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By Pablo Fernández Fernández
Miren Etxezarreta has a PhD in economics from the London School of Economics and a critical economist, emeritus professor of Applied Economics at the UAB, and a member of the taifa seminar. The interview was conducted within the framework of the international meeting Another Economy Is On The Move, organized by Economists Without Borders.
Check the interview:
—Capitalism needs cyclical crises to overcome its contradictions. When this latest crisis appears, first in the financial sphere, but automatically transferring it to all levels, does it have something that makes it special, or is it just another crisis? Is it a turning point?
"It's not a turning point in the system." I think it is one more crisis of capitalism, some are more intense and others less. This is quite intense, but I do not think it is going to involve a transformation as capitalism, I do not see the turning point.
—We live a process of atomization in the Spanish State, from the 80s there is a process of relocation to underdeveloped countries, and with the rise of the Welfare State since the 50s. This has led to an increase in the outsourcing of production, with an increase in what is known as the middle class. What defines the middle class as such?
"It's an artificial distinction, extremely." The fundamental difference is that the middle class has higher wages and lower popular classes. Generally, the middle class has a higher level of training that allows them to access higher seats, but at the heart of the matter salaried workers are like each other, with the difference that some receive more. Essentially, there is no difference, just level as long as things are going well. Caritas is saying that they are helping more and more middle class people. It means that if a middle class person is left without a salary, they cannot survive either. Those who do not own capital and sell their labor power, essentially does not matter the level of their salary. It is not exactly the same, but in the production scheme there is no difference.
—You propose an alternative way out of the crisis, and even from capitalism. Where do you have to walk and how?
"Two things have to be distinguished." One is to get out of the crisis, to regain a level of economic activity, and another is to get out of the system. As long as we have capitalism we will always have recurring crises. We can still get out of this one, but we will have others. How do you get out of this crisis? It will be enormously complicated for countries like the Spanish State, because we do not have a strong productive capacity, and it has also been weakening. When there are people who think about recovery, they should think that recovery is not going to be about recovering in 2005 or 2006. The wages that are being lost, the welfare state that is being destroyed or job insecurity causes us to be far below , and you're going to assume that when the recovery starts it will start at much lower levels, when it starts.
You have to make an important differentiation, society is not made up of a homogeneous block, there are social classes. Now, when our political leaders and some businessmen are saying that we are recovering, they are recovering, when they recover the profit rate. Precisely because they are deteriorating the situation of the workers, the middle classes and the popular classes. So they are improving themselves and they can talk about recovery, but at the same time they are forced to say that employment will not improve, just like the Welfare State. When talking about recovery, you have to ask whose recovery.
It is one thing to get out of the crisis, which will continue as long as there is capitalism. I believe that in order to reach a satisfactory, just, harmonious or attractive society, capitalism must be destroyed. A green capitalism, or with a human face, cannot be given.
—In the Zapatista model, it created its own model outside capitalism, within the state itself. In our case, if we wanted to take power, today, it is impossible. If we don't want it, we discard the route. For both options, what can this model bring us?
—The Zapatista model is not achieving much in Mexico, we cannot fool ourselves. But it is marking a different way of doing things. My approach, and the group in which I work, is that each one should build areas of autonomy, fighting to transform this society where they can. A journalist can try to achieve autonomy within a certain press, but not to change the financial system. Each person must work where they can, creating their scope.
—We have socialized the losses of the banks, but could we have let them fail? Or nationalize them? There are countries that have done it, like Iceland or Cyprus.
"I can't see a solution for the banks." Personally, I think it would have allowed many in the Spanish State to fail, and in fact 42 savings banks have failed. That banks cannot fail is a lie. When those banks and savings banks have been attractive to the big banks, they have.
It is one thing to save the financial system, and another to save the owners of the financial system. What the State has done has been, with the excuse of saving the system, saving the owners. That's where there is a major divergence that we need to be aware of, when we can save the financial system without having to save the owners. Here we have seen that they have done the opposite. Other things should have been done, but let's not forget that we are in capitalism.
- An option could be to create a public Bank?
—The Public Bank scares me because it depends on who you put in charge. The Bank of Spain is a public bank, and in this country Mr. Miguel Ángel Fernández Ordóñez, Governor of the Bank of Spain, has been one of the main promoters of an anti-popular policy. A Public Bank requires a different State. By itself, it does not imply anything. Argentaria was public, and it only had a few differences in that it had a bit of social policy, nothing more. In capitalism, piecemeal arrangements are not very efficient.
—Only a small part of the State's debt comes from families. Is it legitimate to pay it?
—We must distinguish between public debt and private debt. Public debt, which has fallen in recent years, has risen due to the support it has given to large companies and not to families. The problem of the public debt of Spain, until very recently was not a problem of the public side, it was a problem of private debt, of banks and large companies.
Even before the crisis, Spain had a very high foreign trade deficit, which had to be financed. That has been a disaster for economists and politicians at that time, for not addressing an obvious problem, because there was 10% of debt each year in the trade balance. If you add to that, the debt of the banks that went abroad to borrow to make more mortgages in the interior, not for families, but for large builders and for large real estate companies, less for large companies and few for the families. Therein lies the serious problem, that in capitalism a transfer from private debt to public debt is achieved.
"Would an audit work?"
"The audit would highlight things." Once done, the injustice of a large part of that debt that would have to be repudiated would be clearer. In addition, we will have no choice, only the interest payment rises more than the unemployment benefit. An economic recovery without debt repudiation will be very difficult, no matter how much the risk premium has dropped.
—For the Spanish State, would it be more convenient to remain in the European Union or leave it?
"It's a complicated subject." Since we entered the European Union, Spain has suffered a very important deindustrialization process, and in recent years economic policies are the cause of the increase in debt and precarious wages. Europe is hurting us, and since the crisis even more. That must be said out loud.
Is leaving Europe a solution? It is possible that yes, I do not have a clear solution. First, we do not have the capacity to decide to leave Europe, it will be others who decide. Second, in a globalized world, is leaving Europe going to mean that we can pursue an alternative economic policy? If the Spanish people are supporting their leaders, to accept the consequences of an exit from Europe, this exit can be interesting, but if what the Spanish people want is to leave Europe without being bothered, then it can be difficult. Leaving Europe is a major tsunami. It may be easier to repudiate the debt, which must be done before leaving, because if we continue with the debt in euros, we are worse off than before. But if it were necessary to leave Europe, it would.
- What model do you propose of economic democracy? To create social capital, what tools can we use? Participating in the State, in cooperatives, etc.?
—I think there is no model, and that it should not be done. This model must be built from the bottom up, in agreement with the social agents, at all times, responding to collective needs, in accordance with a series of principles. A made and closed model would be wrong. Society is changing so rapidly that things that were worth 6 months ago no longer do. What we do propose is that, first, in capitalism you cannot have that model, it has to be an anti-capitalist model; second, with private property we cannot achieve anything we want in an alternative society, then there cannot be private property, it has to be communal, managed by the whole of society and not by technicians; and finally, with transformed values, not of money and material well-being only, but of harmonious systems, of justice, collaboration, of building one thing together, but satisfactory for all.
There should be a socially planned system, according to society. With this system we are not going anywhere, and it is impossible to humanize it. What is happening is that it is dehumanizing even more. It has to be a system that is not the capitalist one, and it has to be under totally different premises, seeking the common good and the happiness of the people instead of the benefit of a few.