13 June 2022: One thing and another

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Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable
Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

Cosas de España

There was an odd precession or two through Pv city the other evening. These were of members of various local fraternities (cofradias) and most of them were of an advanced age and were wearing cloaks bedecked with even more badge-pins that their years. Here’s a group of younger participants, being led by a local guide, under the umbrella serving as a parasol:-

The nearby city of Vigo is known – for reasons I forget – as The Olive City. Something to do with a local war, as I vaguely recall. I was reminded of this when reading that: Galicia’s olives are unique in the world. Brought here by the Romans, of course, there are now numerous varieties of them. Shame I don’t like either olives or their oil.

I doubt it has anything to do with said olive oil but it was a surprise to read yesterday that, at 26.7% of the population, Galicia ranks equal first with Andalucia in the overweight stakes – with all the health implications arising from this. And the drain on limited healthcare resources.

Franco was born in the port of Ferrol, along our coast. This city – fittingly, I guess – harboured the last remaining public statue of El Caudillo in Spain. Here it is being moved into store last week. No doubt the local Vox party supporters will miss it rather more than anyone else:-

The past week has seen the collapse not only of an autovia viaduct but also of a large tower being erected to house speakers for a pop festival. Fortunately, the show hadn’t yet begun but one of the crew working on it was badly injured. Incidentally, the collapsing viaduct was the most expensively constructed in Spain. Which must raise a question or two.

A staggering statistic – Galcia’s regional government – the Xunta – fends off more than 100,000 cyber attacks a day, with the criminals using ever more sophisticated methods in attempts to get data they can profit from.

Another bad number – Galicia’s inflation rate – at 9.6% – is even higher than the national rate of 8.7%. Could it be that our cartel of petrol(gas) suppliers is more efficient than those elsewhere in Spain? An impression I’ve long had, given our normal price premiums.

An apt comment on Spain’s North Africa imbroglio:-

The USA

Elites are the real problem in the US, not conspiracy theorists: The detachment of America’s privileged has created a festering resentment among the have-nots:  See the article below.

The Way of the World 

Starbucks changed the world – but now its model is running out of froth. Good riddance to the ‘cappuccino economy’. I couldn’t agree more, having once been forced to pay a small fortune for a coffee in one of their places, fending off attempts by a young Romanian woman to get me to waste even more money on extras.

Something else it’s easy to agree with: A counter-revolt against linguistic terror is an absolute necessity. See the article here.

Finally . . .

To raise a smile . . .

For new readers: If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here. If you’re passing through Pontevedra on the Camino, you’ll find a guide to the city there.

THE ARTICLE

Elites are the real problem in the US, not conspiracy theorists: The detachment of America’s privileged has created a festering resentment among the have-nots: Matthew Syed, The Times

All eyes are on the Capitol for the Trump primetime extravaganza, a slick (and sickening) hearing before a congressional committee that showcases the seditious tendencies of the 45th president. Apparently 20 million Americans tuned in to the spectacle on Thursday; ABC, CBS and NBC cleared their schedules to air the litany of allegations.

Gasps were drawn by allegations that, as insurrectionists chanted, “Hang Mike Pence”, Trump said: “He deserves it.” There were also wide eyes as Ivanka Trump came on screen to say she accepted the view of the attorney-general that the election hadn’t been stolen. Trump Sr attacked his daughter for that betrayal, along with anyone else who dared question his actions. His tendencies towards psychopathy don’t seem to have been tempered since he left office.

But here’s my fear. The growing hope among Democrats and anti-Trumpist Republicans is that this TV showdown will finally enable the nation to cut out the cancer of the 45th presidency, change the direction of the country and make it impossible for Trump to reclaim the White House in 2024. I think this is more than a little optimistic. The poison in the American system is not fundamentally about a ragtag bunch of rioters — it is about the grotesque inequality that has built up through various waves since the early 1980s.

