I have been debating with my Spanish followers on Twitter about why Spain has the highest unemployment rates of all developed nations - 21% for the population as a whole and 46% youth unemployment. To put Spain´s unemployment into perspective,  the EU´s average rate of unemployment is less than half of Spain´s.

In my view, Spain´s high unemployment is as much the product of poor financial/ investment decisions (over investment in real estate) as it is one of the country´s culture.  The main cultural weakness of Spaniards, and indeed Latin Americans in general, is to take little or no ownership of their problems, instead blaming others for their shortcomings. Of course, this kind of culture also has its positive side: countries in which people tend to blame others for their problems usually have low suicide rates and a general positive outlook on life. The flip side is that this attitude is very hard to change and it is not conducive to a country reinventing itself in the face of failed economic strategies. This can help explain why Spain is so much behind the EU when it comes to unemployment. Spain needs to reinvent itself, and in order to do that, a culture of self responsibility is essential.

To me, if Spain has such high unemployment rates, it is because the Spanish government, Spanish entrepreneurs and business leaders and Spanish workers are uncompetitive. I say this after having hired thousands of Spaniards and having built Jazztel, Ya.com and Fon in Spain.  Yes, there are responsible and hard working Spanish government employees, imaginative and hard driven Spanish entrepreneurs and highly ethical Spanish workers, but they are less common to find than in Germany, for example.

When you talk to Spanish people, they will quickly agree that Spanish politicians are mediocre, that Spanish “empresarios” are “unos chorizos” or scumbags but few would agree that there is something wrong with the way that Spanish people think, organize themselves and work.

Unfortunately, the average politician, businessperson and employee are all to blame for Spain´s poor economic condition. They are to blame as a group, as a culture.  This is a nation where one in five are out of work and where one out of three young people have no future – this needs to be fixed. But this can’t be fixed if the average Spanish person does not realize that they are both part of the problem and an essential part of the solution.  What is common here is to believe that Spain is the way it is because of a few who have somehow kidnapped the country into perennial underperformance in terms of unemployment.

Spain is a country with huge potential, but low entrepreneurship. The average Spaniard focuses energy and attention on old, ailing industries like infrastructure and real estate, and banks tend to only lend for these activities. Spaniards don’t see the risk in borrowing the equivalent to five times their annual salary to buy a home. This means that many are tied to mortgages that will sink them into debt for life, because of this, they can´t even move to where there is work.

Spaniards are among the Europeans who live the longest lives, yet they are the ones who call in sick to work the most.  In Spain there is a yet to be measured but enormous underground economy, with a very large number of workers who collect both unemployment insurance and a regular salary.  Tax cheating is rampant.  Moreover,  Spaniards love colossal and useless infrastructure projects. They vote for politicians who give them something, even if it has no practical use. These are the same politicians who approved colossal public works like the T4 terminal, a $10bn project. They spent public money building airports that no one uses and roads that nobody takes. Take the Castellón Airport, for example, built at a cost of $213m but that still hasn´t received a single flight. Meanwhile, Germany and other European countries gave Spain gifts of billions through the EU and a lot of this undeserved money was misused.

Will Spain´s problems be fixed?  I certainly hope so.  I am an immigrant to this country, by now a Spanish citizen who built three significant companies here and have five Spanish children.  Spaniards are now saying: “el problema no es la crisis, es el sistema”  or, the problem is not the crisis, it’s the system.  But this “system” works for the Netherlands, Germany and many other new EU countries such as Poland.  My answer is, “el problema no es el sistema, somos nosotros.”  The problem is not the system, we are the problem.

Shit shit shit if you are German, fuck fuck fuck if you are American, vagina vagina vagina if you are Spanish (coño).

It is interesting how many cultures curse and obsess with different part of the body or bodily functions/actions.

This article in Vanity Fair tries to explain how German banks squandered a significant amount of the savings of the German people lending it to crooks in a Freudian way without ever citing Freud. It’s all about shit it argues.

I found the article bad but still worth sharing. If anything it says more about the American writer.

Yes, it is true that the German language is full of expressions related to shit and they give examples. And it is also true that Germans love cleanliness and are very organized. But this does not explain why they work so much better than most other Europeans and waste their savings lending to all sorts of weird schemes. Why they believe the Greeks when they tell them they will balance the budget or why they lent to so many subprime schemes in USA. Maybe a lot of that has to do with the fact that the people who run their banks are incompetent and not so much with shit shit.

To me US bankers are insanely greedy and German bankers are just incompetent at assessing foreign risk and they should just stay mostly at home. But Germany, as well as Japan historically and now China, has the problem of nations who work hard, save a lot and then can’t find uses for these savings locally and tend to end up either making bad investments abroad or lending to debt-addicted cultures until they go bust.

