of the housing bubble that is not looking likely, and joblessness in the region is now at 26 percent.

    History explains some of the problems. During the 36 years of Franco’s dictatorship, Andalusia was Spain’s breadbasket. After the transition to democracy in the 1970s, it never fully developed into an industrial region. In recent decades it has lost a lot of ship-building jobs to Asia. Today, it draws 40 percent of its revenue from tourism, especially on the popular Mediterranean coast around Málaga.

    Cádiz is on the windier Atlantic side. In an office with a stunning ocean view, Mr. Bouza spoke of the region as a centerpiece in the government’s plan to turn Spain into a hub for renewable energy projects. “This will be the Silicon Valley of renewable energy,” he said.

    He added that 75 cents of every euro the region spends on unemployment is for courses to help train the workforce for its future in renewable energy.

    But not everyone is buying it. “They said that by 2012, Cádiz would be a bedroom community” for nearby industrial areas, said Esteban Vias Casais, 58, a retired factory worker who lives on a disability pension. But the city already is one, he added with a wink. “Here, everyone sleeps, and no one works!”

    Mr. Pantoja was not convinced by the courses, either. Sitting in a cafe after a children’s carnival parade wrapped up nearby, he said he had taken courses on business management and computer literacy, but that new skills were not the issue. After two years without work, “Enough training,” he said, “we want jobs.”

    ^ be sure to see the slide show that goes with the article.

  2. #2
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Jun 2005
    NYC - Downtown


    Catholics know how to have fun.

  3. #3


    ^ That's coz they mostly see their "religion" as helpful hints.

  4. #4


    But how can the black market -- i.e. free and unregulated mutually beneficial voluntary exchange -- be beneficial to society?

    Isn't unregulated capitalism the most evil thing, second only to economic privacy and tax avoidance?

    Didn't the Soviet system fail because the state could never rival the black marketeers?

    Contrary to the crumbling and bankrupt centrally planned model, how do the Swiss do it?

  5. #5


    ^ I see this LewRockwell site as having an agenda that obscures rationality. While I admire the Swiss for many is hilarious that he is using the Swiss with their secret (and corrupt?) banking system as a model. Not interesting.

    Oh and BTW: Although there is some good in it, I'm certainly not suggesting that this So. European thing of big benefits not to work etc. is healthy or should be a model either... that's why these countries are drowning in debt.

    Last edited by Fabrizio; February 24th, 2010 at 01:44 PM.


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