Thursday, November 15, 2012

Regulations and Radicalism

As bankers discussed the technical aspects of capital requirements that would minimize the stifling of economic growth from the safety of Santander's suburban campus, young Spaniards in central Madrid defaced bank branches with graffiti and prepared for confrontation with the heavily-armored police.

Yesterday, the 14th of November marked the last day of Banco Santander's annual international banking conference, this year titled, "Global and local solutions for growth and stability." The 14th was also the date of a planned general strike, in both Spain and other countries, to protest austerity and the role of the financial sector in the current crisis.

The conference, headlined by speakers from the ECB, the Central  Bank of Spain and Banco Santander, was a gathering of policy-makers, academics, regulators and bankers in earnest discussions to find ways to get Europe's economy back on track. Despite the suits and hors d'oeuvres at lunch, this was no back room old boys' club. There were genuine disagreements over how rapidly reforms must be implemented to prevent another crisis like this, while still keeping growth and recovery for the European people as a priority. However, there did seem to be an almost wilful ignorance of what was happening elsewhere in Madrid.


The strike, which I started seeing fliers for about a week ago, was supported by all of Spain's major unions and promised to paralyze public transportation and commerce around the city. A grand demonstration was planned for 6pm, which I missed while still coming back from work. The strikers demanded that the rich and powerful implicated in the crisis pay more rather than let the middle class suffer through the layoffs, evictions and budget cuts caused by the recession. After wandering the aftermath and taking some photos, I had a chance to sit down with a Spanish girl later that night who had taken pictures and been there for the demonstration. She told me that each new manifestaci√≥n has been increasingly radicalized. As darkness descended on the 14th, protesters knocked over trashcans, threw objects at the assembled police, and set some things on fire, also seemingly ignorant of the efforts of the very policymakers and bankers that they were railing against, just miles away.

It struck me how similar the goals of these two events were, but how different the means and the rhetoric, and how little communication was occuring between the two world-views.