The Great French Butter Crisis of 2017

Another entry into the anecdata bank convincing us that the last Frenchman who understood economics was Frederic Bastiat. France is suffering from a butter shortage, the croissant makers just cannot get enough of the stuff, the supermarket shelves are empty.

Quite why doesn't particularly matter - whether demand has risen or supply fallen doesn't make a difference here. What does matter is the reaction so far:

French consumers have not yet seen butter prices rise at the checkout because supermarket groups fix their prices once a year.

Sigh.

Which is, of course, to entirely miss the point of a market economy with a price system. To be able to vary prices so that supply and demand match.

All that is necessary to end the Butter Crisis is for the price of butter to change. On the commercial and wholesale side this is happening, industrial supplies have had price movements. But for something like butter retail demand is an important part of the whole. So, what happens if that retail price doesn't change? Well, facing those higher wholesale costs the supermarkets aren't exactly going to rush out to purchase stocks. Nor, given the higher prices available elsewhere will producers produce retail sized portions, will they? 

Further, facing no price rise themselves consumers won't substitute away from butter. Off to lard, or goose fat, margarine, or even allow that toast to go commando under the confiture.

When either supply or demand change it's entirely madness not to allow prices to change, for the point and purpose of the price system is to balance supply and demand as they change.

What the heck are they using as economics textbooks over there? 

We should be careful glorifying Denmark

Last week, Denmark was mentioned in a American TV debate between Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz. Instinctively, as a Dane, I always feel a sense of pride whenever Denmark is mentioned on the big stage. However, in this instance I would like to take a step back and look at the facts because Denmark is far from the utopia politicians and pundits often claim it is.

Bernie Sanders is one of the advocates for implementing a welfare model similar to that of Denmark and for a good reason. In many ways, Denmark looks to be a very attractive country, which it is (except for the weather), but not always for the reasons stated in the public. Especially in this TV debate, Sanders mentions he is ready to raise taxes for every American in order to fund a system similar to that of Denmark. However, as it is mentioned by the moderators, Denmark pays the highest taxes of all developed countries in the world. Now, I don’t believe every country is able to raise their taxes the way Denmark has, unless they share similar values. A combination of strong work ethics and  high trust in one another is what have made the welfare state possible. This is not something that has happened concurrently with the creation of the welfare state. Actually, this predates the welfare state and is probably what has been the main factor for upholding it over time as well. Nima Sanadaji finds in his book, Debunking Utopia, that the explanation lies in the Danes and the Scandinavian work ethic, among other things.

Sanadaji also makes the claim that Scandinavians are actually doing better in America than their peers back home. For example, he presents a statistic showing the GDP per capita for the Scandinavian countries and their peers in America. The average GDP per capita for Danish Americans are $70,925 compared to $45,697 for Denmark. That is quite a difference that potentially comes from the fact that the features mentioned above didn’t just disappear when Danes travelled to America between the 1850s and 1910s. Something might therefore suggest that Danes aren’t doing well because of the welfare system. Rather, Danes appear to thrive better in the American economy because of the social institutions instilled in the Danish way of life. Milton Friedman was once confronted on this matter by a Scandinavian economist stating that there is no poverty in the Scandinavian countries. To that Friedman responded with “that's interesting, because in America among Scandinavians, we have no poverty either”.

This leads me onto my next point. Quite often it is argued that Denmark became wealthy because of the welfare system, not in spite of. But this is simply not true. Denmark was wealthy long before the welfare state came about. Combined with its social institutions, Denmark's early adoption of property rights led to a high degree of personal independence among Danes – a solid foundation for creating a wealth society.. Actually, Denmark was for a long period a low tax country and at one point in history its levels of taxation was on a par with the United States - until the middle of the 1960s where the development of the Danish welfare state began. The welfare state merely came about because of the wealth created before.

Screen Shot 2017-10-25 at 14.51.35.png

The above graph is in Danish, BNP translates as GDP and shows combined taxes.

