The road to independence: understanding the Catalan conflict

What is Catalonia?

Catalunya, or Catalonia, is a nation, home to the Catalans. It is currently an autonomous community under the Kingdom of Spain. Home to 7.5 million people, and with a GDP of 204 billion Euros, it is comparable in size to European countries such as Finland or Denmark.

Over the last few years the Catalan independence movement has grown strong, not only in the streets where pacific pro-independence demonstrations have reached two million people for several years, but also in the institutions where a 62% independentist majority has been the driving force of the institutional push for independence.

In this article, I will try to set a foundation for understanding the power dynamics that started the conflict, so one can follow the current discussions, as well as giving some inside perspective on how the last few weeks have developed.

No economics in the title

The Catalonian Referendum and the Struggle of Democracy

No one putting a foot in Barcelona can get away from Catalan culture. No one can skip the “calçots -with their sauce, please-”, la “sardana”, the “Castells” and the many other things that differentiate Catalonia from the rest of Spain. Yet, no one that goes to Galicia could miss Galician, or miss a “Queimada”. No one going to Andalusia could miss the different accent, nor the “feria de Abril”, or the “migas de la alpujarra.” Evidently there is no such thing as a homogeneous Spanish culture. As Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the opposition, said just a few weeks ago, it is a “nation of nations.” Though this might be disputed by many, no one can deny that Spain is formed by regions, or autonomous communities, as is stated in the constitution. These regions have their own voice in education and public health, some even have their own regional police (Mossos or the ertzaintza) and many have substantial control over tax revenues. Yet these regional powers are not universal and vary considerably. Certainly, there are a number of regions that match the Oxford Dictionary definition of nationhood: “A large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory.” No one that knows about the Iberian history could rightfully deny this, though of course some of them will.

No economics in the title

The Biology of Our Political Beliefs

Have you ever wondered what is wrong with people who have political views so different from yours? Have you ever experienced frustration in discussing politics with friends who seem to stick to their ideology, irrespective of the evidence you might bring into the discussion? You are not alone, I guess, and you might find some interesting answers in a new prolific line of work in political science that connects political orientations to biological predispositions. A bunch of academics have indeed started tackling with some serious and scientific effort the question we always end up asking ourselves when we deplorably decide to talk politics with some people: what’s their problem?! In particular, this research tries to understand how genetic and biological components might be interacting with environmental factors in shaping our political beliefs. I was exposed to some of this research in a fascinating IAST (Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse) seminar held two years ago by Professor John Hibbing from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I will present some of the main experiments and results.

No economics in the title

Through the looking glass (aka the Atlantic Ocean)

In Lewis Carroll’s sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), the day-dreamer Alice wonders what it is like to live on the other side of a mirror’s reflection. The novel, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871) recounts the protagonist’s surreal adventures, which follows a pattern parallel to that of the story’s prequel: the first book has the deck of cards as a theme, and uses changes of size as a plot device; while the second one is based on the rules of a game of chess and uses distortions in time and spatial directions as plot devices. This article is about a different type of Wonderland though: Trump’s United States, and its new foreign policy…

No economics in the title

“Gauche caviar”

The picture above speaks loudly. There’s no room for interpretation. A boy stands on the edge of La Carlota, a military airport in the East of Caracas, after probably having been throwing rocks moments before. On the other side of the fence, a full suited guard aims at him, moments before he shoots to kill. It is illegal to use lethal weapons firearms to control protesters. Another case of unmeasured force by Maduro’s government: victim number 76, on the 83rd day of street-protests called by the country’s opposition. David José Vallenilla was only 23 years old. He must have been a considerable threat to this Bolivarian National Guard, despite the war-like armour and the metal fence that divided the two. The video of this incident, available by a simple Google search of the victim’s name, speaks even louder. Murder.

No economics in the title

Thus spoke… the Terminator On Artificial Intelligence and morality

Albert-Cuyp Family with Robot- Flickr- Thus spoke the terminator

In the not too distant future, self-driving cars can become an affordable reality. You could be, one day, the proud owner of an automobile with a highly intelligent autopilot that will allow you to catch up on the news while commuting to work, without jeopardising road safety. But think about this: would you rather buy a self-driving car that will always save as many lives as possible; or one that will always save its passengers? If, in order to save you, the autopilot decides to crash into a school bus instead of hitting a motorcycle, just because the bus is more likely to withstand the crash with minimal casualties, would you deem this decision wrong? Who should be responsible for the eventual casualties, the autopilot or the programmers of the car?

No economics in the title