August 21, 2011

Immigration, Spanish revolution and the petty outrage of the well-to-do

A loose movement of protesters asking for political reform in Spain suddenly and unexpectedly gave rise to spectacular street demonstrations around May 15, 2011. The movement was named 15-M and its participants and sympathizers are called "the outraged" (los indignados). They, like perhaps most Spaniards, blame politicians, bankers and capitalism for the economic crisis Spain is suffering since 2008. They think that politicians should provide for jobs, health care, education and housing, and are outraged about 20% unemployment, long waiting lists in the state health care system, low-quality of education and hundreds of thousands of empty homes - many of them owned by state banks - that are too expensive for anyone to buy. They complain that politicians don't fix these problems.

Politicians cannot and will not fix these problems. Instead, following the instructions of voters, they implement policies that create social problems. Most of the specific proposals los indignados are making consist of the same kind of populist policies that created or exacerbated the problems they complain about. Los indignados will remain indignados.

Not only is all this outrage misdirected regarding blame - with politicians and bankers as favorite scapegoats for the failures of the whole of society. It is also misdirected regarding the severity of problems. Unemployment or inefficient health care in a wealthy country are petty troubles compared to those of the average person. Research indicates that eliminating political barriers to immigration would double world GDP. But only 1% of Spaniards think that Spanish laws against immigration, which are among the toughest and most inhumane in the world, are too tough. As Bryan Caplan puts it:
[I]f outrage were proportional to harm, virtually every protest on earth would be in favor of open borders.

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