Do you live in a culture in which people believe it is fine to occasionally scare children with things like this so they behave? I know in Germany there are also characters that are meant to scare children into good behavior, like a bad Santa helper that punishes bad kids, Knecht Ruprecht, or long nailed Struwwelpeter. We don’t have those scary characters in Latin cultures, nor in USA.

When my Leo misbehaves I say “only good boys get to play with the iPad” :)

You can see other frightening illustrations from Norwegian children’s books here.

Struwwelpeter in a 1917 edition - Via Wikipedia

Struwwelpeter in a 1917 edition – Via Wikipedia

Tonight I had dinner with Shoresh Moradi, a Kurdish surgeon who was educated and lives in Sweden and practices medicine at the Karolinska Hospital. During dinner in Palma de Mallorca, he told me a few moving stories of how his patients react when, instead of getting a Swedish doctor in the emergency room, they get a dark skin Arab looking man, himself. His were stories of prejudice, the prejudice that he has to deal with as an emergency room surgeon every day of his life. Interestingly, in most cases this prejudice is overcome and patients somehow go through a transformation after entrusting their lives to a perceived Muslim doctor. And I said perceived because Shoresh is Muslim in culture more than religion, very much in the same way that I am Jewish. We are both proud of our heritages, but we can also see the inequality in the treatment of women and Goim or infidels, that extreme religiosity entails both in orthodox Judaism and certain flavors of Islam as backwards and damaging to society.

During dinner we spoke about the paradox of prejudice in Europe and we agreed that it had to do with the way immigrants came to Europe. In Europe, immigrants are chosen by the exact type of job they do and that’s what their visa says. So for example an immigrant may come to Spain as a household worker and his visa will allow him or her to do just that, be an “empleado del hogar”. Europeans have no problem publicly arguing that the best jobs should be reserved for natives. This type of discrimination is not seen as prejudice. Americans instead have a system that seeks out immigrants with great qualifications and so do a minority of EU countries like Ireland for example. As a result, in most of Europe, it is immigrants who have the worst jobs and what is worse, they are then blamed for their lack of achievement, a situation that is most unfair considering how they were pre-selected to do them. Europeans conclude that people from those countries where immigrants come from are mostly inept. Now the ultimate paradox is what happens when these immigrants, while driving taxis or cleaning offices, actually go to university and end up, like Shoresh Moradi, as surgeons. Then the prejudice is even worse, as women patients, for example, believe that a Muslim doctor will treat them poorly and it is up to Shoresh to explain how this is not the case. It’s happened to him that he had to justify himself many times ahead of a procedure, or that he had to go in person to interviews in order to try to overcome the fears that his name inspires.

So Shoresh and I both agreed that while poor and unsuccessful immigrants face prejudice, successful immigrants face even more prejudice. Not from the educated elites, but especially from the average citizen in an atmosphere of anonymity (think Youtube comments). The type of citizens that end up voting for anti-immigrant parties. So in the end, both Jews and successful Muslims in Europe suffer a similar prejudice. This prejudice was taken to an extreme in the Holocaust, and is even worse than the prejudice against those who do poorly; it’s the prejudice against those who do very well. Jews have traditionally been detested, not for doing badly but for succeeding. For being one in 500 people in the planet but having one in 5 Nobel prizes or many of the top positions in the billionaires lists, or top writers, or movie makers. And this is still the case in many places in Europe, much more so than in USA where I lived for 18 years before moving here. And yes, we can go about our lives being successful, but in Spain, France and many other countries in Europe if being rich is not well regarded, being a rich Jew or a rich Arab is worse. And this is the other curse. The curse of escaping poverty and finding that prejudice was there all along and remains. If you do very badly you face prejudice because you are a loser, but if you do very well and end up in an “unexpected spot” that defeats the stereotype, there you find an even tougher type of prejudice, the one that confronts Shoresh ahead of many a life saving surgery or me when a newspaper in Spain called me “judío especulador”. If you have doubts about what I am saying and speak Spanish simply google “judío Varsavsky” and read the first 30 results.

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Amy Chua at the 2007 Texas Book Festival, Aust...

Image via Wikipedia

In order to understand my post please read Amy Chua’s arguing why Chinese mothers are superior. Only after you are done please read my reply.

Chinese mothers are not superior Amy and here’s why.

Jewish Americans are more successful than Chinese Americans and therefore are “superior” in Amy Chua’s terminology (an absurdity of course). Here’s a link to an example of pure Jewish chauvinism that gives you a sense of how Jewish Americans who are only 2% of the population and Jewish people who are only 1 in 500 in the planet fare. Please only read this if you are not Jewish.

