Ignacio de la Torre. Professor, IE Business School
19 March 2015
Young people with temporary work contracts with no security, who are also required to make provision for pensions and paying a debt they played no part in creating, have been left abandoned by the massive hypocrisy of our system
Over the past few years, the focus of my annual column has been reflections on hypocrisy. It has always stunned me that for hundreds of years, in a Christian and post-Christian society, we have continued falling prey to one of the vices Jesus denounced most strongly. My much-admired Javier Cercas would say that hypocrisy will never die, because each of us harbors an inner hypocrite. The question is what we do to confront it.
In Islam, the concept of Jihad is traditionally understood as the personal struggle every believer takes to improve himself through his own efforts. The understanding of Jihad as "holy war" is a lesser, malicious interpretation. The interesting thought underlying its benign meaning, therefore, is whether we are capable of waging this internal war to analyze our own hypocrisies. Instead of listing fifteen for the year ahead, I decided to branch out by focusing on one hypocrisy that I believe will mark our future and our ability to respond to it, and therefore the judgment that history and our children will cast upon us.
The recent French Minister of Economy, Emmanuel Macron, is a relatively young (37-year-old) socialist, raised among the elite (attending the National School of Administration, a cultivation site of the French old boys’ club) with experience not only in the president’s cabinet, but also in investment banking (for better or worse). Following his recent appointment, he came out with a historic phrase which went largely unnoticed by sleepy western society, “regulation, in its genesis, emerged to protect the disadvantaged; however, years on, today regulations protect the strongest and hurt the disadvantaged... it's time to rethink its foundation.”
Minister Macron was referring to the labor regime, which protects permanent employees at the expense of those on temporary contracts (usually the poor or young). This is also reflected in the increasing weight of pensions, to be paid by the youngest in the most precarious situations... and finally in the huge acquired debt that the young will also have to pay back for generations to come (France hasn’t balanced their accounts since the seventies). The political logic (forgive the oxymoron) is inscrutable: there are more voters in permanent than temporary jobs (the same holds true for pensioners versus the young...). Therefore the extent of the largest hypocrisy in decades becomes apparent: perpetuating labor systems that condemn the disadvantaged to untenable situations. Labor systems which, when facing cutbacks, tend to dismiss the cheapest workers (the last to have been hired, hardworking though they may be), rather than the least productive or laziest (consider such hypocrisy!)... Labor systems which, when things are going well, maintain a dualism that does not reward merit, but rather ‘acquired’ entitlement. All differences aside, hypocrisy and injustice of this sort preceded the equally – and bloodily - hypocritical French Revolution.
In my opinion, the culmination of such damaging hypocrisy, which has truncated the dreams and realities of a new generation of young Spaniards, is the inability of politicians and unions of any allegiance to honor the embarrassing lip service they pay to ‘concern for the young and the weak’. Facts are based on actions, and actions on results. The rest are harangues. Unions and parties, make no mistake, are just a projection of the society that elects and tolerates them. It follows that we are all collectively responsible for their failures.
While many people analyze the polarization of the political principles of a large part of young people, I try to reduce this phenomenon to the theory of derivatives. As such, a purchase option allows you to choose an eventual improvement without risk of loss, other than price of the option. If you are offered a supposedly free option, the temptation is to take it. If we have condemned a generation of young people to a miserable job situation, we cannot tear our hair out if they opt for a purchase option that seems ridiculous... they have nothing to lose. If we do not understand this, it is very difficult to accept the basis of decision theory.
As humans, we care about our survival. Being mortal, we try to ease the anguish caused by our mortality by means of virtual immortalization through procreation. As parents, we attempt to procure education and material wellbeing for our children... however, at the same time, we opt for political systems that condemn them to a decreasingly effectual education, a labor system with fewer and fewer opportunities, an increasingly punitive tax system... the scourges of gigantic mortgages based on pensions, and debt that will take decades to pay off, which in turn lead to lower levels of disposable income, and therefore wellbeing.
Years ago I pondered a great failing of human beings and Spanish society.... Our inability to apologize. And hence our hypocrisy automatically seeps out.
I apologize to my children and to the young people of Spain for not being aware of the extent of injustice and hypocrisy that, as a society, we were charging towards, defending regulations that left precisely those who had no ability to choose utterly defenseless. I apologize for not having elucidated to the politicians, to those who did not care about creating huge debts payable by those who never had a chance to vote for them. I apologize because, hypocritically, I, and we, have failed our young.
The resulting, hopeful conclusion is that we cannot disappoint them again... we have to repair the damage, and this reparation will be achieved when we re-orientate regulation to its genesis. When we truly do protect the disadvantaged.