The Spanish have a reputation for enjoying life. My brother, who returned from Spain yesterday, was not prepared for how much the good times are rolling in Spain. According to his anecdotal evidence, streets and public restrooms are constantly polished by numerous goverment employees, and six or eight policemen guard the public safety on every street corner of Madrid. In rural areas, my brother looked in vain for the equivalent of the trailers occupied by low-income people in his home state of Vermont-Spanish housing seemed to be uniformly new and beautiful. Dinner at eleven, followed by a visit to the bar is customary, and hundreds of bars and restaurants in Madrid overflow with revelers late into the night. This nocturnal schedule makes it difficult to raise children, but the Spanish tend not to have many; the birthrate is the among the lowest in Europe, at 1.37 children per couple, freeing up disposable income-trading the joys of raising children for the joys of tapas. Having the U.S. taxpayer fund their national defense also helps.
If these signs of prosperity were signs of...prosperity, we might strive to emulate the Spanish way of life (with a few more children). Spain however is in a recession, its unemployment the second highest in the EU, above 19% overall, with nearly 44% of under-25-year-olds out of work. The debt crisis that began in Greece and Portugal is spreading to Spain, with the announcement yesterday of Standard & Poor's downgrading of Spain's long-term credit rating. American unemployment during the Great Depression only topped 19% in three years, from 1932-34, and instead of waiting in lines to get into the trendiest nightclubs, we were lining up at soup kitchens.
La dolce vita (to mix romance languages) that exists in modern Europe is a triumph of living for the moment over the brutal demands of survival. I hope it lasts, but I fear that the credit card bill will soon come due.