« The hawks make their case to fight North Korea | Main | Does small-scale bribery matter? An empirical puzzle »

October 02, 2017


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

This is an interesting article. I have some questions that might be worth pondering if you end up getting to the game theory.

Does the current Spanish government have the buy in from the Spanish state to pursue a civil war?

It's one thing for Rajoy to say he will suspend Catalan autonomy in the face of their resistence - it's another thing to actually persuade some poor bugger to drive a tank down Las Ramblas.

Is there a middle option for Catalans between Acquiese and Civil War? A protracted bombing campaign like ETA or the IRA? What happens if the Catalan government says it will back down but claims it is powerless to stop the bombing campaign unless and until it gets more autonomy and take control of law enforcement in Catalonia?

Can the Catalan state even control it's own people?

How one sided is any economic chaos? The Spanish state finances are not particularly healthy - how badly do they suffer if the Catalans can't or won't pay tax.

How reliant are German banks on the Spanish state not defaulting on its loans?

What is the follow on impact on other EU states caused by a disorderly Catalan succession?

Are there any other autonomous regions in Spain who will take a view on what is happening in Catalonia?

Can Rojoy win an election in 2017 or 2018 or 2020?

Does Catalonia have any allies in other parts of Spanish politics? The Left who are opposed to Rajoy?

Does Catalonia have any effective allies in other parts of the EU? Other areas with a desire for autonomy who have influence with their national governments?

You might also find this article by Jon Worth, a European politics nerd who was observing the election of interest.


Well, among other things, you have missed that both sides are not unitary agents. Which, alas, increases the probability that those red crosses are a tad premature.

Dan: these are some great questions! And thank you for the link. The blog is fascinating beyond the reporting from Barcelona. I can no longer pack up and go places the way I could before fatherhood, so I won't be be Barcelona again until next May.

For the queries, I'll answer what I can.

Civil war: I'm thinking of the threshold used in most of the political science literature -- any political conflict that takes more than 1,000 lives. In that sense, a "protracted bombing campaign" wouldn't be a civil war unless it reached the scale of the Troubles.

Spanish finances: Spain doesn't need Catalonia. Fortunately, the Finance Ministry publishes the accounts. Losing the net transfer from Catalonia would increase the Spanish fiscal deficit by 1.3% of GDP. That is manageable. A bigger hit would come from the spillover from an economic contraction in Catalonia. Spain can partially insulate itself, but not completely. (Data is at http://www.minhafp.gob.es/es-ES/CDI/Paginas/OtraInformacionEconomica/Sistema-cuentas-territorializadas.aspx.)

Rajoy's re-election: I have no idea! He's got backing in the press and it means something that King Felipe blasted the Catalans today. (I'm not sure that was smart politics in terms of holding Spain together, but it helps Rajoy with his base.)

Catalan allies among Spanish parties: hard to say, but probably not. There were moderately-sized demonstrations in Madrid of people waving the Republican flag in support. But the secessionist party is actually a conservative outfit, and the way they plunged ahead with the referendum alienated other parties.

Other regions: Oh yes, but they're wisely keeping mum so far. The País Vasco has much of the autonomy the Constitutional Court denied Catalonia and real memories of unrest. Navarra has the autonomy without the unrest. Valencia has a lot of Catalan speakers. And so on. I don't think that the autonomous communities will wade in unless things have already fallen apart.

The E.U.: the E.U. appears to have taken itself off the board here, which I can understand but think is a mistake. The Commission should be involved in calling for calm and unity. Other governments are tiptoeing here, although Scotland has given the Catalans some rhetorical support.

Catalan unity of action: see next comment, since Andrei also raised it.

Andrei: you're right, I didn't mention that in the post!

That said, it shouldn't affect the crosses, which show that it is impossible to imagine the Catalan government backing down once things have reached the point of Spanish military action or uncooperative withdrawal followed by economic collapse.

