Sunday, May 15, 2011

Crisis? What crisis?

Just back from Madrid, where there are few signs of economic meltdown. Except perhaps an unusual lack of traffic at 2am in Chamberí. Otherwise, Spanish society seems to be holding up in the midst of the highest unemployment in Europe, at least as far as I could see.

How come? Well, first of all Spain doesn't actually have 20% unemployment, or at least if it does, nobody in Spain I talk to believes it. Sure, unemployment is high, but 20% generally means not being able to walk the streets at night. I would still rather walk the street at night in Madrid than any other European capital.

But of course Spain is in a deep economic mess. So why isn't it visible? Well, Spanish society, and Mediterranean societies in general, are more robust than they look. Economic and social data in Spain don't look that great, but there are social institutions that holds things together, such as family, friends, pandillas, peñas, barrios, and so on. The kind of thing that social scientists briefly got interested in when social capital was all the rage.

I might be overstating a fleeting impression on a 3 day trip, but there is something here that social science is missing. Everyone who knows these countries understands this, but nobody writes about it in scholarly publications. I think we can call this the tyranny of method.