Radical Left

Barcelona's New Mayor Promises a People's Revolution, Says Government Privileges Are 'Symbolic'

Leftists need to understand most people don't agree with them no matter how loudly they declare to be speaking for "us"


Ricardo Patino/flickr

Last month, Ada Colau, an anti-eviction activist, won the mayoral election in Barcelona, Spain. Colau spent the last six years in various grassroots groups in Spain set up in response to the property market collapse in that country. Colau won on a populist anti-bank message, promising less evictions, more public housing, a higher minimum wage, lower utility prices, and fines for banks who hold empty homes. She is a committed leftist, who in an interview with Amy Goodman explained her specific brand of economic illiteracy. Via Democracy Now:

I think, in the financial world there has been a problem of absolute misrule. You cannot leave something as important as economic policy and money which has a social function, in the hands of speculation and private interests. Here there has been a democratic deficit and a lack of global, collective and democratic control over money and the economic system in general. So, we have to take back that democratic control, and that doesn't meant that all the banks have to be public, it can be implemented in different ways.

Colau claims the banks in Spain systematically break the laws, citing European consumer regulations as the only example. The European Central Bank, which controls the euro, is controlled by the central banks of the European Union's member states. Colau's statement about the importance of "controlling" money, however, doesn't read like a position against central banks. Taken at face value, it's a statement that all money belongs to the people. That idea, explicitly articulated or not, underpins a lot of the ideologies that demand government deal with wealth distribution. It's based on another mistaken idea, that were it not for "capitalism" the Earth would be a planet of plenty for all people. Yet it's the freeing of markets that's lifted more people out of poverty than any other force in human history. Leftists hate this idea, and point out capitalism's (real) flaws as if those made a difference. Markets, of course, aren't as free as they could be. But they're freer than they were and that's made "the people" richer than they were.

Leftists' problem is that even when they do realize, on some level, that the government is a ruling class that actually oppresses people, they tend to believe it's a matter of getting the "right" people in power. Here's Colau flirting with the libertarian message that government shouldn't treat people like revenue streams, which came amid the bank talk quoted above:

For us, the citizens, they don't forgive anything, they make us pay all our debts, they make us pay all our taxes, they make us pay each small traffic ticket, they don't forgive anything. But the big banks on the other hand, which have lied, defrauded and destroyed thousands of families are forgiven for, for example, breaking the European consumer protection regulations. So, this is unacceptable.

One of these things is not like the others: private debts are incurred voluntarily. Taxes, despite the claims of idiots, are not voluntary. No one volunteered to abide by government rules and pay the steep fines often associated with breaking them. But virtually every private debt out there was taken on voluntarily. And if the private debt were forced onto someone, the government is the most likely culprit there too, as it's the only institution that can compel an individual to enter a financial transaction against their will. We all as individuals can make bad decisions that feel like we "forced" the debt on ourselves, but blaming the creditor for your own lack of will power is disingenuous at best. No, when the local government extracts hundreds and thousands of dollars out of its residents for petty law enforcement, that is fundamentally different than someone seeking to get money back from someone they agreed to lend money to on the terms both parties agreed to.

It gets worse with Colau. In the Democracy Now interview, she zeroes in later specifically on the idea of government as a class of elite, in the second part of her three part "emergency action plan." The third part of the plan is:

to fight against corruption, make a city council more transparent and end with the privileges, for example: low the salaries of the public officers, of the elected officers, eliminate the expenses and the official cars, things that can seem simples, but are very symbolic because they send a message of an end of impunity, of an end of a political class distant to the reality of the citizens. So, end with this privileges is something that we can do immediately, is only a matter of political will.

This is better than what's all too common even among self-described leftish politicians in the U.S., who claim the political class created by government is a class of public servants and that the privileges that place them above us are necessary and proper because they are "servants," but it's still disturbingly off the mark. There is nothing "symbolic" about the specific privileges government officials and employees are granted by their governments. More than a million and a half private cars in California are essentially ticket-proof because they belong to government workers who have been exempt from having their car information included in the government database. There is nothing "symbolic" about these privileges, nor the other trappings of government "service." In the United States, six of the top ten richest counties are in the Washington area—government work is lucrative. Yet demagogues like Colau prefer to demonize what she calls "private interests" (translation: free individuals and groups of individuals).