If either side loses control of their partisans, then we're more likely to end up in the (very bad) uncrossed boxes ...

One problem here is that Rajoy is in a bit of a box. The Socialists have called for negotiations with Catalonia about anything but independence. Podemos supports an independence referendum, but has been vague about everything else. Ciudadanos is calling for Article 155 to be applied yesterday. And the People's Party is what it is.

The Catalans have refused to talk about anything other than the terms of independence.

So if he decides to talk instead of invoking Article 155, he'll have to work hard to hold his own allies on board. But he'll also have to talk the Catalans into talking about everything but independence. Lyndon Johnson would have trouble pulling that off, and Mariano Rajoy is no LBJ.

Finally, the fiscal arithmetic:

2014 deficit €36.3bn, 3.5% of GDP
2014 Spanish GDP €1,037.0bn

Income from Catalonia €70.4bn
Spending in Catalonia €66.3bn
Net transfer €4.0bn

Income from ROS €304.6bn
Spending in ROS €344.9bn
New deficit €40.3bn (subtract the above)
ROS GDP €840.1bn
New ROS deficit
as % of GDP €40.3/€840.1 = 4.8% of GDP.

Spain would have to cut spending to get back under deficit limits, which would cause economic pain ... but sticking to those limits might not, uh, be a priority under these circumstances. My instinct is that the E.U. would be accommodating.

BTW, until today one could have hoped for a third player: HM. Alas, Felipe is no Juan Carlos.

What worries me is how damn fast everything is happening - given that everyone up to and including the king seems to be spoiling for a fight, I'm afraid that the point of no return might be passed before anyone comes up with an actual plan.

I was looking at past independence referenda today to see if there was an instance of an independence referendum passing with majority support (of those who voted) for independence but not being implemented in a western country and I can only find a few examples: Western Australia 1933, Faroe Islands 1946, Rhodesia 1964, and Aruba 1977...in addition to Catalonia in 2014 of course (but which had a turnout of 37-42% apparently).

There doesn't seem to be any real historical models for what might happen in Catalonia other than (heaven forbid) Yugoslavia and the USSR. Though on the plus side, perhaps the outcome might resemble Tatarstan from the USSR's collapse - a majority vote for sovereignty, after which the entity acts like a state without actually becoming a state and then the two sides hammering out an agreement that gives Catalonia the virtual powers of an independent state for a while.

The Tatarstan scenario, now that you mention it, actually does have some potential. The problem, unfortunately, is that Rajoy seems rather less pragmatic than Yeltsin.

Didn't Rhodesia declare independence after the referendum? There was a year's delay, but it already had de facto independence. So I'm with you that the analogy isn't great.

Well yes, Rhodesia did declare independence after, though there was a year's delay.

Plus, Rhodesia implemented the independence decision itself as opposed to to it being agreed to by Britain. In a lot of other cases the governing power would also recognize and implement the decision of an independence referendum by a territory (e.g. Malta 1964, Samoa 1961, South Sudan 2011, French Somaliland/Territory of Afars and Issas 1977).

I can't see Spain implement the result of the referendum under any circumstances, even if Catalonia pulls a Rhodesia and declares independence and remains de facto independent for years.

And now with banks and other companies contemplating (or actually doing) a pull out from Catalonia over fears of what might happen, others I have discussed this with suggest that Catalonia might end up resembling Quebec or the Donbass region - fairly wealthy areas that experienced capital and investor flight from their economies once the threat of independence seemed real.

It would be the height of irony if one of the driving factors behind support for independence (Catalonia being wealthy and wanting to keep more wealth for itself in relation to the rest of Spain) ends up vanishing as a result of unilateral independence (the wealth drains away, thereby humbling Catalonia economically).