But never mind the debate. Amy Chua’s kids get superiority from both parents because Amy Chua is married to a Jewish American. For some reason however, he gets no credit as a father in the story of the two daughters education. This is wrong both from a moral point of view but also from a sociological point of view: Amy Chua’s conclusions are based on a sample of only two, and this sample is biased by the presence of a Jewish father. This father has contributed Jewish parenting which is very different from Chinese mothering and probably a good balancing act to what I see as an unnecessary brutal style that could very well backfire. Indeed China is the country in the world with the highest female suicide rate and the only country in which women commit suicide at a higher rate than men. That in itself would make Chinese mothers sadly not superior at one thing, facing adversity.

Now my credentials. I am a Jewish father of 4 kids ages 20 to 4 with the two eldest at Columbia University and NYU. As a Jewish father I can say that we are very different from Chinese mothers. Here are some highlights of what I would call Jewish parenting.

-we work jointly with mothers, both parents are very involved with the kids education, even in case of divorced and remarried parents such as mine.

-we never call our kids “garbage”, on the contrary, as the term JAP implies, for us they are….royalty. We spoil them, but it works. Our kids are the best simply because they are.

-we are our kids number one fans. We bore others with stories of how bright our kids are.

-if they get a bad grade we go and fight it out with the teacher. Jewish kids may get better grades because teachers are tired of dealing with their parents. We don’t do this to break the rules, we do it because we are truly convinced our kids are the next Einsteins and the teachers are just blind. Once my daughter Isabella got a D and I went to tell her Math teacher that no Varsavsky had ever gotten a D in Math, that my father was a PhD in astrophysics from Harvard, and whatever it took to make a point. While the British lady did not change her mind that time I think she got the message as that was the one and only D that we got as a family.

-we look for originality in our kid’s thinking, we want our kids to be funny, to come up with unexpected solutions to problems, to be almost irreverent. When they talk back we are secretly happy that they have a personality of their own. We rarely punish them. Instead we are quiet when we disapprove and celebrate their merits.

-we want them to be liked and appreciated by their friends, their peers, we want them to have a social life, to fall in love. When they are unhappy we suffer.

I could go on but I think you see where I am headed. And by the way, being a Jewish parent is also an attitude or culture and has little to do with religion. While I celebrate the Jewish holidays I believe that the world as described by the Bible is most likely imaginary. But it is a good Jewish story.

And in any case there is no such thing as being a Chinese parent or a Jewish parent or any parent as such.  I am arguing in favor of being a nice, empathic, supportive parent, anyone can be that and I am sure many Chinese parents would be opposed, as I was, at Amy’s style of raising her daughters, no need to be Jewish!

My answer is also on Quora.

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How can a country obsessed with privacy as Germany come up with a national identity card system with RFIDs? One of the only ways to preserve privacy is anonymity but with a requirement to go anywhere with these new IDs it is very difficult to be anonymous. This is not just a German problem by the way. Same is the case in other European countries including Spain. An employee of mine spent 3 days in jail for not having her ID in Madrid. I interview her in this video. In any case, the same country that comes up with that national ID also has leading magazine, Stern, writing extremely negative articles about how Google invades privacy. I chose Stern as an example but when I ran companies in Germany for example we could not outsource our customer care because we were not allowed to pass customer information to the customer care centers if we did not own them. This added a lot of costs to our operations all for the sake of privacy. And this was not telemarketing, this was technical support. Privacy concerns in Europe many times clash with the normal functioning of the Internet and technology business. I guess the main difference between Continental Europe and USA in this matter is that Europeans have tremendous faith in government and do not consider their actions as invasive of privacy. For Americans government is one more potential invader privacy. Personally I think that there are more people now who prefer to share than to be private but if you do want privacy it is better not to be online and to be out and about in places where people do not know who you are. In my case I am just the opposite. From this blog on I sign everything I do online and in real life.

The Avian flu is so far not that dangerous, because birds give it to birds, rarely to humans and when humans get it so far they don´t spread it to other humans. Now, if they did, the first and most important preventive measure will be isolation. If we all retreat to the privacy of our homes there will be a much lesser chance for the virus to spread. For those of us who, without the Avian flu, already spend a significant part of the day online, retreating to our homes won´t be hard. We will chat with our friends, use web cams, listen to music, watch movies, blog, etc. So long as we have the internet, seclusion won´t be too harsh. Now for those who are not active on the internet, isolation will be harder to put up with. I read somewhere that AIDS does not reach North African because Muslims, as opposed to Sub Saharans, practice circumcision. Maybe the same will be true for net surfers. We on the net will be fine in isolation, we will be the North Africans. Those off the net, the Sub Saharans, have a much greater probability of getting infected.

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