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.

Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars

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José Luis on October 18, 2011  · 

Martin, I fully agree with you, but I anticipate many irate comments from Spanish workers to your entry. Regarding the plus side of blaming others (lower suicide rate), in the case of Spain I must add that it is mainly due to the massive prescription of anti depressant by our Social Securitu system. I am sure you are well aware of the many sick leaves people tend to have in Spain, especially in the public service, due to “stress”. I read a few years back that Spain is second to France in daily intake of Prozac and similar drugs. Gallup has recently published (13-12-2011) a survey on personal satisfaction for the OECD. Some escores (1 beeing lowest): China, 4,7; Greece, 5,8; Japan, 6,1; Spain, 6,2; Italy, 6,4; France, 6,8; USA, 7,2; Israel, 7,4; Sweden, 7,5; Norway, 7,6; Canada, 7,7; …top is Denmark with 7,8. Top countries on life satisfaction do not seem to be immersed in a “blame others” culture.

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ftn on October 25, 2011  · 

Just a comment about the idea that Spanish “empresarios” are scumbags.

Just today Isak Andic, president of Mango and the Instituto de Empresa Familiar asked for the privatization of the public health and education ( http://www.publico.es/dinero/403186/los-empresarios-piden-copago-en-sanidad-y-educacion ).

I know this may not be representative of all the entrepreneurs, but what do you expect Spaniards to think when the heads of the most important entrepreneur organizations ask for lower wages, less unemployment protection, and more expensive social services?.

Or when Gerardo Díaz, as head of the CEOE, ruined Grupo Marsans leaving lots of people without jobs at the same time he was blaming the government for the high unemployment.

Not to mention the fact that bourgeoisie supported our fascist dictatorship; long gone, yes, but some privileges still exist ( http://www.elpais.com/articulo/espana/ARTOLA/_MIGUEL_/HISTORIADOR/ESPANA/ANDALUCIA/ELECCIONES_AUTONOMICAS_/HASTA_1995/Tierra/hombres/tierras/elpepiesp/19820501elpepinac_9/Tes )

Spaniards have to certainly be more professional, learn more languages and be more productive.
New laws clearly need to ease the creation of companies.
But entrepreneurs also need to understand that the workers and unions are their allies: a happy worker will always be more productive and committed to the company. Entrepreneurs should defend social services because if workers had to pay for them wages would have to double.

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Anonymous on October 25, 2011  · 

¿ Pero de verdad piensas que los españoles tenemos algo que ver con esta crisis ? Dile al gobierno porque le da dinero a los bancos para que presten a pequeños y medianas empresas y permite que en lugar de eso se lo vuelven a prestar al estado a un interés más alto. ¿Por qué pagamos a los bancos intereses por un dinero que es nuestro? Dile al gobierno que regule toda la basura que generan los mercados financieros cuando nosotros españolitos de a pie, ni pinchamos ni cortamos. ¿Qué unos cuantos se están forrando con todo esto ? ¿ Qué si no especulan con esto especulan con aquello ? El gobierno no gobierna para los ciudadanos. Si lo hiciese, otro gallo cantaría. Esto de lo que hablas es independiente de la raíz del problema.

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Rafa Garcia on October 26, 2011  · 

Esta entrada tuya tiene una parte que acepto y otra ante la que me revuelvo. Llevamos meses observando cómo desde determinados ámbitos se señala al trabajador como el principal responsable de la situación actual. Expones cifras y comparas datos, pero observo lagunas en tu planteamiento: por ejemplo, la crisis ha golpeado a países tan dispares como Islandia, Irlanda, Grecia, Portugal, Italia, España y Estados Unidos, y no veo que estos países tengan culturas homogeneas, a pesar de que la globalización lo está igualando todo.
Por otro lado, desde mi experiencia personal, he trabajado durante mas de una década en el sector del marketing online, y seguramente no he sido el mejor trabajador posible, pero en todo momento me entregué al máximo con responsabilidad y honradez y creeme que un porcentaje escandalosamente alto de las personas que han tenido responsabilidad sobre mí eran directamente nefastas, a veces unos pésimos profesionales con menores conocimientos que los de sus subordinados, a veces unos canallas sin ningún miramiento por sus empleados.
Es por esto que me aturde y me empieza a fastidiar este discurso que se está “liberando” desde determinadas esferas de señalar a la clase trabajadora como responsable de la situación actual, de amenazarnos con retirarnos derechos, de culparnos por vivir estos últimos años en “permanente fiesta”. No te voy a contar mi fiesta porque te la puedes imaginar, y como la mía la de casi todos.
De todos modos, acepto el desafío de mejorar en la medida de mis posibilidades para ser mas eficiente, productivo y competitivo, del mismo modo que deseo fervientemente que tu (y me arrogo la libertad de tutearte) y los que son como tu acepteis el reto de ser mas justos, mas ecuánimes y, allá donde corresponde, menos voraces en vuestros desempeños.

Un cordial saludo.

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Koba on October 26, 2011  · 

But you are behaving like another spaniard, blaming the others about the problems of The country! Don’t you?

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gesus on October 26, 2011  · 

“César Molinas” says that the unemployment is due to the laboral market:


Would you hire more workers if firing were cheaper?

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Javier Munoz on November 7, 2011  · 

Hablando de emprender, el TV show de BBC, “Dragons Den” podría ser absolutamente vital para España! Es acerca de match making de emprendedores e inversionistas. Este show engancha, tiene mucha audiencia en UK y ayudaría a España con un mensaje realista, pero positivista. Realista, porque enseñaría al público qué busca un inversionista, pero por otro lado daría un mensaje positivo ya que se verían muchos emprendedores taking action! Este show lo podría realizar Cuatro. Si no lo conoces, búscalo en Youtube. Es excelente. Te veo a tí como uno de los Dragons… Por favor, consideralo. Aparte, sería muy divertido para tí.

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