I think the thing that really leaves a bad taste in my mouth concerning the Catalan drive to independence (as well as the 1980s-1990s Quebecois drive for independence and Brexit (at least one very mainstream variety), Croatian & Slovenian independence from Yugoslavia, Caucasus and Ukrainian and Russian drives for independence from the USSR (as opposed to democratization only), the Václav Klaus drive for Czech independence (since there was no real Czech drive for independence) and...come to think of it, the drive for Jamaican independence separate from the rest of West Indies) is that fundamentally it is based on the premise that the Catalonia (or the territory in question), being richer, does not want to subsidize or help develop the rest of the country BUT still wants to enrich itself from the rest of the country (often via very, very free trade). It's ultimately a form of parasitism.

Québec is not a wealthy province in the Canadian context, although it's not that poor, either. In the specific case of Catalonia, there are also concerns over language policy and politics which are not being adequately addressed by Spain.

At what point should the relative wealth of a secessionist polity enter into an analysis? I'm not sure. The Baltic States were among the wealthiest republics of the Soviet Union: should they have stayed in a union they did not seek of their own free will? Slovenia and Croatia were being outvoted in a Yugoslav federation being taken over by Serbian nationalists: should they have toughed it out? Particularly in the cases of the Baltics, but I would also argue in the case of Slovenia and Croatia, leaving a dysfunctional federation behind was not a bad thing.

Yes, I agree that by the time you get to Catalonia (and the Basque Country), economic motivations look decidedly sketchy. I'm not especially convinced by many of the claims of underfunding. That said, economic concerns aren't the only thing. Quite frankly, if the PP hadn't opted to undermine the Statute of Autonomy, I am willing to be bet that there would be no Catalonia crisis right now.

In the context of Quebec didn't the prospect of secession drive some businesses away (or kept them away) from the province as is happening now with Catalonia?

In regards to the Baltics I never mentioned them on account of the fact that they were decidely different than say Ukraine or Belorussia which had been in the USSR from the beginning (and where majorities had freely voted to retain the union in an all-union referendum). As for Croatia and Slovenia I disagree. The federation became dysfunctional as it was later structured in such a way that disadvantaged Serbia (Kosovo and Vojvodina being given the same voting weight as the federal republics was....ill-advised). As Yugoslavia was democratizing (though with nationalists at the helm for the Serbs and let's not forget for the Croats as well), I don't think enough time was given to see what a democratic Yugoslavia could eventually do. Had Croatia and Slovenia worked with the non-nationalists Serbs (and corrected the oddity of having autonomous provinces treated as republics) they likely would have gained a majority in parliament and for presidential elections years before Milosevic actually fell (in essence the Serbs who opposed Milosevic were condemned to face him alone for years). It's as Noel has described Scottish and some other secessionist movements - "we don't agree with your politics, so rather than work to fix things for everyone we are going to take our ball and go home". If other groups had followed the Slovenian and Croatian model of dealing with dysfunctional politics then Jim Crow and Apartheid would have lead to the independence of any Black majority areas as a new country (or countries) and a reversal of the Boer nationalists' Bantustan policy where the ANC would have lead the African majority areas to independence from the Boer areas (creating a "Boerstan" or "Boerstans") and leaving any whites who didn't agree with the National Party's policies to rot under their continued rule

Very much agreed that the roots of the current crisis stem from the shoddy treatment of Catalonia'a statute of automomy.

It certainly did. In the particular case of Montréal, there was a sharp ethnic split, the Francophone majority being more concerned with the economic affairs of Québec and not that integrated into the pan-Canadian business empires headquartered there. As the 1970s and 1980s was the time when Francophone Québec really modernized economically, this being the heyday of Quebec Inc, it is not necessarily clear to me that many Québec Francophones necessarily noticed. So some businesses that they were not really directly involved in moved to Toronto. So what?

