Letter from Spain

I’ve been on vacation with my wife the past week in Spain.  Today we’re in Madrid, and I wanted to see Picasso’s Guernica in the Reina Sofia museum.  So we went.

The town of Guernica was bombed in 1937 by the Germans and the Italians during the Spanish Civil War at the behest of Franco, who eventually won, and ruled Spain as a dictator for almost 40 years.  Picasso had been commissioned by the Spanish Republican government to paint a mural for the Paris International Exhibition, and decided to paint a mural about war and destruction.  I won’t try to write about the experience of seeing the painting, other than to note that it is a moving experience.  The best that I can do is to provide a small reproduction of it here.  The original is approximately 11′ x 25′, and is actually painted in black and white, with very little discernible color.

Guernica by Picasso

The display of Guernica in the museum was complemented by other artworks from the time, as well as propaganda posters from both sides in the Spanish Civil War.

The icky part, and the reason I’m writing about it, is that some of the factors that led to the Spanish Civil War are very much with us in the United States.

In contrast to the American Civil War, where the two sides were split geographically (North vs. South), the Spanish Civil War pitted the Republican civil government against the Nationalists: an array of clergy, businessmen, and others who thought the Republic wasn’t doing a good job.  But instead of mere partisan debate, the Nationalists found supporters in Nazi Germany and fascist Italy.  When part of the Spanish armed forces followed the Nationalists instead of their own civilian government, the war began.  We talk about ‘class warfare’ as a particular flavor of political debate, but this time, class warfare was real warfare, with no neat geographical divisions between the two sides.

Today, we have  the ‘conservatives’ who believe that our current leadership is not true to our ideals, and will bring about a socialist tyranny.  Some people imagine a governmental collapse, with fighting in the streets and looting and chaos.  Another vision is the overarching police surveillance state.  It’s true that the principle embodied in the Posse Comitatus law, which prevents the military from engaging in civilian law enforcement, has faded in recent years.

On the other side, there are the ‘liberals’ who support our current national leadership, who look around and don’t see anything that can’t be fixed with a few trillion worth of deficit spending.

One big difference is that the outsiders, who believe that our government is on the wrong path, do not have supporters like the Spanish Nationalists did, who could provide military support.


Our government cannot fix the economy, and this is true regardless of which party is in power.  The best they can do is create an environment in which the economy will fix itself, but I doubt they can even do that.

If things get worse, our government will have a challenge meeting the first obligation of every functioning government: maintaining civil order.

And then, our ‘elected, constitutional government’ will do the only thing governments know how to do in such circumstances: drop the hammer on us.

11 thoughts on “Letter from Spain”

  1. Spain is one of those places I really want to go visit. I don’t know if this will make me sound like a weirdo (probably)but back in my 20s I was trying to figure out a way to meet the prince of Spain. I even met people who met him when he’s come to Chicago and I was going to be involved with an event that he was supposed to attend. Long story short the event was cancelled. This is a moot point now since I’m older and he’s married but back in my 20s I thought anything was possible. However, my interest in Spanish culture goes back farther than the prince, but since I was a young girl I always had an interest in Spain. It’s why I learned Spanish.

    Anyway the revolution had some horrible consequences afterwards when Franco became a dictatorship and he was a buddy of Hitler and Mussolini. However now Spain is a constitutional monarchy with a well liked king and queen who seem to be all for helping their people, something we are lacking. Don’t get me wrong we need somethings to change here but not sure how to accomplish it.

  2. Fisher Ames, a founding father seldom discussed in history classes, warned that one of the things that we needed to fear were “factions”, or what we would call special-interest groups now. This makes sense, because most people want to enjoy the benefits of government without doing much about it, even voting. Ben Franklin noted that we had created a republic, if we could keep it.

    The squeaky wheel gets the grease, but the problem is that we don’t see the unintended consequences of actions, particulary if those costs can ne shifted to someone else.

  3. And there are so many squeaky wheels that an effort by the government to do anything runs afoul of one faction or another. Neither Romney nor Obama has pledged to eliminate, or even substantially reduce, the deficit.

    The European leadership seems more willing to face difficult questions. In Spain, they’re contemplating raising the Value-Added Tax. Nobody likes it, but they’ll do what they have to do. In the US, all tax increases are evil, regardless of how necessary they might be.

    And NWP, on the scale of youthful indiscretions, trying to meet the prince of Spain is maybe a 2. It doesn’t make you sound like a weirdo at all.

  4. One of the problems of reducing the deficit is that GDP will shrink by exactly that much. We do one part of the Keynesian formula, stimulus during economic downturns, without doing the other part, building a rainy-day fund so that we can afford the stimulus.

    I like consumption-based taxes because they catch everyone. You can argue that they are regressive, but I don’t think so. It’s interesting to note that staple foods like flour, sugar, and bread are fairly cheap in Europe, and pre-packaged food is relatively more expensive. Candy has a 7% or so VAT in Germany, where food that requires preparation had a VAT of about 3%.

    All ofthe prosperity that we have had for the last three decades or so has been borrowed. It was a big deal when the federal budget hit a trllion dollars in 1987 or so, and now we are running deficits in excess of that. Take all that stimulus from deficit-spending out of the economy, and the Great Depression will look like a stubbed toe. It’s going to happen. The only question is when. We’re watching Spain and Italy be priced out of the bond market. Our time will come.

