Category Archives: economy

Revolution in the streets

About 5 days ago I got an SMS from a friend who lives up by Parque de Berlin, North-Central Madrid. It said:

TODOS A LA PUERTA DEL SOL, NO NOS VAN A ENGAÑAR MAS, DEMOCRACIA REAL YA!

I jumped on the computer and clicked through to RealMadrid.com. What had happened? Had the socios revolted against the management? Had Jose Mourinho been sacked?

Nothing seemed out of place. What was my friend on about?

I texted him back. “What’s up dude? What does your message mean?”

Well, it appeared that my poor Spanish was at fault. This was not Real in the sense of Royal, this was Real in the sense of real. It was a call to protest, the very beginnings of what has now morphed into a nationwide movement.

As I write, the Puerta del Sol, the public square at the centre of the city, is currently occupied by many thousands of (mostly young) demonstrators. They’ve set up camp and they’re not moving. It’s huge. To get an idea of how huge, check out this photo essay at The Atlantic website.

I’ve never seen a demo this big before, and I’ve seen a few – Madrid has lots of demonstrations, it’s a popular way to spend a Saturday.

Tomorrow (Sunday) there are municipal elections. The demonstrators say they are non-party aligned, but this is sure to have some sort of effect. It’s all very exciting. It could be momentous. But no-one has any clue how it might end.

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Operation Chamartin

Madrid’s mayor, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon has unveiled plans for a new financial district development. The ambitious building project will see the skyline to the north of the Spanish capital transformed with the addition of 20 skyscrapers including four towers over 60 storey’s high.

The project plans development of over 1.2 square miles and will extend the capital’s main thoroughfare, the Paseo de la Castellana, north by 2.2 miles. Architects plans show the boulevard will be 90 yards wide in one section encompassing 12 lanes of traffic and two pedestrian tree-lined walkways. Chamartin railway station is targeted to be entirely rebuilt underground, sinking the tracks into a network of subterranean tunnels, and will become the hub of the high speed train network heading to the north and east of Spain towards Zaragoza, Barcelona and beyond into France.

I have always liked the Chamartín part of town. I like the 1970s architecture and the relatively wide-open streets and boulevards. Friends who live there have known this sort of grand projet was coming and just wanted to know its size and development locations. With the property crash not affecting Madrid as much as the rest of the country, small scale land speculation has been hotting-up around here for several years. Now some plans are on the table and the time-scale is revealed as 11 years. Plenty of time for jostling for position for everyone involved.

The Economist on Spain’s Economic Troubles

The Economist magazine sells well amongst the executive class in Madrid – particularly the younger 20s to 40s crowd who often have international business experience. I don’t think it unfair to say that many look to it as a source of inspiration as to what their country could achieve if it had a more entrepreneurial outlook. No, that’s wrong. The Spanish are naturally entrepreneurial (particularly Madrileños). Let’s say: If it had a better political economy for entrepreneurial activity.

This 20 to 40 generation look at places like the USA, Germany and UK (fools!) and want to emulate them, at least in a business sense. But they are held back by numerous factors, including: swingeing tax rates, barmy employment laws (it’s virtually impossible to sack staff), bureaucracy that can literally drive you mad and the casual acceptance of corrupt business practices. In few other countries is the maxim ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ more important than in Spain.

In the last decade or so these issues have been ‘papered over’ somewhat – the economy was booming, job opportunities and wages were increasing, Madrid itself grew at a cracking pace – but the recession (“la crisis economica”) has blown up the status quo and the background grumbling about the impossibility of doing proper business has become more of a loud growling.

Yesterday (26th Nov ’09), The Economist magazine published an article headed Unsustainable. Well worth a read. But even more interesting, I thought, was the readers’ response section. Check that out to hear the growling I’m talking about here.

Sample comment:

(what) are the incentives for anyone to finish high school if it´s easier to go to work to Zara or Corte Ingles instead of going 5 or 6 longs years to university to have a salary of only 2000 euros.

– AlexLib