Myths are an essential element of human life. Without them, religions would practically not exist. They played an essential role in the building of nations and states. They are easy to find in many contemporary political debates. But even the most persistent myths run the risk of breaking down in emergency situations. This is what the pandemic and the subsequent economic crisis have done with the role of the state in Western countries. In many fields, including liberal ones, it is accepted that the next few years we will witness a strengthening of the leadership of governments in economic life with the aim of gathering resources so that this situation does not recur and solving the problems of inequality that the pandemic has brought to the attention of all.
On the Spanish right, they prefer to remain sheltered by the protective cloak of their economic myths. While others respond to the news that the richest have already recovered their level of income and assets prior to the pandemic and that higher incomes must be taxed more, and that is also being talked about in the US, here the Popular Party demands lowering all taxes and eliminating inheritance tax. With a public debt that already amounts to 125% of GDP, that would cause an even greater worsening of the State accounts, but it does not matter. Taxes are evil.
This Thursday, Isabel Díaz Ayuso briefly interrupted the time she dedicates to forming her future Government to participate in the presentation of Daniel Lacalle’s book ‘Freedom or equality’ (It seems that the two things at the same time can not be). It actually came out a year ago, but that was at a time when it was difficult to sell books. In fact, it was difficult to even leave the house to go to a bookstore. In its attempt to rewrite the meaning of the word ‘freedom’, the Madrid right considers it an absolute and exclusive value. Other issues that have also preoccupied Western economies since World War II are secondary. Trojan horses in which dangerous people hide. How could Díaz Ayuso miss the act.
That prejudice is especially true in relation to what that right thinks about inequality. Either inequality does not exist or it is a healthy consequence of an economic system that defends freedom above all else. Poverty is solved by giving the poor a job, no matter what their salary is, and those who do not get it is because they do not want to. What the left calls the fight against poverty is a subterfuge to attack freedom.
Among the main economies in Western Europe, Spain is one of those that devotes the least resources to this field. The lazy student’s response when he gets poor grades in a subject is to say that that subject is not that important.
Díaz Ayuso and Lacalle are there when they talk about what the president of Madrid calls “one of the mantras that the left holds the most.” If it does, it must be for a reason, because the issue is so minor that it is only worth referring to in order to disregard it. “Nobody dies of inequality. They die of poverty,” Ayuso said.
Scientific studies in recent decades have confirmed something that was previously intuitively suspected. The rich live longer. Being poor increases the chances of premature death. Inequality is a factor that directly affects the duration of our lives. A study funded by the National Institute for Health Research and the NGO Wellcome Trust measured the relationship between inequality and life expectancy in the United Kingdom between 2003 and 2011. It concluded that 35% of premature deaths, occurring before the age of 75, “were attributable to socioeconomic inequality”. In absolute numbers, it was 877,082 deaths. The time of life that was lost for each person was an average of fourteen months.
During the pandemic, that income gap that costs lives has become even more apparent. In U.S.A, It has caused the crisis with the most unequal effects in all of history. The sectors most affected are those that employ women, ethnic minorities and low-income workers. Those who kept their jobs and worked from home kept their income and even saved more money. Those whose wealth depends largely on investments recovered much faster, because the stock markets took off much earlier. Now the richest have a higher percentage of national income than before.
A decade of progress in reducing inequalities in underdeveloped countries has been canceled due to the pandemic, according to the IMF.
The pandemic affects us all, they told us. On a general level, it was true. Viruses don’t check someone’s income tax return before infecting them. In the real world where it matters if you live or die, it is not. It has killed poorer than rich, more low-class people than middle-class people, because in that the Covid-19 has behaved like all diseases.
Daniel Lacalle, Pablo Casado’s leading economist, immediately used the mantra –to mention the expression of Díaz Ayuso– that is common on the Spanish right: “The first redistribution mechanism is employment, which is something that is always forgotten “. This was already said by Mariano Rajoy, and no one ever thought of saying that the then president was a magician of economic thought. The idea ignores the reality that the working poor exist, those whose salary does not allow them to escape poverty, or those who, as in the United States, have to chain part low-paid jobs in order to survive. Spain is the first European country in the OECD as a percentage of working poor.
When the State intervenes to alleviate this situation, especially when it fails to generate jobs for everyone, Lacalle crosses himself and sees the hand of the devil. Ensure a minimum income is anathema. His theory is that granting money that is usually used for consumption and therefore returns to the economy creates privileged people. “The universal minimum income is a perfect instrument of the elites to eliminate competition,” he said Thursday. Imagine that you receive 461 euros per month and those who earn thousands of euros per month call you privileged.
It is the same that Díaz Ayuso has said on occasions, who opposes the minimum income, compares it to “equalizing the low” and says that it causes “dependence on the state”. Several studies suggest that there is no evidence to support that “transfers systematically discourage participation in the labor market “.
For the Madrid right, you are grants the poor are rejected. Subsidies to private education, private health or private pension plans through tax breaks – and all that which could be called the “Hidden welfare state” in favor of middle and high incomes – these are not only not negative, but are among the priorities of his ideological program.
In Spain, We subsidize the rich. The poor, you know, they are because they want to.