In addition, Denmark has been able to uphold the welfare state, not only because of the social institutions, but because it has a capitalistic economy. Year after year, Denmark is among the most economically free countries in the world. Each year, the Fraser Institute measures the economic freedom of several countries - this year 159 countries are measured. They measure the economic freedom of the countries on a scale from 1 to 10 in five different categories where 10 is completely free: Size of government, legal system and property, sound money, freedom to trade internationally and regulation. This year Denmark ranked 15th overall - just four spots lower than the United States which ranked 11th. However, the one thing that always drags Denmark down the rankings is ‘the size of government’. Therefore, if we are to exclude the other categories and only look at ‘the size of government’, then Denmark suddenly drops down the ranks to a whopping 154th out of 159 countries. If we disregard ‘size of government’ completely and calculate their rankings based on the four remaining categories we come up with a almost completely different ranking:

Screen Shot 2017-10-26 at 11.06.02.png

As the picture shows, Denmark makes a giant leap towards the top landing on an overall 6th place. United States for instance drops two places. Denmark’s large levels of redistribution aside, Denmark has a very free economy, which perhaps is one reason it can afford so much redistribution in the first place.

The Fraser Institute describes what ‘the size of government’ measures in the following way:

Taken together, the four components of Area 1 measure the degree to which a country relies on personal choice and markets rather than government budgets and political decision-making.

Denmark obviously is one of the lowest ranking countries in this regard and a lot of the Danish population relies on the government in order to make a living. Such a large proportion of the population reliant on government for income means high and distortionary taxes, this means a smaller reward for extra economic activity and thus a smaller incentive to take on more work – resulting in a reduction in economic freedom. In addition, it is stated in the freedom index that an economy with a high politicisation of the redistribution of societal goods there typically tends to be a higher level of hostility towards immigration as well.

Just to give you a gist of how things are in Denmark: Overall, 2.1 million of the Danish population in one way or another get their income provided by the government. That means that for every 101 full time worker, there is 100 people who get government benefits. How will they react when a massive influx of immigrants happen? Because of the misperception that immigrants pose a threat by going on welfare, they will consider them as free riders who don’t contribute to the public purse which ultimately leads to welfare chauvinism.

This leads to several consequences of which I will mention a couple. First of all, immigrants have been shown to be beneficial for low-skilled workers and it could therefore lead those people to be worse off than they potentially could have been with immigrants coming to the country. Additionally, welfare chauvinism, among other things, has in Denmark led the anti-immigrant party, the Danish People’s Party, to gain 21.1 percent of the vote and thereby become the second biggest party in Denmark. Because of the way the Danish system works, their massive influence have made it difficult for the current liberal-conservative government to actually get through with some of their liberal reforms trying to cut spending in the public sector as well as lowering the marginal tax and taxes in general.

Denmark is indeed in many ways great, but we should be careful glorifying it, especially if we do it based on false information.

Cracking down on Craigslist put sex workers at risk

When I lived in the U.S. last year, I appeared on Al-Jazeera to criticize the U.S. government’s repeated attacks on Backpage.com—a classified ads site that also featured postings for erotic services. In January 2017, it shut down its adult section following years of intense government pressure, including a Sheriff threatening credit card companies providing services to Backpage and Congressional hearings. While opponents of the site erroneously argued that it facilitated child sex trafficking, internet freedom groups, several libertarian organizations and some anti-trafficking advocates united with sex workers to condemn the government’s bullying of Backpage.

Defenders of the site argued that the shutdown made sex workers less safe, created a chilling effect on free expression, and undermined anti-trafficking efforts by removing Backpage as a valuable resource for law enforcement. A working paper published last month by researchers at Baylor and West Virginia universities provides new evidence that classified ad sites like Backpage do indeed play a significant role in reducing violence against women—especially female sex workers.

The paper—authored by Scott Cunningham, Gregory DeAngelo, and John Tripp—focuses on Craigslist: a similar platform to Backpage that included an ‘Adult’ ads section in the U.S. from 2002 until 2010, when it was also shut down due to mounting pressure from the government. By analyzing female homicide rates over time in U.S. cities after Craigslist introduced an ‘Erotic Services’ (ERS) section and comparing them to cities without such a section at the time, the researchers were able to estimate the effect of an ERS section on women’s safety. They found that cities that got ERS saw their female homicide trend slide afterwards, averaging out to a rate 17.4% lower than control cities over the same period.

They argue that the introduction of an ERS section was effectively random from the perspective of Craigslist: in some places ERS was added long after Craigslist launched there and in others it was included at launch, it was unpublicised, and female violence was on similar trends in ERS and non-ERS cities before launch. Thus they judge that these drops are likely down to Craigslist and not other unobserved factors.

