Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Taking Grapes From A Blind Man

There is a Spanish tale about a poor child who is the servant to a blind man. It is a tale about how the child, Lazaro, learns cunning and how to cheat the cheaters. In the tale he is eating grapes with the blind man. They share them one at a time. The man then starts to take two, so Lazaro takes three. When the grapes are finished, the man calls Lazaro a cheat. Lazaro asks him why. The man says that if he cheats and if the boy says nothing, he will assume that the boy is cheating as well. The moral of the story (such as it is) is that everyone tries to cheat everyone else.

I have paraphrased this outline of what is in fact a famous Spanish tale. I have taken it from an article* on Smart Planet by the American, Barcelona-based writer Jennifer Riggins. It is unsurprising that the tale is as apparently famous as it is, as it is a fable for Spanish culture; success comes to those not who work hard and take risks but to those who are crafty and cunning - those who are cheats or, if you prefer, crooks.

I know a businessman and a pillar of society. Actually, I don't know him personally. I know of him and I know who he is. I also know what he is. I see him from time to time. He drives an ostentatiously large vehicle, the size of which is matched only by the gargantuan cigar which is permanently in his mouth. I am not someone prone to spite or to malevolence, but I would happily shove that cigar right down his fat neck. Why? Because of what I know about him.

I would like to believe that there are businesspeople who have achieved what they have through hard work and risk-taking and through these alone. I can think of some of whom I would be sorry to learn that they had achieved what they have by less than totally honourable means. But I wonder how many have followed this virtuous path to success. Jennifer Riggins says: "Spanish history and culture don't teach the philosophy of success by hard work and risk-taking but to have respect for those who have gained success through acting craftily and cunningly". Amen.

A preference for the spoils of graft as opposed to graft (the word graft has two very different meanings) is one that elicits the not untypical response of "ah yes, but this is Spain", a response by both Spaniards and non-Spaniards. This is Spain. Yes, so it is. And look where it is. Cheating of all types is one reason for the country being where it is and one reason why getting away from where it is will be so damn difficult. It is a response that has to stop.

Spain has a national government that currently faces the embarrassment of being accused of harbouring some cheats of its own. Shrugging off this embarrassment, it seeks to find a way out of the ruddy great hole that the country is in by suggesting that it will make incentives available to entrepreneurs, young ones at that. The government has recently discovered a new political toy, one called entrepreneurialism and one, so the government hopes, that will lead Spain to a promised land of economic salvation. The government's hopes are misplaced. It is playing with its toy in a country not prone to being entrepreneurial or to honouring business risk-takers. Instead, it is a country that honours the dishonourable. It will argue that it doesn't and that it empowers judges and prosecutors to bring the dishonourable to book. Sometimes they are, but for the most part, "this is Spain" means that they aren't and so the wheel of honouring the cheats turns yet again.

The young, these mythical young entrepreneurs of which the government speaks, look on and see that cheating, taking more grapes than the blind man, is the way to succeed. They can see greater success from one form of graft over another, because this is how it is. This is Spain. They have no entrepreneurial streak because the education system prevents it, because parental attitudes are still fixed in times when education mattered only for its menial or dissatisfying consequence, because the banks prevent it, because the preferred option is for a life of non-productive, non-value-added civil service work (and if not this, then being a bar worker or some summer beach bum).

Yes, this is Spain. Spain of such tradition. Like the twelve grapes at New Year. Or thirteen, if you are with a blind man.

* http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/global-observer/why-the-spanish-arent-entrepreneurs/9312

Any comments to andrew@thealcudiaguide.com please.

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