Spain's 2016 Election: Is There Any Hope for Liberty?
On the 26th of June, voters here in Spain will face the ballot box for the second time in half a year. The results of the previous elections were seen by the pundits as a watershed in recent Spanish history, since the hegemonic two-party system that had dominated the Parliament for almost forty years had finally been upended: the conservatives (Partido Popular, or PP) won again by a rather small margin, however the distance between the social-democrats (Spanish Socialists Workers' Party or PSOE) and the new leftists (Podemos) was even smaller. The “newcomers” (the Ciudadanos Party) lagged considerably behind.
Since the last election — in December 2015 — our political elites have been unable to put together a functioning executive government (the equivalent of an American "administration"), thus driving us to a new ballot.
Election Issues for 2016: More of the Same
Nevertheless, the deeply rooted image of Spanish society as an ideological kaleidoscope strongly contrasts with the dull electoral offer of the four main parties: none of the candidacies endorses any reduction of the governmental spending in a country where the budgetary deficit has been completely out of control for too many years and, at the same time, the most varied proposals to increase State intervention have lamentably become common ground. Even though we libertarians don’t need any excuse to defy public prodigality, the actual state of affairs forces us to confront the voting with nothing but disappointment.
One might expect that the harsh consequences of artificial credit expansion and continued malinvestment — which eventually obliged the European Union to conduct a bail-out of the Spanish banking sector — would light up some awareness in an impoverished citizenry. However, neither Spain nor the European Union have learnt their lesson. In the Old Continent, the Keynesian fallacies calling for a necessary and almost unrestricted increase of stimulus programs have conquered every single sphere of society.
Continued Opposition to "Austerity"
The demise of core values of laissez-faire liberalism, such as an unfettered market or monetary liberty and stability, is quite noticeable in the neo-jargon of everyday politics: the rich-poor axis has been substituted by the more inclusive “top-bottom” conception; economic growth is not a sufficient condition any more, instead a “just recovery” is required; the stifling — albeit non-existent (see Bagus) — “austericide” must be replaced by new economic policies “for the benefit of the social majority”; and so on.
These linguistic innovations are obviously also to be found in form of the respective proposals launched by the parties during the on-going campaign: the current fiscal pressure will either be increased or maintained; the slight liberalization of the labour market initiated in 2011 shall be reversed in order to restore the workers’ “lost rights”; more generous social programs, such as diverse forms of a minimum income could be enacted; the minimum wage might be raised to a historically high point at a time of historically high unemployment; and the legalization of other expressions of freedom, like the right to carry weapons, drug dealing, or prostitution are unfortunately still out of the question.
The keen reader will immediately ask himself how much leeway a new Spanish Government would actually have in its endeavour of expanding the welfare state in such a fashion. And the answer is straightforward: none. Even though Spain recently avoided sanctions from Brussels for violating EU rules on budget deficits, the legal obligation to achieve a balanced budget in the forthcoming years remains (assuming the EU actually enforces its stated limits on deficits). In other words, all those campaign promises will turn futile once a new Government is built, just as the Greek example showed us.
What are the Prospects for Freedom and Free Markets?
So, is there any hope for libertarians in Spain? Unfortunately, not any time soon. The resulting composition of Parliament after these new elections will surely be social-democratic in its entirety. The dangerous animosity that free-market ideas nowadays rouse in my country is not an inherent feature of Spanish culture, but rather an extended — quoting Mises — “mentality” in the EU (and specially in the South). Therefore, the best we can do is to keep striving against the ideas of mainstream populists. The outcome of the ballot might be a (very) bitter disappointment, but we must continue upholding the teachings of the Austrian school if we really have any social conscience.