Why might this be the case? One explanation is that adult sections of sites like Craigslist and Backpage make it easier for sex workers to find clients online while working indoors, prompting a shift from more dangerous street-based sex work to indoor alternatives. Working indoors allows sex workers to screen their clients more thoroughly, and soliciting online “may have led to greater deterrence of client violence through the creation of a digital fingerprint that made detection of criminal offenses more likely”.

Another possibility is that Craigslist’s ERS section gave sex workers a viable alternative to working with potentially violent managers. The study provides evidence to support the claim that sex workers transitioned from agency work to independent work due to the introduction of a Craigslist ERS section:

Our second dataset utilizes reviews from The Erotic Review, which is a reputation website (similar to Yelp.com), and one of the largest prostitution websites in the United States (Cunningham and Kendall, 2016). Clients use The Erotic Review to share detailed reviews of prostitutes. We use these data to measure whether a prostitute worked for an agency or independently…In the first 10 months [after ERS section introduction], the probability a prostitute was independent rose 6.5 percent, which is 12 percent of the mean. This effect persisted in the long run, as evidenced by the positive and statistically significant 10+ month coefficient.

A potential challenge to the study’s headline figure (a 17.4% reduction in female homicides) is that it seems “to exceed the number of prostitute deaths by several orders of magnitude”. However, this could be due to a significant underestimate of the share of female homicides attributable to prostitution. The data in this area is extremely sparse. The paper references a 2006 study on a small number of cities that estimates “between the years 1981 and 2002, 2.7 percent of all female homicide victims in the United States were attributed to prostitution”. This is likely to be an extremely conservative estimate; the illegality of prostitution means that at the time of data collection, U.S. law enforcement are often unaware of whether female homicide victims were sex workers.

With a misguided online porn crackdown looming in the UK, there are legitimate worries that future governments will also adopt a more American approach to websites hosting adult ads. If that happens, at least this study has provided economic evidence to support what sex workers have been arguing for years—that online platforms like Craigslist and Backpage help make women safer.

More markets in the NHS - rent operating rooms to surgeons

Apparently the NHS is inefficient in its use of capital assets. That's simple enough, we know how to solve this problem, we charge the people who use the capital assets for their use - introduce, that is, more marketisation to the NHS:

Hospitals could carry out 750 more routine operations a day if schedules were better organised, according to the finance watchdog.

The average surgery list wasted two hours a day last year, enough time to accommodate another 280,000 operations, according to an analysis by NHS Improvement. Surgeons questioned the figures, insisting that the main cause of cancelled operations was over-full wards.

It's even possible that the surgeons are correct here but that doesn't matter, charging them for the use of the operating theatres is still a good idea.

We have a scarce resource, operating theatre time. We wish to maximise the efficiency with which that resource is used. The answer is to charge people for using it.

This is not, of course, to say that Mr. Smith the ENT surgeon has to pay from his pocket for the use. Rather, we conduct an accounting exercise - as we already do in two other areas facing the same problem.

There's a limit to the amount of spectrum available in the country. That's why we get to bleed the mobile phone companies for what they use. But we're also going to, quite obviously, insist that MoD has access to some of that scarce spectrum. It's possible to simply assign what is asked for and forget it. But we don't - we charge MoD something like market rates on what they say they need. Purely on paper of course, the amount that goes into the MoD budget has to then cover the notional amount they pay back for the spectrum. But it does all concentrate minds wonderfully as to how much they should be demanding they have access to.

Equally with the roads. Yes, people do have to dig up the roads to stick pipes and cables in. So too do roads have to be closed to repair them. We charge people for that. Even when it's us taxpayers paying for a road to be redone, we charge a rent on the road to the contractor for the closure. Again, we taxpayers have to give them more money for the contract, money we then get back in that rent they pay for the road's closure. But that daily fee is set at the start, the number of days we expect being in the budget. It's amazing how much lower are delays  on works completion once the contractor has to pay extra rent for each day of closure over what is budgeted for and in the contract.

It is entirely moving money around on paper. But even that works to optimise the use of scarce resources. So, if operating theatres are being inefficiently used then impose the same system on the NHS.

Why not? We know it works after all.