Leftists attack companies and "corporate profits," even though those profits are accumulated through countless voluntary exchanges of goods and services. The Fortune 500 list has a high turnover of companies appearing on it. "The people," which politicians like Colau claim to speak for, actually have more control over the fate of the companies that serve them than they do of the governments that "serve" them. Companies that can't meet consumer demand fail—unless they can secure special privileges from government. So even the problems with companies leftists righteously complain about are problems with the governments that have created those privileges for those companies. If capitalism is flawed because of government manipulation, interference, and distortion (it is), then the solution is not to replace free markets with more government but government with more free markets.

Colau is confident in speaking for the people. But "the people" are not a monolith—they have more desires and preferences than they have numbers. Colau, like most leftists in power, won a simple majority and would like to use it to describe her future actions as "collectivist" and on behalf of the people. So even though her party won just 2.5 percent more of the vote than the center-right party in Barcelona, she is comfortable attributing her ideas to the whole population of Barcelona, as well as Spain and even the world ("we are very aware that the real change must be global," she says at one point). Were "capitalism" to work that way, what gnashing of teeth there would be. We don't vote on Pepsi vs. Coke every four years and then demand everyone drink the soda that won. But it's how leftists think. Afer all, if you say you don't need 23 types of deodorants, you're saying someone (the people in power—the political class) should make the choice for everybody. Unlike the leftists I won't claim to speak for the world, the people, libertarians, or even Reason readers when I say to Colau and every politicians who speaks in the first person plural and demands "collectivist" action on behalf of "all of us" because a few of "us" somewhere voted for them, to fuck off with their dreams of world domination. You don't speak for me or "us" any more than any other nut who thinks the whole world agrees with them.

Listen to the whole Colau interview here.

NEXT: Michael Slager Indicted for Murder in the Death of Walter Scott

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  1. Colau won on a populist anti-bank message, promising less evictions, more public housing, a higher minimum wage, lower utility prices, and fines for banks who hold empty homes.

    I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t see anything wrong with any proposal above.

    1. Other than the grammar? 😉

      1. Well, it probably sounds better in the original German.

        1. Zing!

      2. I too want fewer socialism, not less socialism.

  2. Alt text win

    1. So he does read the comments.

      1. I assume all good alt text is a product of reading the comments.

    2. Mad, mad props on the alt-text.

      I’ve changed my mind, Ed. When the commentariat puts the Reason staff up against the wall, we’ll kill you last.

      1. What, like Sully in Commando?

        1. “You’re a funny guy Ed, I like you. That’s why I’m going to kill you last.”

      2. What? No, Tuccille is last.

        1. He sold out for the big bucks of fatherhood and bath salts salesman.

        2. Lucy gets to choose the first.

  3. It gets worse with Colau.

    Oh stop, nooooo…

    *waves hand dismissively*

    1. This movie is a documentary

      “I did not confirm their worst assumptions. I AM their worst assumptions.”

    2. DAMMIT- I meant THIS

      Same movie. I just assumed no one else remembered it- but it is so accurate for what it’s like talking with europeans…

      1. Truly a 90’s classic

  4. When leftists lament about how the financial sector contributes nothing of value to the economy, I ask them if they have a mortgage, a car loan, or any investments. Did they go to hundreds or perhaps thousands of individuals to get them to contribute to the loan, and are they repaying them all back one by one? Do they manage their own investments? Yeah. Bankers provide no services of value. Derp.

    1. They just argue dismissively that we’re ‘forced’ into the system of banks– and that in a democratic economy (an economy where violence and thuggery are the defacto means of wealth distribution) we wouldn’t have to use the banks or the banking systems, which exist only to perpetuate the fraud of capitalism.

      1. Look, man, she, like, didn’t ask to be born, okay. Why should she have to pay for stuff just to survive if survival wasn’t even her choice in the first place?

