For all the hysterics and twisting of Mitt Romney’s comments, something was revealed that already was simmering in plain sight. Those carrying the load are tired. They are tired of paying high taxes and getting nothing but grief for their efforts. This isn’t an American phenomenon – yet. But, all around the world for the last few years it’s becoming apparent that workers and producers want to distance themselves from non-workers and non-producers.
Northern Italy is leaning toward a move to reinstate borders from before the country was unified so the industrious part of the nation can keep more of the prosperity that comes from the sweat of their brow but finds its way to the south in the form of welfare payments to people chilling on the beach.
In Belgium the last fifty years has seen the old school smokestack economy of the south collapse with the result being a welfare nation that sucks up the overwhelming majority of government spending and employment. In Flanders, they are not amused. I actually thought there would be two countries there by now.
In the current issue of the Economist, there is an article titled “The Great Divide” which speaks to a situation in England where “economically, socially and politically, the north is becoming another nation.” Public sector employment is rampant in the north while capitalism reigns in the south. There is no talk of civil war or sedation, but there are political implications that will resonate louder before getting better.
Siege of Barcelona
An article in this week’s Time magazine focused on Barcelonans dancing the sardana and singing for their enemy’s blood along with political chants in celebration of their national holiday. More than 1.5 million people took to the streets in a new “nationalist fervor” that according to Time has never drawn more than 50,000 (I read a piece in British Guardian from July of 2011 that said 1.0 million people took to the street to demand independence). Why all of a sudden so many people in the streets itching to secede from Spain?
Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain with sixty-eight municipal parks and per capita income that’s 21% above the European Union average. It is the capital of Catalonia, which has a history of immense pride and achievement despite repeated conquests by others. It was founded by Phoenicians and Greeks, then absorbed by the Carthaginians, then conquered and controlled by Romans, Visigoths, Moors, Franks and Spain. It seems each of these conquests had its own version of a siege on Barcelona.
There was a siege in 1473, 1651-1652, 1706 and finally 1713-1714, which ended on September 11th of that year and was the backdrop for the latest cry for independence.
Barcelona was a mini-empire in the 14th century that covered Sicily, Malta, Sardinia, Valencia, parts of France and parts of Greece. A combination of plague, banking collapses and competition from Genoa eroded the empire.
Archduke Charles v Philip (Felipe) V of Spain
Catalonia sided with the Archduke Charles of Austria who also had the backing of England and the Netherlands to conquer and reclaim Spain, which had the backing of France, for the Hapsburg Empire, in the War of Spanish Succession. It should be noted that King Charles II of Spain was the last of the House of Hapsburg whose gene pool died out after thousands of arranged marriages between cousins. When the fighting was over, 400,000 people died and Spain lost much of its empire.
> Minorca and Gibraltar went to Great Britain
> Spanish Netherlands, Naples, Milan and Sardinia to the Hapsburgs
> Sicily to Savoy
Still, some history books say King Philip won the war. He certainly won Catalonia, which had abandoned an agreement to support the Hapsburg invaders. Spain took out its anger on Catalonia whose language and customs were forbidden, inducing the celebratory public circle dance- the sardana. The region was shut out of international trade until 1778, but once it was allowed to compete, it did so magnificently. The region became the center of Spain’s industrial revolution, focused on cotton, wine, cork and iron. Its economic success coupled with the European-wide Romantic Movement saw the culture and language return.
Success brought a flood of people into the region that saw the city swell from 115,000 to over one million inhabitants. These newcomers reshaped the region and embraced a mix of anarchist and Marxist rule. Thankfully, that reign was short-lived and the region embraced its capitalistic DNA.
Fast forward to last week’s protest, and there is a clear message for those that would hijack the success of capitalism for systems that could never generate prosperity from scratch. Moreover, these systems also doom prosperity.
In the aftermath of the Romney gaffe, I find it interesting that maybe he’s sparked something, or should I say the spies that filmed his fundraiser, may have opened a can of worms not intended. Taxpayers are patriots, yet in America, those paying the bulk of federal income taxes have been portrayed as valueless, mean and greedy. Maybe they’ll join their brethren around the world, tired of creating the money that feeds their less fortunate neighbors only to have those recipients demanding more while offering less. Those with very little economic skin in the game should still have a voice but so too should those carrying the load.
There may have been a Eureka moment yesterday those proponents of share the wealth didn’t expect. They have been selling victimhood as a rationalization for the nanny state of giant government. Americans have always rejected this notion, but as we have seen before including in Barcelona, prosperous nations sometimes try something new. It only happens when there is a sense that the pie has stopped growing, so panic and poverty pimps spark a run on wealth generated and owned by others. Those others are going to fight back.