To strengthen the Commonwealth and neoliberalism, I’m creating a new charity

Even in its birthplace the UK, the Commonwealth of Nations is not well appreciated. A 2012 British Government report found that, out of 100 senior influencers from media, parliament, the law and the civil service, only 25 correctly identified the Commonwealth when asked the question below. Have a read and see if you’d have picked it:

“If there was a single non-political, non-sovereign organisation, which represented almost a third of the world’s population with the stated aim of promoting democracy, human rights, good governance, the rule of law, individual liberty, egalitarianism, free trade, multilateralism and world peace would you expect Britain to belong to it? Are you aware of any body that does this? – can you name one?”

How could we raise appreciation of the Commonwealth and better spread its values? In my last blog post, I discussed one way to do this, share policy experiences between societies within it. I propose creating a charity to do just that: to promote in Britain exchanges with citizens of other Commonwealth nations that involve experience sharing. The Commonwealth has already agreed a group of values important to it, the 16 items like democracy and human rights on the Commonwealth Charter. My charity will share experiences of policies that affect these values.

However, the Charter is like motherhood and apple pie: anyone might say a policy affects the values on it. To improve the quality of experience sharing, my charity will likely need to partner with think tanks and other British organisations, as it holds exchanges. It could also focus on sharing that’s credible because it involves governments changing their policies. Finally, to keep my charity focused on sharing between societies, rather than between governments, I hope to make it independent of formal Commonwealth organisations.

But wait, you say, the Commonwealth is not a neoliberal organisation. How could my charity help spread neoliberalism within it? Well, one of the values on the Commonwealth Charter is Good Governance, a term in the development industry that has its own Wikipedia page. Neoliberal's should have faith that the policies they prefer are generally the better way to run things. Very regularly, it will be neoliberal policies that involve good governance.

I can summarise my idea for a charity: Via an event partnered with say the Adam Smith Institute, would Britain and the Commonwealth benefit from people hearing about New Zealand’s efforts that almost created a ground-breaking system for recreational drugs to get official approval and be sold legally? Via an event partnered with a British legal organisation, would Britain and the Commonwealth benefit from people hearing about Sri Lankan lawyers’ attempts to safeguard the rule of law from government actions that undermine it?

If you agree with me about the potential benefits of such a charity, please get in touch. I welcome any contact, especially that you support what I’m looking to do or even that you’re keen to assist. At this early stage, you could make all the difference. Email me now!

Amazon as an example of how markets really work

A useful example of how this market economy thing really works from Amazon. No, not the standard cries about incipient monopolies, killing off Mom and Pop stores, driving up emissions with delivery vans and all the rest of it. Rather, the actual and real effects of competition in a market economy.

Amazon has received 238 proposals from cities and regions across North America vying to host the company’s second headquarters, it said on Monday.

As we know, Amazon's looking to build a second HQ. The effects of the current one on the Seattle economy are such that better to do the amoeba thing and split off the expansion into a separate unit, elsewhere. Well, OK:

Some said this month they could offer Amazon billions of dollars in tax breaks if they were chosen. New Jersey proposed $7 billion in potential credits against state and city taxes if Amazon locates in Newark and sticks to hiring commitments, for instance.

At which point we can see the effect of this market competition in an economy. Here, rather than that monolith of retail power of some nightmares, the company is the consumer. Just as much as if it is you or me going out to buy an apple (no, apple, not Apple). There are myriad suppliers of apples, myriad places to put an Amazon second HQ. So, who is it that benefits from this competition?

It's us the consumers, isn't it? Potential locations are falling over themselves to gain that business of a second office. Their margins on doing so are going to be slim, if they even exist at all, given the other 237 vying for the location. This is also why farmers don't make much profit growing apples for us.

This is also what underlies William Nordhaus' great paper on entrepreneurial, Schumpeterian, profits. Of the value created by exciting new things some 3% sticks with those doing the creating. Near all the rest flows through to us as the consumer surplus.

This is why market economies work. The very competition they involve means that near all the gains flow to us, the consumers. We get fat and rich off the efforts of others to enrich themselves. Ain't that great? 

Alan Milburn's just made the argument for markets inside the NHS

This isn't quite where we'd expect this point to be coming from but it does make the case for markets in the NHS all the same. From Alan Milburn:

Technology and innovation are key to saving the NHS

Yes, OK then:

The reason is simple: the challenges facing healthcare today are different from yesterday. Perhaps more importantly, the opportunities for healthcare to do more will make them different still tomorrow.In the public debate about the NHS, the talk is much more of daunting challenges than opportunities. A sense of possibility is missing. Yet the world is on the verge of a huge leap forward in healthcare, driven by advances in knowledge and technology.