    2. Geez, you could at least say who you plagiarized:

      Cafe Hayek:

      Your friend is simply and deeply wrong to assert that finance-industry workers contribute nothing to the economy. Ask your friend if he has ever used a bank teller. Ask him if he deposits his money into a bank account (or does he just stash all of his money under his mattress?). Ask him also if he’s ever used a mortgage broker. Ask him if he, personally, assembles his own financing to buy his house or to buy or to lease his car. (By this question I mean for you to ask your friend if, instead of going to a bank to deal with all of those unproductive yet overpaid financial workers he instead, personally, approaches thousands of strangers on the street to bargain individually with each of them to lend to him a few hundred or a few thousands of dollars at a decent rate of interest ? to be repaid with interest over the course of years or decades ? so that he can buy a car or a house.)

      1. ive never read cafe hayek, and have made that same point innumerable times in a variety of ways myself.

        although this

        “”Did they go to hundreds or perhaps thousands of individuals to get them to contribute to the loan,””….

        does seem like someone bit their rhymes there.

      2. I’m sure she doesn’t mind.

  5. I demand collective action to pay off my car loan. So everybody make with the scratch to my e-mail: albo@becausefuckyouIsaidso.gov

    1. I tried to chip in my share, but it bounced back. I think there may be a typo in your address.

      1. its a dot gov email address, so its probably mysteriously erased itself.

  6. So even though her party won just 2.5 percent more of the vote than the center-right party in Barcelona, she is comfortable attributing her ideas to the whole population of Barcelona, as well as Spain and even the world (“we are very aware that the real change must be global,” she says at one point).

    You know where else a simple majority gets you total power?

    1. Tonytopia?

    2. local and state elections?

    3. Jeopardy?

    4. Civilization III?

    5. Why, in my department at the hospital, of course.

      We follow the Vetinari principle of democracy:

      “One man, one vote. I’m the man, and I have the vote.”

      1. Reminds me of a comment by some ruthless businessman of decades past, who said something like: “I believe in the carrot and stick approach: I jam the carrot up your ass and tamp it in with the stick.”

        1. Papaya, you sure that wasn’t some apparatchhik in the current administration?

      2. You need to get outta healthcare, RC. All the cool people already did.

    6. Is it the same place where 1% of the vote gives you a moment? 😛

    7. in masturbation?

  7. There’s little more I despise more than smug, leftist Europeans. Ok, maybe smug leftist americans who reference smug leftist europeans.

    1. You misspelled “revere.”

  8. Colau won on a populist anti-bank message, promising less evictions, more public housing, a higher minimum wage, lower utility prices, and fines for banks who hold empty homes.

    It would have been easier saying she won promising inevitable economic collapse.

    1. or promising free shit that she’ll have to steal from someone else.

        1. Free shit only causes economic collapse because some people resist.

          1. You know, Kulaks. Hoarders too. Wreckers gotta be in there somewhere as well.

            1. And saboteurs, lackeys and chained dogs of the evil capitalists.

          2. breaks ALL da windowz!

  9. Stupid libertarians! You say that these loans and corporate profits are a result of voluntary transactions, but you’re wrong! People need jobs and homes and cars and food and other stuff to survive! Because of this need, then they’re really being forced to do these things! Forced I tell you! Corporations force people to work for them and buy their products! What other choice to people have? None! So it’s really force, not voluntary! The “free market” is really a forced market! Only government is voluntary, because it’s us! We the people! We can’t force ourselves to do things like pay taxes! It’s voluntary because we’re paying ourselves, since the government is us! Corporations though, they’re them! They’re the slavers! Aaaauuuuggghhhh!

    1. Will you stop with the Elizabeth Warren quotes? It’s like you’re obsessed with her.

      1. It feeeeeeels true, so it must be true!

        1. It feeeeeeels true

          Only if you’re economically illiterate and … oh, right…

  10. promising less evictions


    (take that, new Stannis the Mannis account!)

    1. evictions are measures in liters of tears- so it’s less.

      1. …mmm, nope. Litres* are finite, so….”fewer”.


        *EU, don’t you know

        1. “Time, Money, Distance, and Weight

          Time, money, distance, and weight are often listed as exceptions to the traditional “can you count it” rule because they take less, but when you use the “singular or plural” rule, time, money, distance, and weight all fall in line. Although a thousand dollars is certainly countable?a bank teller will do it for you gladly?we routinely ignore that fact and think of them as singular amounts:

          He believes $1,000 dollars is a lot of money.
          She says that 50 miles is a long drive for ice cream.
          We think 12 hours is too much time to spend on the road.

