Friday, June 22, 2007

Americanization of Madrid?

Speaking of Europe imitating the US, there’s a fascinating op-ed today in the IHT English version of El Pais, Spain’s leftish major daily. Enrique Gil Calvo, a professor of Sociology, offers a provocative explanation for the conservative Partido Popular’s (PP) continued and surprising domination of Madrid, which has extended from the Aznar era (it was consistently Socialist before 1998). The two major factors working toward this change are the massive immigration into the city in the last 2 decades—mostly of South Americans: Ecuadorians and Colombians—and the PP’s American-conservative favoring of privatization of public industries, especially in health care (also in education). Gil argues:

Hence the former working class districts of Madrid, with a few exceptions, have stopped voting Socialist, and turned to the PP. The slightly higher middle class echelons, who used to vote left are also demanding public services of higher quality, and free of immigrants. Their vote is a clear endorsement of the privatization of education and health now being carried out by the PP, tending toward a dual welfare state: poor-quality public services for immigrants and the poor; tax rebates, capital gains and privatized, ethnically cleansed services for the middle classes.

Hmm. This does seem pretty American, doesn’t it? As in John Edwards’ Two Americas. Especially noticeable here is the way race and class factor into the equation. Madrid’s ‘native,’ i.e. white, working classes, suddenly upwardly mobile, are all too eager to separate themselves from the new lower class of South Americans (who, many Madrileños complain, are taking over the city) by accessing the more exclusive private system.

So what we have here is not cultural Americanization, but an American-style economic stratification taking place, based on class differences that themselves are largely racial (as the two so often overlap). He continues:

For at least a century, European social science has wondered why there is no socialism in the United States. The answer seems to lie in the persistent combination of high rates of immigration and social mobility—so that all the social strata, pushed upward by immigrant pressure from below, keep climbing without time to acquire a feeling of class solidarity. And for several decades now Madrid, viewed in terms of economic and demographic growth, and of social restructuring, has resembled the American pattern.

Gil goes on to contrast the relatively young European city of Madrid with older Barcelona—which has fewer immigrants and a more established cultural and class solidarity—while comparing it with Los Angeles. The whole article is short and quite worth reading. Especially with the imminent release of M. Moore’s Sicko, we’re going to see a lot of discussion of America’s shabby health care system, and more generally the merits of private vs. public services. Gil provides a thought-provoking theory that I'd like to see drawn out in more detail.

[ To access the article, go to the IHT, which has a publishing partnership for several int’l newspapers in English. On the drop down menu, go to “regions” and select “publishing partnerships” at the bottom. El Pais will be at the bottom. Open page 2. ]

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