...

All these big changes are under way. They will accelerate in the years to come. The question policymakers should focus on is how to harness them to improve the health of the nation. That will mean making big changes to the NHS, not just putting in more cash.

We agree entirely. And then we play our party pooper trick which is to point out that we know very well what it is that fosters innovation and the use of technological advance.

No, this is not the argument about who invents something - we're quite happy to agree along with William Baumol that governments can achieve that. But we also insist, along with Baumol, that innovation, the working out what to do with the new inventions, is something that markets achieve and planned systems do not. For, of course, working out what to do with some new invention is trial and error. Well, what could be done with it? What, in reality, does it achieve? And which of those things do we want to have done? It is markets which process through all of these options iteration by iteration, planning does not.

Thus, the greater the coming wave of medical invention the more we need markets in the NHS to foster the innovation. Not that we quite expect Alan Milburn to be saying that but he should be.

Sharing values more effectively: a new approach for the Commonwealth?

The Commonwealth is a collection of states that claim to be united by shared values, such as democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Recent examples demonstrate, though, that those values might not be shared very well within the Commonwealth. What could be done so that happens more effectively? Aim to influence societies, as well as governments, I argue.

To show its relevance in the modern world, the Commonwealth is indeed trying to ensure its key values are shared. It has developed significant arrangements to influence governments of member-states. These include suspending or even expelling members in violation of its values. It employs softer methods, as well, for example having its officials observe elections. However, I mentioned examples in an earlier blog post that suggest it isn’t great at ensuring governments share its values.

Indeed, recent episodes demonstrate the limits to the Commonwealth’s approach. Some governments, such as the one in the Maldives in 2016 or in Zimbabwe in 2003, simply remove their country from the Commonwealth, when threatened for breaching values. The Commonwealth itself recognised concerns about it effectiveness when it appointed a group to advise on possible reforms. The group published its report in 2011, A Commonwealth of the People: Time for Urgent Reform. In spite of its title, though, its recommendations would keep the Commonwealth focused on influencing governments. When the governments of members couldn’t agree how they should be influenced, some of the report’s key recommendations went unfulfilled. If that’s the way to get a Commonwealth for the people, it will only happen when governments permit it.

Even in more neoliberal areas like free trade, the key method to achieve change remains for the Commonwealth to influence governments. For example, the 2005 Commonwealth meeting in Malta endorsed the idea that the governments of members should pursue free trade agreements with each other. Yet, in India, the member with the highest population, attitudes at the upper levels of society aren’t well disposed to free trade. What hope is there of governments to introduce neoliberal reform, if the societies they represent aren’t themselves keen for it?

I started my series of posts on this blog by discussing how neoliberalism would be strengthened if societies shared their experiences of different policies. I then identified that the Commonwealth might provide a network of countries to make such sharing worthwhile. In this post, I’ve reviewed the Commonwealth’s record of upholding its key values and identified that it too could do with greater focus on societies. If both neoliberalism and the Commonwealth might be strengthened by societies sharing policy experiences, how could this actually be achieved? This subject I’ll tackle in my final post in this series.

It's amusing what people don't grasp about inequality

As we're continually being told inequality is the very terror of our times. Despite books like the Spirit Level entirely failing to prove the point all do seem to pay at least lip service to the idea that it is, in and of itself this inequality, destructive to all that is good and holy about society. 

Our own view is that given the manner in which free markets laced with capitalism have abolished absolute poverty here at home, are well on the way to doing so globally, those who desire something to whine about just have to go looking for something else - relative poverty and inequality. For how can a revolution be demanded if the current system is working rather well at our basic economic task, making us oiks out here in the street better off over time?

Despite all of that it is worth at least following the logic of those complaining. For example, this from Max Lawson at Oxfam:  

The poverty and inequality of data on inequality

The first thing to say is that the data is not good, but that we do know that the problem is strongly biased in one direction- inequality is systematically underestimated.

...

The Gini is calculated using household surveys or census data.  This data has been shown to systematically underestimate the incomes of the richest part of society. For example, a study of several Latin American countries found that the richest survey respondent had a salary lower than that of a manager in a typical medium to large scale firm.  The super-rich do not fill out surveys, and when they do they rarely reveal the true scale of their income.

