In honor of Spain’s World Cup victory, n+1 contributor Eli S. Evans introduces and translates a Juan José Millás column from El País:
On Sunday Spain’s soccer team won the World Cup for the first time, initiating a nationwide party that will probably last through the week. While such a victory, and the resulting celebration, may indeed lift spirits from Barcelona to Madrid, it will not change the fact that, thanks to some two decades of rampant real estate speculation and unregulated lending, Spain finds itself in the midst of arguably its worst economic crisis since the end of the Franco dictatorship. With that rather cruel irony in mind, I offer a translation of an El País column by Juan José Millás, published exactly one week before the World Cup opening ceremony. Among Spain’s most celebrated contemporary novelists, Millás is no less celebrated for his work as a literary journalist. He is known for his deceptively simple, mercilessly incisive commentaries on politics and daily life.
By Juan José Millás
Let’s see if we’ve got it straight: collectively, as well as individually, we are carrying a debt that our creditors no longer trust us to pay back. Reduce your quality of living in order to pay us back or we’ll break your legs. It’s true that they lent us the money in the first place without demanding collateral, almost as if they were hoping for precisely what is happening now—but this is no longer what matters. What matters is that the lenders, suddenly concerned about our lack of solvency, are sending financial hit men our way with the following message: Reduce your quality of living in order to pay us back or we’ll break your legs. As we’ve already witnessed the rather sobering spectacle of other countries having their legs broken, we obey without a word, and just as quickly as we can. Less medicine, less education, less justice, fewer highways, fewer trains, lower pensions, lower salaries, fewer unemployment benefits, fewer dinners out, less social welfare, less happiness.
But upon executing this reductive operation, we have been startled to discover that it has resulted in fewer jobs, less growth, fewer investments and, as a result, a higher deficit, which is to say, more debt, and more difficulty in taking charge of that debt like responsible people. The situation is akin to one of those nightmares in which you run and run without ever getting anywhere, fall without falling or climb flight after flight of stairs without ever reaching the rooftop or, worse yet, climb and climb only to discover that all of that climbing has brought you to the basement. It seems that what the creditors are actually seeking, at any cost, is an alibi for breaking our legs. Economics is a cruel and complicated discipline. Personally, I don’t understand it at all, but then I don’t hear anything particularly intelligible coming from the so-called experts, either. Where did all of this start? Is the business of breaking legs profitable? Who got us into this mess in the first place? Did the politicians who have governed us for the last twenty years know all along that the party would end like this?