¡Que viva España!

The Free Market Road Show invaded Spain

The third week of the Free Market Road Show took us to the Iberian Peninsula. Three stops were scheduled there, starting with Barcelona. This beginning couldn’t have been better because we arrived on Sunday to the capital city of Catalonia and we had a free day — something very unusual.

In Barcelona the atmosphere was definitely lighter than last year. I mean, clearly the independentist referendum frenzy was over and the Catalonian flag ceased to be omnipresent. Obviously, the relative improvement of the Spanish economy has eased the situation, too.

In any case, after a nice free day walking by the beach and enjoying the “Rambla”, Monday came with our first event.

We teamed up with the Instituto Mises Barcelona — a young think tank comprised of very nice people who always make clear that they have an open approach. Why is this necessary? Because unfortunately the name Mises isn’t only associated with one of the greatest economists of all times but also with some sort of dogmatism. According to this extreme view, for instance, both Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman are nothing but socialists. What’s more, Austrian economics is reduced to Mises’s Human Action. Or more exactly, to what Murray Rothbard exegesis says about Mises’s works.

Please, don’t misunderstand me. Mises and Rothbard were some of biggest geniuses of the 20th century. But their contribution shouldn’t be treated as the non plus ultra of the Austrian tradition. If we really want to honor them we have also to critically asses their works.

The great reformer speaking.

Speaking of people who made a contribution to the 20th century, we had Leszec Balcerowicz as keynote speaker in Barcelona. Prof. Balcerowicz was a key figure in Poland’s transition from communism to freedom. His talk was focused on the current challenges to capitalism. If I understood him correctly, he favors strong advocacy to defend free markets against false criticisms. He emphasized many times that we have to become better “freedom fighters” and that we have to “unmask” free markets critics. He repeatedly warned against the class warfare rethoric and the incendiary hate mongering that has nothing to do with economic realities and a lot to do with leftist ideology.

From Barcelona we travelled to Madrid by AVE — the Spanish fast trains. This means, in a nutshell, that we rode on subsidies. The AVEs are exceptional machines that speed up to 300 km per hour. Nonetheless, how much the Spanish government has spent in them and the criteria they have used to set the AVE network is another question…

Interestingly enough, our venue for the event was the building of the European Commission. Of a questionable architecture, the place was also notorious due to the fact that it didn’t provide any wi-fi. Thus, we were meeting in a big hall in a basement without any contact with the outside world. Perhaps a good metaphor of the style of the EU.

In Madrid we tackled the issue of populism. It’s indeed very sad that the hottest Spanish party is Podemos. That party is comprised of a bunch of Hugo Chávez sympathizers, USSR nostalgics, and the worst kind of Latin American populism apologists. Spain clearly faces a great risk if these guys get into power in this years’ elections.

Populism has its fair share of social and economic destruction in Latin America. I find hard to understand why so many Spaniards are voting for people who have Venezuela as role models. Venezuela has run out of toilette paper thanks to its “glorious” Bolivarian revolution. Furthermore, the regime hasn’t hesitated even a bit in killing students and sending opposition members to prison. All that is portrayed by Pablo Iglesias, the supreme soviet of Podemos, as an example of “true democracy”.

Contrary to Iglesias’s delusions, Venezuela is the poster boy of the results you get when you violate private property and you subjugate economic freedom. Friedrich von Hayek, in many occasions, said that whenever private property was assaulted human suffering would be the unavoidable consequence. The chavista decadence of Venezuela testifies in favor of Hayek’s thesis.

My “new testament”, just received in Madrid.

In Madrid I received the second part of the “bible”. My dear colleague Isabella left our office in Vienna for a couple of days to help organize some programs in Spain. She brought with her something very important for me. Another dear colleague of mine, Susanne, carefully and meticulously prepares a folder which contains all the necessary information to handle logistics on the road. During the FMRS tour, this folder is the “bible” for me. It contains the truth and without it I’d be lost.

So, the “bible” indicated that our last stop in Spain was Seville and there we went — once again riding beautiful debt and taxes which will burden future generations of Spanish people.

In Seville our hosts were the Instituto Juan de Mariana Sevilla. Even from a distance, you could notice that they were doing everything possible to organize a good event. It was the first time in their city and Andalucía, though beautiful, has a tendency to vote socialists over and over. Needless to say, it’s not the most receptive environment for the free market message, regardless of how much this message is needed there. What’s more, the date of the event didn’t help either. It was just before a long weekend, which in Spain means travelling some place nice and forget about everything else.

Against all these odds, the guys in Seville scored a big hit. We had an audience of more than 150 people who were very engaged throughout the three panels. The level of the discussion was extremely high and many other side projects and follow-up ideas were born that afternoon in Seville.

I see an anarchocapitalist.

Content wise, the man of the hour was Mark Klugmann. He’s the inventor of the LEAP zones. LEAP stands for legal, economical, administrative, and political. These zones incarnate some of the best qualities of classical liberal reformism. In a very humble way, Klugmann merely proposes to develop certain small zones which will have certain qualities. They will not copy successful legal frameworks but they will make use of the best available. Namely, British common law. They will be autonomous and will be run by a limited authority which will be supervised by a board of distinguished individuals committed to economic freedom. This combination makes these zones unique. They aren’t just special economic zones. They’re much more. They have the potential to be the next Hong Kong, the next Singapore.

What’s very important about all this is that if successful, these zones have a great potential to influence. However, if they fail, the damage they would cause is limited. They aren’t grand scale social engineering experiments but a humble way to try to solve economic and social problems.

The country in which Mark is focusing his efforts is Honduras. The project there are the ZEDEs. It’s going well and is going to take off soon. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

I’d like to mention Isabel Benjumea, too. She’s a young businesswoman who also leads a network for the promotion of classical liberalism: Red Floridablanca. Her speech was great and corageous. The part I liked best was when she criticized the entrepreneurship á la Brussels. This is, subsidies-based “entrepreneurship”. In Europe, unfortunately, there’s a constant tendency to mix the state (national or supranational) with everything. Entrepreneurial activities aren’t an exception. So there’s an office which deals with “innovation” and gives subsidies to start-ups. Not the most promising environment for a thriving community of risk-takers who want to break with the establishment and follow their dreams.

Fernando Nogales, a friend of the open society.

Finally, I’d like to dedicate a few more lines to our wonderful hosts in Seville who gave as a present a wonderful evening in their city, sailing the Guadalquivir river and finishing with an extraordinary (and authentic) flamenco presentation. Thanks to Fernando, Pilar, José Manuel, Alicia, Randy, Rafael y Javier.

It’s my deepest desire that this visit to Seville was the first of many and that we continue working with this extraordinary people.

And by the way, the guitarist you see below is Pepe Vela, one of the greatest referents of the Andalusian music and official musician of the King of Morocco.

Singing on the boat.


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