Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Is history "fate"? The strike in Barcelona

Just this Tuesday, I was teaching the Comin, Easterly and Gong paper on whether today's riches were determined by technological development in the year 1,000 BC in the "Rise of the Global Economy" class in the ITFD. Today is the day of the general strike in Spain. By some strange accident, I was reading Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia" in the last few weeks, and - just as I was arguing in class - history really doesn't have to be spell "fate". Barcelona, the hothouse of Anarchist sentiment in the early days of the civil war, was remarkably genteel and tranquil today. Traffic flowed easily, taxis were available - with a bit of an effort - and a few posters apart, the university was quiet. Only a plume of dark smoke hanging over the Placa Universidad indicated some trouble (a police car had been torched, it turned out). In general, people seem to accept the changes to labor laws with a sense of frustrated resignation. Bizarrely, the people most likely to benefit - i.e. the young, university students, etc. - are more violently opposed than the rest. So the deeply ingrained instinct to start building barricades that Orwell describes somehow got mislaid... so big shocks - decades of Franco rule - really can change the cultural outlook and social fabric. Which reminds me of a paper I should have on the syllabus, one in the sequence of beautiful Acemoglu et al papers on institutions and economic growth. This one is on the impact of the French Revolution, and it's co-authored by our new UPF colleague Davide Cantoni...

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