Regarding Yugoslavia, I am not sure what could have been done. Yugoslavia had the same sort of troubles transitioning from a relatively open authoritarian state that Spain did, but with huge economic problems and arguably more recent and bloody conflict. In the particular case of Kosovo, given the history of Serbia's mistreatment of Albanians and Albanians' relative alienation there was very good reason for that jurisdiction to be practically as self-governing as any of the republics. There were as many Albanians in Kosovo as there were Slovenes in Slovenia: Slovenes had good reason to be worried about the subversion of Kosovar autonomy by Milosevic et al.

I'm not really convinced by the argument that minority nationalities, like Scotland in the United Kingdom and like Slovenia and Croatia in Yugoslavia, should necessarily stay in polities that aren't working out for them. If the dominant trends in the countries they are part of are acting decidedly against their interests--in Yugoslavia, certainly the failure of the country to engage in meaningful economic or political reform in the decade after Tito counts as this, as does the rise of a radical Serb nationalism that increasingly defined itself as having the right to dominate others--why should they stay if they have no reasonable chance of changing affairs in the wider country? Looking to the United Kingdom, it's honestly not clear to me what Scotland can necessarily do to counter the deep alienation of so much of England from the sorts of values and policies Scotland may well want and need. (An open Scottish immigration policy is almost certainly a non-starter.) If a common project is impossible, why should everyone be left to suffer in relationhips that aren't working?

South Africa proves the principle, in that the major groups and their political agencies all agreed that the only future they saw was of coexistence. If apartheid had not so discredited the idea of ethnic separatism through the sham bantustans, then the reality of relatively blurred boundaries between different ethnic and linguistic groups could have done it. (Having most of the speakers of Afrikaans be Coloureds, for instance, is one noteworthy bridge.) If different non-white groups had instead wanted to separate to form real nation-states of their own, if this separation had been at all possible, well, I don't think anyone would say they would not have a right to have freedom in their own independent nation-states.

Hi, Randy,

Coherence requires separating functioning liberal democracies from other regimes. "Not working out" and "deep alienation" take on very different meanings when human rights and representative mechanisms aren't working. More specifically, I have no idea how to compare Yugoslavia to Canada.

Fair enough!

"So some businesses that they were not really directly involved in moved to Toronto. So what?"

Well in this context, does Catalonia have anything remotely resembling Quebec Inc? Just as some pan-Canadian businesses left Quebec because of worries over independence, we are seeing some pan-Spanish businesses leaving Catalonia but I wonder to what extent this will impact the Catalan economy in comparison to Quebec. The flight of the pan-Canadian companies may not have bothered Quebec that much, but could the same be true for Catalonia?

Concerning Yugoslavia, I wasn't disagreeing that the Albanians of Kosovo shouldn't have been given as much self-government as the republics. What I was suggesting was that the process was botched and helped fuel (but did not start and was not the main cause for) Serbian nationalism. The autonomy granted to Kosovo and Vojvodina managed to go too far, not go far enough and be illogical all at the same time. It went too far in that it made the two autonomous provinces (which were not constituent republics, but part of one) into constituent republics in all but name even to the point of being equal in the collective Yugoslav Presidency (before 1974 while they were represented in the Yugoslav Presidency they did not have the same number of members as the republics). This was illogical and they should either have been made constituent republics OR the pre-1974 arrangements (which included substantial autonomy) should have been kept with regards to the Yugoslav presidency only (most of the 1974 changes in internal autonomy were a good thing and should have been kept - though the veto they received over decisions made by Serbia should perhaps have been restricted to only applying to legislation that would alter the autonomy of the provinces, the borders of the provinces or to legislation that would only apply exclusively to the provinces).

At the same time it didn't go far enough in that other autonomous provinces should have been set up in Bosnia, Macedonia and Croatia. In this way, even though the changes were good for the Albanians (and the minorities in Vojvodina although vojvodina was majority Serb anyway), the appearance was that there was bias against Serbia and the Serbs and this meant that even persons who one would expect to be moderate voters might begin to feel that the nationalists in Serbia had a point.

