Friday, 27 October 2006

Financial markets, “nationalism” and ignorance

Today, I was struck by two comic cartoons in Spanish newspaper El País. I don’t read often this newspaper (I use the term generously), even though it is the least bad of Spanish newspapers, as it is nothing more than the spin machine of the PSOE and the nationalistic Spanish Left. Nevertheless, every weekend I visit the website and check out the comic strips for the last week. Today, I found two cartoons that caught my attention. One is about the stock market and the other is about so-called 'nationalism'.

Let’s deal with the one about the stock market first. Below is the comic strip.

In Spanish, the byline reads: “Do not worry about stock markets fluctuations: they only reflect the state of mind of the wealthy” (‘Bolsa’ is Spanish for stock market).

The drawing not only reflects the ignorance of the cartoonist in financial matters but also his prejudiced bias against something he does not understand yet seems to dislike profoundly.

El Roto is a brilliant cartoonist; his drawings are sparse, direct and without unnecessary additions. Often, I find myself in agreement with his simple, yet powerful messages. In this case, he misses the point. An artist should always research the subject matter; in this drawing, El Roto appears unable to overcome his own prejudices and investigate how financial markets work and why and how everyone is impacted by what happens in them. I guess that when he is ready to collect his pension, he will wish he had paid more attention to the stock markets when he was younger.

As there is plenty of literature that explains in lay terms the characteristics of financial markets and how they impact in everyday life, I will just provide a few links for the uninitiated.

Investopedia, in English and with a massive dictionary and beginner tutorials.
As always the Wikipedia is a superb resource to get to the basics of things. The Economist is always a reliable source and their books are superb for beginners.
In Spanish, I quite like Bolsamania and Cárpatos daily column, whenever I have time to read it.
In Catalan, we have a few sites: Entorns, a financial information portal; and Les Finances, operating as a ticker news service with graphs. On economics, we have the site of Professor Ramon Tremosa. Most of his newspaper articles are in Catalan or Spanish, but some of his academic work is in English. I like this one about the extent of the fiscal deficit Catalonia is suffering at the hands of Spain. He sounds too much of a Keynesian for my liking and a bit leftie but, hey, nobody is perfect: I am a bit of a leftie too (every now and then), and I have just become a member of The Co-op and I bank with the only ethical bank in the UK, smile, the internet bank. And anyway, who says that ethics and sustainability are a leftie thing?

But I digress. What I wanted to say is that El Roto exhibits his ignorance and prejudice with that particular drawing. I wonder what the newspaper's owner (Mr Polanco) thought today when he read it.

Then, we have this strip by Máximo, also in El País newspaper today Friday 27th October 2006.

The by-line reads: “Nationalist of the world: universalize!”
Now, I would not disagree the above statement. I believe in fluid international trade and relations. However, the cartoonist in this drawing, when he refers to ‘nationalists’, he excludes Spanish nationalists (like him or his newspaper). For many Spaniards (either on the Left or the Right) it is only Basques or Catalans who are nationalists, and apparently therefore not universal. They do not consider themselves to be Spanish nationalists, and as they are not nationalists, they become, magically, universal and cosmopolitan. This is the fallacy that the Spanish Left, and the media empire behind El País and Cadena SER radio network, has tried to convey to generations of young Spaniards. Yet, careful observation and analysis of their arguments leaves the discerning observer in no doubt they are as nationalists as any Basque or Catalan ‘nationalist’.

Spanish nationalists believe and want a nation-state called Spain and that’s why the Spanish Left and Right unite in their common goal of suppressing any traces of Basque or Catalan culture and identity when voting together in the Madrid parliament or in Europe to recognise the Catalan language as an official language for use in Parliament. To them, Spain means Spanish language (mandatory by Constitutional Law for all), and Catalan is just an add-on, something optional and voluntary. They are pursuing the same objective for their nation (Spain) as we are doing for ours (Catalonia). The only difference is that they already have a State behind them. They control the public administration, the media, and capital flows through their investment allocation decisions. If Spain were like Canada or Belgium, there would not be many Catalans opting for independence. But, alas, as Spain digs deeper and deeper in its centralising and nationalistic hole, more and more people in the Basque Country and Catalonia, fed up with having tried to modernise Spain, to make it a normal European-style democracy, are willing to show their discontent and vote for political parties that do not adhere to this Spanish-centric vision of the Spanish State. And this is despite the threat of military intervention, the ongoing vitriolic anti-Catalan campaign, and the criminalisation of political parties. Perhaps, only the extremist Radio Marija in Poland is comparable to the lies, racist prejudices and hatred preached in the Spanish radio network COPE and the Madrid-based press like El Mundo, ABC, etc.

Elections in Catalonia are next week and polls suggests that not much is going to change from 2003. It remains to be seen what’s the performance of the Catalan parties CiU and ERC and the sitting-on-the-fence pseudo-communists of ICV. Also, there is growing anxiety of the results of the new party Ciutadans. This is the 21st century version of what Lerroux tried almost a century ago. They also have the support (financial and media-wise) of the Spanish Left and the Spanish Right. And like Lerroux, they want nothing more than dividing Catalans according to their mother tongue or place of birth. Fortunately, Lerroux was sent home “tae think again”, as a Scot would say, and I hope and pray that next week the despicable Ciutadans are also sent packing to Spain, where they belong, for their divisive policies and anti-Catalan agenda would bring nothing but misfortune to Catalonia.

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