This article was originally published in the newspaper Cinco Dias on February 2, 2016.
Until Big Data demonstrates its full potential in forecasting social and political behaviour, studies of values and political attitudes are the nearest thing we have to “software”. Over the past few years BBVA Foundation has been carrying out an excellent international comparative study. In April, 2013 the latest results were published, bringing together data from 10 European countries including Spain. The results of how Spain stood as compared to other countries greatly surprised me and recalling them today could help us better understand the political distribution after the December elections and, above all, the values and social, political and economic opinions behind it.
Our behaviour and critical choices are conditioned by our values and beliefs. Naturally, we have some values in common with other countries but the interesting point here is our differences, some of great significance.
When asked who should ensure all citizens have a decent standard of living – the State or each individual?, 74.1% think that the State should be responsible. The European average was 54.5% and in the U.K 34.5%. Do these beliefs encourage citizens to be active in their own personal improvement?
In Spain the majority call for the State to take an active role in the control of many areas outwith that of welfare state-related services – areas like keeping prices under control (64.8% in Spain vs. 44.8% in Europe), providing decent housing for all citizens (72.3% in Spain vs. an average 44.1% in Europe), ensuring a decent standard of living for the unemployed (74.6% in Spain vs. 38.6% in Europe), controlling companies’ profits (54% vs. 32.7% in Europe) or controlling salaries (50.7% vs. 28.9% in Europe). Observe the differences, 20% or more, compared to the European average. The level of intervention and assurance desired is much higher than the European standard. The expectations of the Spaniards from the State and the level of State intervention are very different from other European countries. Spain is different.
On the topic of salaries there is an even more surprising revelation in a country with a supposedly free economy : when asked which statement came closer to their opinion – A: Income should be evenly distributed, even if it means that people who work harder and those who work less earn the same or B: Differences in income are necessary so people who work harder earn more than those who work less – 54.7% of Spaniards chose A, the highest percentage, compared to only 34.4% average of Europe as a whole. In Denmark option A was only chosen by 13.8%. What sense of equality have we fostered? What is our idea of social justice? What motivation and rewards are there for those who make an effort? Here there is no doubt that the democracy of opportunity and the aristocracy of merit advocated by Ortega are not wanted.
How has this stultifying concept of egalitarianism developed and spread to such an extent in our country? It is logical to think that, based on these beliefs, politicians create their political discourse and policies. Given that a majority of Spaniards think this way, could political parties achieve their vote offering policies that do not take these dominant values into account? Are the principles of freedom and justice truly compatible with these ways of thinking?
Many Spaniards have shifted the focus of the control of their lives from themselves to the State. They expect the State to assume this responsibility with subsidies and allowances, protectionism and imposed equality. In our recent democratic history something has been forgotten and that is, without doubt, what the majority of citizens need to feel healthily responsible for their own lives: an education geared to forming individuals who know how to actively build their lives in a society rich in opportunities for all.
Juan San Andrés
Management consultant: human factor, management team and productivity.