  5. Thanks, sometimes I feel silly admitting I had these strange fantasies. That and meeting a rock band, which I later did after I outgrew the fantasy.

    Anyway, I don’t think Romney or Obama will help the economy and we are in a serious issue. I firmly believe we need to change something and fast. I’m not opposed to all taxes, but some are very unfair. In Illinois we are heavily taxed for everything and this state is corrupt and uses the money for things like to hire the con artist brother of a corrupt politician.

  6. Yahoo just ran an article about Europe’s college grad class of 2012 and how bleak the job prospects are for them.

    I am pretty certain that Europs is NOT like the dumb USA: not everybody who graduates high school goes to college; the educaton cartel is not prevalent over there, as much as it is here.

    Point is this: As goes Europe, goes the rest of the world, including us. Where the hell do we put everybody??? We need jobs! Whether you are 22 or 62 and you’re unemployed YOU NEED A JOB!

  7. One of my former coworkers was moving over to Germany with his wife and family (his wife was German and his kids had dual citizenship)and he said they do education different. For example from an early age you take various tests and you are deemed either college or not. If you are deemed not good enough to go to college they pay for you to learn a trade not taught in college, like mechanics. If you are good enough to go to college the country pays all or most of the tuition. I wish we had something like this here because college is a scam. We have many students who shouldn’t be attending college, often taking remedial classes and graduating unskilled. Then they are put in classes with those who should be in school and neither group learns. Let’s not forget the scam I saw at grad school where the foreign students were getting tax payer funded work study (while having never paid in)while American students were being forced to take out loans.

    The education system here is a scam.

  8. NWP, I just read a piece in Harper’s by Thomas Frank about the large number of degree mills that we have in this country. An interesting aspect is that the fake degree places have built up their own credentialing apparatus, so you have to be careful about who is certifying a degree program. The payoff of a fake degree is huge, even if you just claim one. I’ve just begun to be asked to provide transcripts when I apply for jobs.

    One of my interests is counterfeiting and related kind of frauds. It is increasingly easy to produce fradulent documents to buttress a claim of a degree or advanced degree. Suppose that I get a copy of a transcript from State University. If I’m good at Photoshop, or even simply cutting and pasting, it ought to be pretty easy to substitute another person’s name for the name of the person on the transcript. Even knowing the format of the transcript is enough, and it would not necessarily have to be correct format, particularly if the college is in another part of the country from where one is trying to get a job. I could look up the appropriate courses in the college’s catalog, and claim that I have a degree in whatever.

    Germany does test students and has a two-track system, where one is trained for a trade if they are not deemed suitable for college. We’d have to pay a minimum of a 50% tax increase at all income levels to get to a Germany-style system, which would include health care (not health insurance) for all. Another factor that keeps down the cost of college in Germany is that many students live at home while going to college. Germany is about the same size as the state of New Mexico, which most people forget or do not know.

  9. I’m seeing a lot of these for profit schools around and many people think they are worthwhile but I wouldn’t trust them, not to mention many employers don’t hire people with these degrees. Even at legitimate colleges there are a lot of worthless degrees that have no value to employers, like womens studies, art history, etc. Degrees like these seem to only be good to teach them in college. It’s not like years ago when any degree was better than nothing. I know when I started college the idea was any degree was good, but we are talking a time over 20 years ago when there were jobs and outsourcing wasn’t a big problem.

    That is true, the US is a bigger country than the European countries, but I wish we had a system where those at the bottom of the academic ladder didn’t go to college. I was in classes with some of these students and it was horrible because not only didn’t they learn, but neither did I and I usually finished the assignments by midterm.

  10. Many of the colleges out here are degree mills and have been for decades.

    Everybody knows about the crappy state college where the only admission criteria is “you need a pen to fill out the application.” Ha.

    And everybody knows about the colleges that somehow admit people who have no aptitude for post-secondary school but they accept them anyway.

    This waters down the degree and cheapens the school.

    At my uni, there was nursing as a major. When I was a junior, 80% of the junior nursing class failed microbiology. At that point, you very kindly send these students a letter and tell them that nursing no longer is an option for them as a major.

    This is your major and you cannot pass the major courses? Then you’re in the wrong field of study.

    Our educational system needs an overhaul. LEt them start with only accepting the seniors in college who make the grade! Minimum GPA to get admitted: 2.5. If you ain’t got the GPA, then you do not gain admission. Period.

    No more EOF programs, no more “but maybe the student has potential” no more “if your kid doesn’t go to college he or she is the village idiot.” Let the buck stop right there.

  11. Dude, the 2.5 GPA of your school days has probably been inflated to 3.5 or so now, so perhaps a 3.0 cutoff would be better. Social promotion is a huge problem, and even so, a lot of students drop out of high school.

    Education is treated as a business, not the social good that it should be, Unless you pay the correct gatekeepers, you’re not going to get where you want to go. Serving a true apprecticeship isn’t an option except in the construction trades, and then you have to have the right connections or be persistent enough to get a place in a program.

    I still think that “No Child Left Behind” is more like “No Teacher/Administrator Left Unemployed” and that the public school system is just daycare in far too many cases.

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