          They’re singular and they take less:

          We had less than $1,000 dollars in the bank.
          We’re less than 50 miles away.
          I can fix the roof in less than 12 hours.

          – See more at: http://www.quickanddirtytips.c…..UB3q7.dpuf”

          In the USA we have a phrase, how you say… suck it! less. we would count evictions, in the aggregate, as a singular, grammatically…

  11. Spain is an absolute clusterfuck right now (unemployment north of 25% and rising) and with the election of people like this, it’s only going to get considerably worse.

    1. It couldn’t be the fault of the socialists. I mean, they’ve got good intentions, so it couldn’t be their fault. It’s got to be the fault of the capitalists. Their only intention is to get rich, which is bad. So it’s got to be their fault. That’s why we need more well-intentioned socialism.

      /paving the road to hell

      1. I’m concerned with you, sarc. You’re getting WAY too good at this.

    2. If she were serious about all this, she would demand that Barcelona FC give up their privileges and redistribute their wealth AND their best players to other La Liga teams.

      Of course, that would also mean an abrupt, and probably bloody, end to her term in office.

      FYI: Forbes estimates Barca’s value at $975 million.


      2. that would also mean an abrupt, and probably bloody, end to her term in office.

        So, no downside, then.

    3. Why is it that, when a mixed economy runs into problems, people automatically start looking for answers from the people who are pushing the only policies that are proven to make things worse?

      1. Because “free” will always sound better in a campaign flyer.

        1. Except when it is ‘free markets’ or ‘free speech’.

    4. Spain may very well break up soon with Catalonia leaving and maybe Basque and that would be for the awesome. I think electing Podemos might tip it over.

    5. Spain’s civil war started out as a similar “class struggle” when the leftists teamed up with the nihilists and decided the right wing was bad for the people. Then Germany/Italy supported the right wing and Russia supported the left wing. Then the “Fun” began! It was a clusterfuck at the outset then, too!

      1. “…the leftists teamed up with the nihilists…”

        Nihilists?! Say what you want about National Socialism, but at least they had an ethos.

    6. The under 25 rate is over 50%.

  12. It’s quite basic. The generally-leftist hatred of “capitalism” and “markets” is, quite simply, a hatred of human nature itself. Bartering, trade, what they call capitalism; it’s all just basic human nature. And they hate it. If we could just get rid of it–and therefore human nature itself–everything would be perfect.

    This is why you inevitably find these movements, from socialism to communism to whatever, moving towards slavery, genocide, and oppression. If they inherently hate human nature, they will hate humans, and that leads to…getting rid of humans.

    1. It is also human nature to take the easy way. It’s easier to plunder than to produce. Socialists and their ilk are simply catering to that part of human nature that would rather plunder than produce.

      1. It’s easier to plunder than to produce.

        Only in case of a populace which is cowed by (and with) the State’s monopoly on ‘legal’ violence.

        1. Why insource your violence when you can outsource it?

        2. Organized violence (government) will always triumph over the individual. Fight organized violence (government) with organized violence (revolution) and in the end you still end up with organized violence (new government) oppressing the individual.

          Meet the new boss…

      2. “It’s easier to plunder than to produce.”

        Right up until there is nobody producing. Then it get really hard.

    2. In fairness, you do make a pretty good case for hating humanity.

      1. Episiarch came here with a simple dream. A dream of killing all humans. And this is how it must end? Who’s the real 7 billion ton robot monster here? Not Epi, not Epi…

        1. “Hey baby, wanna…kill all humans?”

      2. Do you know what happened to the last guy to mistake Epi for a human? I’ll give you a hint: it involves rituals that would make the Marquis de Sade say “oh fuck THIS” and run away.

        1. STEVE SMITH SAYS… “GO ON”

          1. +1 WALK IN WOODS


    3. The philosophy of leftism is to build a better man.

    4. They’re trying to fuck with my jamon.

      1. The jamon belongs to the people.

          1. Bacon Labe?

    5. They’re offering the world order!

      1. They’re offering the world order!

        I’ll have 6 billion cheesburgers and cokes, please. Hold the fries on 4 of those.

