History19 Nov 2010 03:57 pm
“I am responsible only to God and history.” – Francisco Franco.
By all historical indices, Spanish dictator Francisco Franco was stupider about economic policy than the idiots that dreamed up subprime mortgages (which is really saying something). Spain was already an economic train wreck when the weak-chinned Generalísimo was appointed head of state in 1939. Three years of civil war had ravaged the Spanish economy: infrastructure was damaged, workers killed, and daily business severely hampered. Moreover, persistent drought plagued the countryside, severely compromising the already beleaguered agricultural industry.
A diehard nationalist with a tapas-sized brain, Franco doggedly pursued a policy of autarky, effectively thwarting almost all of Spain’s international trade for nearly a decade. The word autarky, which comes from the Greek words meaning “self-sufficiency.” An autarky describes economic policies that strive to be free from the influence of foreign nations by eschewing all international commerce. Suffice to say, autarky always equals economic disaster, and Franco’s Spain proved to be no exception.
To make matters worse, Franco was remarkably gullible for someone so evil. He often placed his faith, and Spain’s fate, in quack schemes that he believed would rescue his ailing nation from the parade of terribles he had been responsible for unleashing in the first place.
On one occasion, a Czech engineer and con-man managed to convince the general that he had invented synthetic gasoline by mixing the waters of the River Jarama, special herbs and secret powders. On another, he doggedly pursued a plan to solve the country’s terrible hunger of the 1940s by feeding everyone dolphin sandwiches. Of course he never did get around to asking where Spain would get enough dolphin meat to feed 30 million people. I guess the devil is not in the details…
Franco’s credulity was mirrored by his growing belief, reinforced by withdrawal into an ever more rarefied court of sycophantic followers, that he stood comparison with such Spanish heroes as El Cid, Charles V, and Philip II. Thanks to this egomaniacal mental midget and his cadre of self-serving minions, some 200,000 people died of starvation during the early years of Francoism, a period now known as Los Años de Hambre (The Years of Hunger, or the Hungry Years).
On the brink of bankruptcy after a decade of Franconomics, a combination of pressure from the USA, the IMF and technocrats from Opus Dei managed to “convince” the regime to adopt a free market economy in 1959. This essentially amounted to a mini coup d’état, which removed the old guard in charge of the economy, despite the opposition of Franco. This economic liberalization was not, however, accompanied by political reforms and repression continued unabated, though these very reforms would lead to socio-economic changes in Spanish society which would make the regime’s continuation 16 years later untenable.
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