The Pursuit of Happiness

Possessive husbands tend to react predictably when their wives ask for a divorce: first they act surprised, then they deny the facts, quickly followed by refusing to sign the papers, and finally, they try to make her believe that the separation will leave her destitute and that without him, she is nothing.

After the massive demonstration on September 11th where an important proportion of Catalans expressed their desire for a divorce from Spain, the reaction of the Spanish system has been following the predictable script of possessive husbands.

First, surprise. The initial silence and boycott by Spanish politicians to Catalan President Artur Mas' conference in Madrid demonstrates that they were caught flat footed. Mas argued that we Catalans have tried to explain during 30 years that we were uncomfortable and the replies have been no's, scorn, indifference, and contempt. And now they're surprised!

After the surprise, denial. First they say that there weren't as many demonstrators because the six million Catalans that didn't march (myself among them) are all pro-Spanish. Later they'll explain that those that did go were deceived by a perfidious, nazionalist (and they'll underline the 'z') propaganda machine that is trying to distract attention from the financial crisis. They'll say that the fiscal deficit is a lie, that the deficit between Madrid and the Balearics is higher than the Catalan one, and that not only is Catalonia not mistreated but that it is disloyal since it is asking for 5 billion euros from the Spanish rescue fund. What they won't explain, however, is that those 5 billion euros that Spain will lend (not give to) Catalonia are miniscule next to the 300 billion euros that Catalonia has given (and not lended) to Spain during the last 30 years. And they won't have understood a thing.

Then they'll move on to justification: everything they've done they've done because Catalonia is Spain and there is a constitution. Catalan schools must teach in Spanish (and not Swedish) because Catalonia is Spain and the constitution says that in Spain the children have the right to be taught in Spanish. And it's true. But, of course, if what we want we can't have as part of Spain, then there's only one solution, right?

The next step is to refuse to grant the separation. But since it's pretty difficult in a democracy to deny the will of the majority, they'll say that the referendum should be voted on by everyone in Spain! And it's true that there are those who believe that Catalonia and the Catalans are the property of Spain and that, therefore, the decision must be made by the Spanish. In countries where women are the property of men, the women are not allowed to get a divorce without their husband's permission. But in free, modern, democratic countries, a woman who wants a divorce doesn't need anyone's permission. Therefore, just like Spanish National Team head coach Vicente Del Bosque said, the future of Catalonia is in the hands of the Catalans. And if a majority of Catalans want independence (and we still haven't seen if this majority exists at the polls), then we will have it. No matter what the Spanish Constitution says. No matter what people say in Alcorcón.

And finally, we'll get to the psychological battle: they will try to make us see that we, without them, aren't worth a thing. They will try to explain that everything we have is thanks to Spain, their brand, their immaculate international reputation, and their extraordinary generosity. They will tell us that our principal market is Spain and that if they don't buy Catalan cava, our businesses will all fail. They will tell us that if we leave, they will kick us out of the Euro and the EU and that they will keep us from ever becoming European. And without them and without Europe, we will be poorer than Cyprus (and by the way, the genius who said that should know that the GDP per capita of Cyprus is 81% higher than that of Extremadura!)

They will tell us that we have to take responsibility for a proportional part of the Spanish state's debt (80% of GDP) and that that, together with the 20% debt that the Generalitat [Catalan government] already has, will mean we'll have an unsustainable debt of 100% of GDP. They will say that outside of Spain, Catalonia will never get financing (ignoring the fact that Catalonia doesn't have financing presently even though they're currently part of Spain). And that the debt of the Generalitat has junk bond status, and therefore, if Catalonia was independent, it would be even worse.

And all of that would just be to get us good and scared. The supposed studies that "precisely" estimate that the Catalan GDP will fall 10, 30, or 60% are all a monumental farce. None of these studies have any credibility, because without knowing how the process will go, if there will be boycotts, and in what conditions we will remain part of Europe, where will the Catalan portion of what we have depositited in the IMF or ECB go, etc, it's impossible to know what will be the costs and benefits. It's true that we have cava and they can boycott it. But they have Rioja and we could return the favor. Threatening us with kicking us out of the Euro or the EU when there is no corresponding law is a completely empty threat. And when Spain says that its partners and friends will kick us out of Europe, they're bluffing. Spain has neither the friends nor the international support that it presumes of. And if you don't believe it, remember when Argentina expropriated Repsol, violating all manner of international laws, and Europe didn't lift a finger to defend Spain, and Rajoy's government was left on its own.

And those who say that we must take on a share of Spain's debt should remember that that debt was signed by the Spanish government and that's who has to repay it. It's definitely true that if we are part of Spain, that we are partly responsible for the Spanish government's debt. But if we are not, then well, we'll see. If they want to send us a bill for 16% of the total, corresponding to Catalonia's relative population, they can call the Catalan Embassy, and if the divorce is friendly, we'll discuss it. We'll talk about the debt, and the proportion of money that the Bank of Spain has deposited in the ECB and the gold that Spain has in the International Monetary Fund, and about AENA and other Spanish public companies, and the Zarzuela racetrack and whatever else we need to talk about. And if it's not friendly, and they talk about boycotts, threats and our expulsion from Europe, then, well, they can take their debt and shove it because the only one responsible for the debt is the Government of Spain.

In short, after the demonstration on September 11, a political and media battle began that will try to make us afraid. They will tell lies and exaggerate. And they will insult us and belittle us. Now, the more virulent the campaign, the less intelligent and more testosterone-filled are the arguments, the more they insult us and denigrate us, the more their desperation will be evident.

We must react to their insults and fear mongering with serenity, generosity, and steadfastness.

Serenity because, for all their yelling, the richness of nations is not determined by one's neighbors. Our wealth depends on our competitiveness, our educational system, our intelligence, our capacity to do things well, and our desire to, as Pep Guardiola advised, get up really, really early in the morning.

Generosity because everyone needs to know that in Catalonia, people will be well treated no matter what they think, what language they speak, and whatever positions they have taken in the past. Catalonia will be a country of freedom, with no blacklists or persecutions, and where all citizens, and I emphasize the word citizens, and all languages are respected.

And finally, steadfastness. The same way we are generous, we will be steadfast and we will defend—with hope, debate, and votes—our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

This is a translation of "La Recerca de la Felicitat" by Liz Castro.

Xavier Sala i Martín

Xavier Sala i Martin is the J. and M. Grossman Professor of Economic Development at Columbia University in the city of New York. He earned his PhD in Economics at Harvard University in 1990.He previously taught at Yale University, Harvard University and UPF in Barcelona. He is a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and Chief Economic Advisor to the Centre for Global Competitiveness at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. His research interests include Economic Growth and Development and Macroeconomics.
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