        1. Fielding Mellish: l also want something to go.

          Order Taker: Yes.

          Fielding Mellish: Do you have any grilled cheese sandwiches?

          Order Taker: Yes, sir.

          Fielding Mellish: Well, let me have a thousand.

    6. I said in the other thread something about lefties denying millions of years of evolution that make us competitive. And then they turn around and make fun of Creationists, when their ideology is the same.

  13. My understanding is that in Spain, if you default on your home loan, if you’re evicted by the bank after repossession, or hand the home back to the bank? You don’t have to stop making payments on the loan. The loan isn’t discharged–not even through bankruptcy. And if you subsequently die or kill yourself, then your estate (read children) become responsible for paying back the loan.


    This became a big issue in Spain when they had a lot of defaults circa 2008. You’re not just ruining the credit of the borrower, but all the borrower’s children, too.

    They could restrict such repossession, bankruptcy, and lending practices–and say that people who didn’t sign onto the loan can’t be held responsible for paying it back–without it being socialist.

    The people making loans are responsible for their own due diligence on their borrowers. If you can’t pass on debts to people’s children (or you can’t send them to debtor’s prison to work off what they borrowed), then you just change your acceptable risk profile. Just because this idiot is using government regulatory and legal support for the banks as an excuse to promote socialism doesn’t mean they don’t have a serious problem with the way the government uses the law and regulation to support the banks.

    1. Sounds like a great racket. And of course the banks won’t support you getting a mortgage using a limited company instead.

    2. They should just socialize the risk, like we do with student loans. What could go wrong?

      1. Also notice that the problem is bizarre laws and regulations that make debt undischargable and inheritable–like nothing else.

        So what’s this lady’s solution?

        More bank regulation!

        Why does bad regulation always seem to necessitate more regulation?

        Yeah, ’cause we don’t have people with warm hearts like the socialists running things!

        As sarcasmic always says, “Principals not principles”.

    3. My understanding is that in Spain, shit is generally fucked up. I’m being snarky, but kind of serious as well. I mean, this was a country that had a military dictatorship until 1975 and had, into the 2000s, an armed ethnic uprising aimed at splitting off part of the country; don’t think of it as a western European democracy, think of it as one of those impoverished countries that just recently emerged from hundreds of years of feudalism and dictatorship. If they do something that looks stupid, half the time it’s because they’re rebelling against something even more stupid.

  14. Without making a complete scientific study of her position, she’s not entirely “wrong” in her assessment of the system as it is, it’s simply that she believes that the system can change if only the right top men and women were in charge, in other words not a what but a who. Of course what needs to change is the what and the who get to make their own voluntary choices as to how to interact. In short, “good intentioned” socialism has metastasized into a corporo-fascism – where the free market does not exist anywhere – and the “solution” is more intervention by the good intentioned such as herself.

  15. You know, I think banks, as a gesture of good will and respect for the people of Barcelona, should close all branches in the city and do no more business with any resident of business domiciled in the city. If Ms. Colau thinks the banks are “mean” and exploitive of the people of her city, I’d say that they should honor her wishes and stop “exploiting” them.

  16. Is it acceptable to openly hate Jews in Spain again? Because this chick’s screed sounds exactly like someone ranting about Jewish Capital.

    1. Dude, have you even READ “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”?

      1. You know, I never have. A quick glance through it sounds familiar.

        7. In our day the power which has replaced that of the rulers who were liberal is the power of Gold. Time was when Faith ruled. The idea of freedom is impossible of realization because no one knows how to use it with moderation. It is enough to hand over a people to self-government for a certain length of time for that people to be turned into a disorganized mob. From that moment on we get internecine strife which soon develops into battles between classes, in the midst of which States burn down and their importance is reduced to that of a heap of ashes.

  17. Of course, there were some building errors in Spain:


  18. “Colau won on a populist anti-bank capitalist message, promising less evictions fewer rentals, more public housing concentration towers, a higher minimum wage fewer jobs for the poor, lower utility prices rolling blackouts, and fines for banks who hold empty homes more abandoned properties.”