Isn’t this the underlying driver of discontent, the dull ache throbbing through the body politic, that brought Trump to power in the first place? An article in Scientific American found that the income share of the top 0.1 per cent quadrupled over four decades while the real wages of most people declined. It also found that the richest handful of individuals possessed as much wealth as the bottom 50 per cent combined.

Is it any wonder that many Americans have lost faith in the system? Forget antler-wearing conspiracy theorists and consider polls of representative samples of citizens. One found that the number advocating violence for political ends had doubled between 2017 and 2019 and was continuing to rise. Another, by Yale, revealed that only 15 per cent would punish a politician for engaging in electoral malpractice if it benefited their own side. This reveals a deep truth: a critical mass of Americans no longer believe they can solve their problems through the political process.

If this were not worrying enough, consider another consequence of rapidly rising inequality: what the scholar Peter Turchin calls “elite overproduction”. His argument is that, as the distribution of income and wealth has become ever more skewed, an increasingly swollen super-rich class has become detached from the rest of society. This may not seem a pressing problem in and of itself, but Turchin argues that it is having profound political consequences.

One reason is that, as the number of the rich grows, so does the demand for social prestige. Those joining the expanding class of the super-rich fully expect to gain membership of the elite social clubs, a berth at the yacht club, perhaps even a seat in Congress. The problem is that the trappings of social prestige are, by their nature, limited. There are only one hundred seats in the Senate and limited slots at the most exclusive social clubs. Prestige is defined by exclusivity.

This means that, as the pool of the super-rich swells rapidly, expectations outpace constraints. In the case of Congress, Turchin has documented that the number of millionaires running for office has ballooned, with more losers, more resentment and a greater willingness to play dirty. If it seems strange that the super-rich would succumb to resentment, consider the words of Anthony Trollope in The Way We Live Now: “Throughout the world, the more wrong a man does, the more indignant is he at wrong done to him.”

An almost identical trend is taking place among the children of elites. Kids from wealthy families who expect to follow their parents into “Magic Circle” law firms are finding themselves without jobs — one estimate suggests that there are 25,000 excess law graduates every year. The oversupply of MBA graduates, many with significant debts, is perhaps even more grotesque. This is replicated across the jobs market.

It has been said that there is nothing as dangerous as a spurned lover, but that scarcely compares to the fury of rich children who do not gain respect commensurate with their expectations. Isn’t this an explanation for wokeism, a doctrine that is alien to almost all blue-collar workers and ethnic minorities but has become an obsession among cosseted metropolitans, who wail against the injustice of society and, in some cases, wish to see it dismantled? As the FT columnist Janan Ganesh memorably put it: “What is woke culture if not the howl of a generation of underemployed humanities graduates?”

Turchin’s fundamental point is that, as economic inequality has grown, much of American politics can be explained by the dynamics of mutual hostility within a swollen and detached “upper stratum”. The woke left is consumed by identity politics and attacks on American values and history, even as Democrat-governed cities are riddled with rising crime that is destroying ordinary lives. Meanwhile, the right has been captured by big money and special interests that finance the campaigns of political candidates and provide them with lucrative jobs after leaving office.

This is why I would suggest to Liz Cheney, the Republican leading the congressional hearings, to look for the bigger picture. She has claimed that America needs to return to the “honour” of the previous generation of politicians, among them her beloved father. I suspect it is only because she is so distant from her electorate that she fails to hear their hollow laugh. It was Dick Cheney who parlayed his political connections into a fortune of $44 million at Halliburton, a company that donated to his campaigns, gained lucrative contracts in the aftermath of the Iraq War, for which he advocated, and overcharged the American state.

Most Americans perceive a system rigged against their interests by elites — on both left and right — who inhabit a parallel reality. It was this perception that permitted Trump to rise to power in 2020 and it is why he remains the bookies’ favourite for 2024. Even if he fails to win next time, another populist will be waiting in the wings to exploit the endemic discontent.

It is normal to cast around for scapegoats when things are going wrong: single mothers, welfare scroungers, perhaps even face-painted insurrectionists. The truth is that American elites have only one place to look: at themselves.

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