Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Quality Of Lies

Mallorca, the Balearic Islands. Play the word or phrase association game and what words or phrases would come to mind? How about quality of life? Of course. Above all else there is quality of life. The Confederation of Savings Banks (Funcas) has been playing the word/phrase association game but in a more scientific manner. It hasn't simply plucked a concept out of the deep blue sky or from the richly turquoise seas. It has engaged in measurement, one called the Human Development Index. It has considered the regions of Spain. Mallorca, the Balearic Islands. Quality of life. Where did it go? The islands' index of human development worsened more than any other region between 2006 and 2011. The Balearics have lost more by way of standard of living and quality of life than anywhere else in Spain.

While hard data, such as employment statistics and per capita income, suggest that the Balearics are doing reasonably well (all things being relative, as crisis begins to show signs of becoming less of a crisis), the Human Development Index - a methodology adopted by the United Nations - suggests a rather different picture. It embraces additional factors - population movements, access to health care, standards of education - and through its application by Funcas, it leads to a result that, for many people, will seem staggering; Balearics' quality of life is not as it might be presumed to be or might be hoped to be.

On population, though there is evidence of people leaving the islands - expatriates returning "home", younger islanders seeking employment abroad - there has in fact been a positive rate of internal migration, one largely created by Spaniards from the mainland coming to the islands (presumably looking for work). Yet, that work hasn't necessarily been available, especially not in construction, and the positive population growth just adds pressure to services that were already stretched to the limit. On education, I guess we should by now all know what the problem is; not one to be addressed by introducing a three-language method of teaching but a public education system that has been failing for years and which still fails to prevent the Balearics from having the highest school dropout rate in the country. On health care, it depends. Depends on being a part of the social security system or being allowed to be part of that system. For the immigrant who is "sin papeles", it means exclusion. It can also mean death, as was the case with Alpha Pam.

And then there is poverty. Over a period of only five years, the Balearics fell from a position of having the lowest level of economic poverty in Spain to having one of the highest. The poverty rate in the Balearics tripled between 2006 and 2011; it was the greatest rise among all the regions. Human development has not just stalled, it has gone backwards. Mallorca, the Balearic Islands, quality of life.

The sad truth is that this should have been foreseen, but the complacency induced by tourism has, perhaps until now, failed to bring eyesight to the blind of policymakers seduced by the ability of tourism to offset the worst of economic performance. And had it not been for tourism these past few years, the Balearics would have been engulfed by a giant wave of economic desolation. Many people have observed - and I include myself among them for many years now - that there are structural weaknesses in the Balearics. Education is one such, but the lack of economic diversification and the relatively low levels of industrialisation are others. These weaknesses seemed not to matter when times were such that the islands could build themselves into a position of relative economic strength - literally build - but they have made more incurable the blindness that had been falsely remedied by pairs of spectacles with tourism for one lens, construction for the other but with no spare set for when one of the lenses was shattered.

Though employment can and does increase, if only temporarily, and though per capita income levels are, by Spanish standards, reasonable, these measures merely add to the blindness that doesn't see, or maybe doesn't want to see, the low levels of productivity and the widening inequality gap. Politicians should of course see all this and perhaps they are now seeing. It is they who should be most alarmed at the fall in the Human Development Index and alarmed at the fact that the report which has revealed this fall has been compiled by the Confederation of Savings Banks. What a supreme irony that the institutions which helped to bring about the fall are the ones now telling us how far we have fallen. The institutions which were friends of regional governments. For the politicians, the question is how to respond. Quality of life or the quality of lies.

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