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FROM THE WELFARE STATE TO THE STATE OF NECESSITY

MADRID, Feb 15 2012 (IPS) - The governing Popular Party (PP) is making it clear that it knows how to dominate the communications game and seize the initiative. In the opposition during the previous government it convinced a majority of voters that Spain’s problem was President Rodriguez Zapatero and that if their candidate Mariano Rajoy won, the end of the crisis would begin. He was presented as “change” itself, the mythical balm of Fierabras prepared by Don Quixote, a generator of hope that never laid out specifics or even promised more than he would he able to achieve.

Once in power, the PP used the 2011 budget gap (which turned out to be 8 percent of GDP instead of the projected 6 percent) to justify “the change of change” and raise taxes -though this increase had been widely viewed as inevitable and was mainly caused by bad management of the Autonomous Communities and the onset of the recession. Since then the PP government, far from downplaying the gravity of the problem, has done the opposite, stating that “the numbers are terrifying”, that unemployment “will not improve in the short term but grow even more severe in 2012” (Rajoy, 8 February), and that exiting the crisis will be very difficult and take a long time.

The intention of the government is clear: the worse the people’s view of the situation, the more resigned they will be to accept reforms without resisting -first and foremost “hard and deep” labour reform. Moreover, if Rajoy scares the daylights out of people at the beginning of his term, the blame will fall on the pervious government.

Thus far this strategy has proved effective in preventing what otherwise might have been a plunge in support for the government. This is what the polls show, including the last conducted by the Centro de Investigaciones Sociologicas (CIS), which indicates just a tiny drop in popular support.

The negative side of this strategy, for everyone, is that it works against the chances for a recovery. In effect, a resigned, conformist, and above all frightened society (there is more and more written on the use of fear as a tool for social manipulation) will be more likely to accept the reforms the government wants. It is possible this will even render a general strike unviable in this period. But pessimism will certainly not create the right climate to spur business to start hiring and the people to start spending.

The government may succumb to the temptation to replace the “welfare state” with the “necessity state”, reducing state action to the minimum allowed by the current dire situation and a government shrunk by the exigencies of the crisis. Thus necessity will be used to explain and justify everything, from the replacement of legitimately-elected governments with a team of technocrats to the subordination of the welfare state to opportunistic political manoeuvres. The crisis will impose as the established paradigm of the profitability of public services and policies, which opens the door to their reduction and ultimately their privatisation. And so the crisis, which had been seen as an opportunity to improve and advance all of society, together, has been transformed into an excuse for the advancement of a few and the regression of many in a society that is more and more unequal.

First in the opposition and now in the government, the PP has maintained its unshakeable loyalty to the real components of the welfare state. One would expect no less, given that it is the “party of the workers” (Maria Dolores de Cospedal, PP general secretary). But there are too many signs that what may begin as a “restructuring of the welfare state to make it viable” will end up, because of the reductionist and technocratic view of the current crisis, in drastic downsizing.

The idea that necessity -and the necessity state- is here to stay is being drilled into the public consciousness and used to the advantage of a government that doesn’t even try to hide its impotence in the face of the crisis and in fact renounces policymaking to please the nebulous entity we call the markets. Far from rebelling against the hegemony of the markets, the PP is using their power as a mantle to cover their own ineptitude and errors. And if some protest that this is degrading to democracy itself, the PP pulls out another of its weapons: the argument that we are all guilty of causing the current crisis by living beyond our means, thus shifting responsibility from the few who in fact caused the current crisis to the society at large.

In the medium term what will the social and political consequences of all this be? Will the state of necessity give rise to a state of resignation? I have heard it stated that the government has carte blanche to complete its project -including its unstated goals- without fearing a significant social backlash. This may be the case today, but it would be a mistake to confuse resignation with inhibition, and conformism with support. Resignation is never a permanent psychological state; rather it tends to incubate rebellion. Especially when, confused by the small degree of social protest, the government, citing fiscal pressure, deactivates the systems of social cohesion and solidarity that assure peace in times of crisis. It should not be forgotten that the welfare state, even tempered by adverse conditions, is not merely a social necessity -or a “leftist” notion- but a necessary element for the balanced operation of the system and the economic progress of European social democracies since the end of the Second World War. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Guillermo Medina, a journalist and writer, is ex-director of the newspaper “YA” , ex-deputy, and ex-president of the Defence Commission of the Spanish Congress.

 
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