In terms of specifics, there are probably innumerable points of divergence where Yugoslavia didn't have to fall apart, but where I think something might have worked out during the period when communism was falling (the 1980s-1990s) is with the Kosovo Albanian strikes (which called for Kosovo to be made into a constituent republic in 1981 and again in 1989). Slovenia and Croatia supported the strike actions. But their leadership missed a trick (either because they weren't aware or maybe they were) - they probably should have supported not just the strike, but for a proper and fair reorganization of autonomy across Yugoslavia based on that same principle and proposed that autonomous provinces for Serbs, Croats and Albanians be set up in Bosnia, Croatia and Macedonia (two Serb provinces in Bosnia, two Croat provinces in Bosnia, two Serb provinces in Croatia and one Albanian province in Macedonia and perhaps an Italo-Croatian one in Croatia's Istria or a Muslim one in either Serbian Sanjak or Montenegrin Sanjak or both). Since this would then increase the Presidency from 9 members (at the time) to 16-17 then to keep with the aim of reducing bloat (the Presidency was originally 23 members - 3 from each republic and 2 from each province plus Tito), the presidency would be simultaneously reduced to 7 full members (1 from each republic plus the President of the Presidium of the League of Communists) and 9-10 associate members (1 from each province) with the associate members allowed to deliberate but not vote. This then reduces the presidency from 9 to 7 and means at best when Slobodan comes along he can only control Serbia and Montenegro on the presidency (2 out of 6 or 7 depending on if the president of the presidium is abolished as a member in 1988 or not instead of 4 out of 8 by 1989). This takes some of the wind (but not all) out of the sails of Serbian nationalism, might have staved off Slobodan sensing an opportunity, and by linking the autonomy of all of the autonomous provinces across Yugoslavia, would have made it in Serbia's interest to preserve the new order.

The opportunity for this was in 1981 and in 1989. Also around the latter time, the Slovenian and Croatian opposition to the proposal (ironically by Milosevic) of "one person, one vote" for the party membership also seems a little puzzling since that's one of the foundations of basic democracy anyway and since ultimately it would be unlikely to lead to Serb domination since Serbs never constituted more than 39% of the population of Yugoslavia anyway. Sure they might have made up a majority in the Yugoslav communist party, but since multiparty democracy was on its way in, why should that matter? After all it wasn't likely for the communists to be in power for much longer anyway, so they could be dominated numerically by bionic otters and it still wouldn't make a difference for the short term, foreseeable future. This point though underlines the difference between what happened in Yugoslavia and what happened in South Africa. In Yugoslavia it was a one set of flavour-of-the-day communists (Milan Kučan and Slobodan Milosevic were both communists) going against another set of flavour-of-the-day communists with the odd nationalist of the Brexit/Catalan variety (Tudjman had campaigned on the platform specifically that Croatia should not be providing revenue to help the less developed parts of Yugoslavia) thrown in, none of whom were really interested in cooperating. They helped tear apart Yugoslavia before democracy even had properly had a chance to demonstrate what could be done.

Regarding South Africa, the major groups and their political agencies were not all agreed that the future was to be of coexistence. Some of the Bantustan leaders had no interest in reuniting with South Africa (even a South Africa under majority rule) and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) had some policies which were at variance with a completely unified (as opposed to confederated) South Africa (such as an autonomous and sovereign Zulu king in KwaZulu-Natal). However the ANC let it be known it was not going to continue to provide subsidies to the homelands if they didn't reintegrate and this lead to a loss of support by the civil service in the homelands which helped to cripple those governments and bring them down in favour of new ones that pursued reintegration. As for the IFP, it's attempt to stall the new elections over the disagreements with the constitution and the status of the Zulus and their King, came to naught and they relented. Outside of those two groups, one could also argue that while the vast majority of whites saw a future of coexistence and cooperation, many hundreds (or possibly thousands) did not and decided on apartheid with their feet by emigrating.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)