The only possible logical conclusion from this is that inequality is less damaging than is claimed. Not what they're saying of course but it is the only logical possible conclusion.

For all of the estimations of how damaging inequality is come from observing the bad things which happen in a society and then comparing it with our measurement of that inequality. Now we say that inequality is higher than we thought. But we've still the same amount of bad things going on. Thus, obviously, any given level of actual inequality - not our measure, but the real number out there - must be producing a smaller bolus of bad things.

Think it through, some dreadful lurgy, some plague, is passing through the population. Of those we identify as getting it then 10% die. Then we find out that we're missing 90% of those who do get it but show, say, no symptoms. We now regard that disease as having a 1% death rate, something a great deal less worrying.

So it is with inequality. If the level is x and we note y bad effects, now we reconsider and state that inequality is 2x but we've still only got y effects then inequality is half as damaging as we'd previously thought.

All of which means that, if we want to insist that our earlier estimations of inequality are too low then we've also got to agree that all of our estimations of the effects of inequality are far too high. Too high by exactly the same amount as our estimates of the inequality itself were too low.

Thus, joyously, the more the protest over inequality being higher than recorded the less important inequality itself is.

Not a point we've seen being made as yet but no doubt they'll get to it given the stout commitment to intellectual consistency on the subject, yes?  

If only Owen Jones knew something about the subject upon which he pontificates

We don't mind people disagreeing with us, indeed we think that's rather normal. We do rather object when people seem to pull in their facts from some alternate reality. As with Owen Jones here telling us about the banking system:

Sometimes the case for a policy is as overwhelming as the level of ridicule it will get from the punditocracy. The nationalisation of Britain’s failed banking industry – the sector responsible for most of our country’s current ills – is one such example.

In support of the obviousness of this idea we are given:

No other industry enjoys the same protection. They are “too big to fail”, which means they benefit from an implicit subsidy – worth £6bn in 2015. 

Some are indeed too big to fail. Which is why they are charged the bank levy, specifically and exactly a fee for the implicit subsidy they receive as a result. Which is why they've been shrinking themselves too, just as we would like. 

State-backed deposit insurance of up to £85,000 per consumer is another de facto mass public subsidy.

Again, they are charged for this, paying what amounts to an insurance premium, just as they should do.

As the New Economics Foundation says, it is commercial banks who are now responsible for creating the vast majority of money in economies like the UK, a source of vast profit. This is called “seigniorage” and – as the foundation puts it – it represents a “hidden annual subsidy” of £23bn a year, or nearly three-quarters of the banks’ after-tax profits. 

As ever when the nef says something about economics they get it wrong. What they've measured is not the effects of seigniorage but of the float. Our current accounts tend not to pay interest. But the aggregate of all the money in them is lent out by the banks at interest. That's the float and it does indeed make money for the banks. It's simply nothing to do with credit or money creation.

By contrast, foreign publicly owned banks are self-evident successes. Take Germany: KFW, the government-owned development bank, is crucial in developing national infrastructure as well as the renewable energy revolution. On a regional level, state-owned Landesbanken are responsible for industrial strategy. Then at the most local level, there are Sparkassen: they focus on developing relationships with local businesses and consumers. They’re not beholden to shareholders – instead, they have a stakeholder model, focused on helping local economies – indeed, their capital has to remain in local communities.

The German banking crisis was, by some measures at least, larger as a percentage of GDP than the British. And it included many of those more local institutions as well who seemed to end up with very much more than their fair share of the lesser dross of the American mortgage market.

A management board would run the network day to day, but a board of trustees would ensure the bank was accountable to the broader economy and customers, not shareholders.

A third would be elected by workers, a third by local authorities and a third by local stakeholders. The mandate of each local bank would be to promote local economies – not least their small businesses – rather than the City of London. Here is a model of democratic ownership that can, in time, be extended to the rest of the economy.

Apparently that's how we should do it instead. But we are also told this:

Would Brexit, Donald Trump, or the gathering demands for Catalonia to secede from crisis-ridden Spain have happened without the financial collapse?

Ah, yes, crisis ridden Spain. Where the cajas, all run on local grounds, by local politicians, unions, stakeholders, in near unison went bust as a result of the political and self-dealing among politicians, unions and stakeholders? 

We really don't mind that Jones has a different vision of how the world should be but we'd really prefer a bit of that facts are sacred stuff so that we do get at least a modicum of interaction between the lofty plans and reality.