Pointless interventionism

spanish PM pedro sanchezSpanish PM Pedro Sánchez.

J.P. Marín-Arrese | It is not surprising that on the eve of elections, government coalitions should be breaking up, with each partner distancing itself from its former allies in an attempt to improve its election results. What is surprising in our country is the deliberate intention of publicly banging each other’s heads together while at the same time pretending not to get out of the official car. It is understandable that Podemos should adopt this strategy to conceal its ineptitude, as a kind of flight forward. That the captain of this drifting ship should insist on keeping this rebellious crew on board can only be understood as a mere political calculation. With openly unfavourable polls, his only lifeline to perpetuate himself in power lies in continuing to rally the support of the plethora of anti-system or separatist parties that support him. They need each other to halt the foreseeable rise of the opposition.


For better or worse, the government faced this crucial year with better prospects than predicted just a few months ago. Far from activity collapsing as many had predicted, growth is holding up, despite the slowdown it is experiencing, thus depriving the most direct rival of its main campaign argument. It is well known that far from the opposition winning elections, those in power lose them. Sometimes, this is due to their own inability to excite and mobilise their voters. It is certainly the case when the economic and employment situation is looking bleak. That risk that seemed unavoidable seems to be receding, although there are still embers of the ills that continue to afflict us. Especially if, on polling day, the cost of living in its many facets weighs heavily on voters’ minds. From electricity and gas bills to food prices, rents and the cost of mortgages. Just in case, the Executive prepared the ground thoroughly, looking for revenue by means of handouts and gestures, taking advantage of the revenue manna generated by inflation.

Just when it seemed that tailwinds were blowing to fill its sails, the “Yes is Yes” fiasco has opened a gaping hole capable wrecking the ship. A collective failure that is shared out from the helmsman to the last cabin boy. What was sold as a solid wall to protect women from sexual violence has become an escape hatch for convicts. A foreseeable result of trying to amalgamate into a single criminal offence what was previously distinguished according to gravity. It is hard to believe that no one realised the mess that would ensue. Neither the magistrates who endorsed this outrage in the Council of Ministers, nor the legal services that assembled this monstrosity. The embarrassing response of the minister and her palms, accusing the judges of machismo, should have been enough to get her dismissed. It would be wrong for the Popular Party to whitewash the sticking plaster that has been proposed to patch up the hole. As long as the intentional conduct is not identified separately, the string of reduced sentences will persist. As long as consensual relationships with minors are not prosecuted, teachers who seduce their pupils will go unpunished.

Applying the maxim that the best form of defence is a good attack, the purple wing of the government has launched an offensive against the most successful companies. In a demagogic drift, they vilify the banks for making profits, pretending to freeze mortgage repayments. They insult the best-known face of the supermarkets, blaming them for the rise in food prices, when Yolanda Díaz, their supposed leader, even though she is singing from her own songsheet, promoted the commercial campaign of a competitor in her eagerness to take the limelight. They even have the nerve to treat the businessman who dared to make a generous donation of hospital equipment as a tax offender. Anything goes in order to denounce those who create wealth and jobs in our country, instead of seeking solutions.

No one doubts that there are still serious deficiencies in social policy in our country. Neither the most vulnerable people nor families are protected. One only has to look at the budgets of the state and regional administrations to see for oneself. There are no real social services that make regular visits to families in difficulty, nor is support given to those most in need. The fact that Caritas or the Red Cross supplement the work of the public authorities is a symptom of this neglect. This is a situation that cannot be remedied by sophistry, but by a genuine structure of assistance and resources. It is not enough to be satisfied with mere denunciation or the threat of punishment when exercising the responsibility of governing, limiting oneself to launching trial balloons that one knows in advance will not take off.


It is not acceptable to try to alleviate the flagrant shortage of social housing in our country by trying to freeze variable mortgage repayments, intervene by force in rental prices or openly encourage squatting and non-payment of rent. There are few more socially profitable destinations for European funds than building affordable rented housing, equipped with all the sustainable improvements you could want. From solar panels to individual heating meters. The initiative to force supermarkets to freeze food prices, proposing as an alternative to punish them, for goodness sake, with a levy. A cost that would make prices higher by affecting the supply of those with the tightest margins. It all boils down to pure demagogy, if not harebrained schemes. Anything but trying to tackle the problems. They seem to prefer hunger queues to handing out vouchers for the purchase of basic necessities as practised in a country of such stark capitalism as the USA. A far more effective solution than the closed low-price shopping basket, including fresh meat and fish plus products for coeliacs, promoted as a magic solution by a whole vice-presidency of the government.

Here, everything is to be solved by intervening in the markets and freezing prices, as well as taxing those who generate the most wealth and employment. A populist drift that Nadia Calviño and Luis Planas are barely trying to curb. No one seems to realise that penalising supply only generates shortages and higher prices. In the face of widespread indifference, we are squandering the historic opportunity to overcome historical structural deficiencies with the resources made available to us by our European partners. Demagogy has never solved problems, seeking only to encourage visceral reactions in those who suffer from them in order to fatten a fanciful narrative. It is time to put a stop to so much drifting and promote State pacts that truly address our structural deficiencies. And there are many of them.

We urgently need to promote a culture of self-improvement instead of seeking to equalise by the lowest common denominator, thus impoverishing our educational potential. It is urgent to promote the entrepreneurial spirit and free competition instead of restricting the market to the presidential box at the Bernabéu stadium, as Luis Garicano so aptly put it. It is urgent to support families and the most disadvantaged with more resources than the current meagre budget allocations. It is urgent to promote the active search for employment instead of promoting ‘dolce far niente’. There is an urgent need for solutions based on sound market principles, rather than relying on a shoe-horning in of interventionism. Above all, there is an urgent need to put an end to demagogy and false promises. This is the only way to modernise our country.

There is no room for complacency. The blame for this state of affairs lies with those who, by their votes, support extremist options of one kind or another, thus conditioning national policy. It is not enough to complain. It is necessary to choose between the only two possible options. That of keeping Pedro Sánchez in the Moncloa or opting for the change embodied by Núñez-Feijóo, with the loser facilitating the government of the person with the most votes, without ceasing to exert an appreciable influence on the actions of the Executive, even if he does not sit on the blue bench. This is what is at stake this year and will determine the future of the coming years. The country is not in a position for more cheap demagogy or more futile polemics. It is time to push all these false prophets into a corner out of a sense of responsibility.

About the Author

JP Marin Arrese
Juan Pedro Marín Arrese is a Madrid-based economic analyst and observer. He regularly publishes articles in the Spanish leading financial newspaper 'Expansión'.