    Fixed for reality.

  19. I feel like this is just a continuation of that stupid Bernie Sanders post from earlier.

      1. Muy bueno!

  20. No matter how bad the left fail, the answer is always to move further to the left.

    1. Marcher a’ gauche, s’il vous plait!

      I still think no one does Euro Commie better than the Frogs.

    2. Which is why the Sander’s article earlier today is stupid.

  21. Colau won on a populist anti-bank message, promising less evictions, more public housing, a higher minimum wage, lower utility prices, and fines for banks who hold empty homes.

    Who pays for this utopian paradise?

    1. The people paying the 90% income tax.

    2. The Germans, and to a lesser extent the French, as far as I can tell.

  22. Wasn’t there a guy in the Bernie thread who assured us that Bernie is right because all European countries are paradise compared to the USA, ahead in every single indicator of quality of living standard?

    Then why all of these problems? Has Spain been a libertarian stronghold for the last several decades and no one reported on it?

    1. Evil evil austerians like ifc are ruining it over there.

      1. What’s wrong with austerians? Sure they have that funny accent and they’re descended from criminals, but evil?

  23. Here there has been a democratic deficit and a lack of global, collective and democratic control over money and the economic system in general.

    She acts like that’s the natural state of money. In her mind, it’s justice that a chicken farmer and a shoe-maker haggling over prices should have their medium of exchange determined by the vote of their neighbors, the people two towns over and even people living on the other side of the planet. Even though none but the farmer and shoemaker are parties to the exchange or owners of the goods.

    1. What cracks me up is none of them see the inherent violence in democratically deciding the fate of your personal wealth and the output of your labor.

      1. They’d totally be okay with outright slavery as long as (a) you don’t call it “slavery” and (b) some arbitrary group of people took a vote or at the very least you could describe it as the ‘common good’.

        1. (a) you don’t call it “slavery”

          I believe the general description is “making sure eveyone gets to participate in society equally”.

    2. a lack of global, collective and democratic control over money

      I ROFLd at that. “We have not successfully stolen enough money from others!”

  24. Any word on whether she’s planning on taking the rain that stays mainly in the plain and redistribute it?

    1. No, but she is working on a giant paella that will feed the entire country.

  25. Leftists attack companies and “corporate profits,” even though those profits are accumulated through countless voluntary exchanges of goods and services.

    Ed, European leftists still believe corporate profits are obtained by bilking the workers out of their total work compensation. Yes, the tired, old and severely-debunked [and left for dead] Marxian Exploitation Theory of Profits.

    They still believe this claptrap even when there is much more automatization today than has been ever, and especially compared to the times of good ol’ Karl Marx.

  26. OK, market opportunity here!
    Start hoarding toilet tissue; it’s going to get real expensive real soon!

  27. Let that continent burn.

    1. Where they go, we will follow.

      1. We’ll see I’m not so sure. Even in the Dirty Thirties it was never as bad in America as in Euroland.

  28. Anyone who says “power to the people”, are the only people they want the people to give the power to.

    1. Unless they are anarchists. The real kind.

  29. God, this is fucking depressing.

    I was on vacation last week and decided to take a break from H&R and most news. Maybe I should stick with that.

  30. Remember what happened to POUM, motherfucker?

  31. I don’t have a solution for it but I will say that the Finance industry can be useful but is not required for good capitalism. It inflates the cost to value by offering loans to buy things at higher prices than what people would pay w/o financing. It promotes a borrow to buy attitude where people believe they have to have mortgages, car loans, etc, which in fact they do b/c everything cost more when your competition can leverage financing. One of the fundemental rules of capitalism as practised today is that the cost is based on market price, not on value, so being able to rent money to pay higher cost increases the market price w/o increasing the intrinsic value. Access to financing is another kind of inflation.

    I’m not a socialist or a religious person but I do understand tenets against usary, esp the kind that banks offer where you own nothing until the last payment is made. So reforming lending, reforming banks, holding everyone equally accountable? How is that bad?

  32. i liked the title – it sounds quite intriguing 🙂


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