(Still) A country of entrepreneurs
Much has changed in the Catalan economy since the 19th century and much has also changed in Catalan society and the balance of the weights of the public and private sectors and their mutual relations up to the present day.
Without the textile industry that was once dominant, with a more diversified economy and with telecommunications and above all construction and services gaining weight, at least until the pandemic exploded, the profile and involvement of large fortunes in the country's cultural and political life has also changed. To put it simply, we have moved from textiles to hotels and start-ups and from culturally involved bourgeois businessmen to businessmen, entrepreneurs and rich people of a very varied profile. The question is: are they still involved in the social and cultural construction of the country? What influencing capacity do they have? Are the economic and political elites in Catalonia capable of cooperating today?
Historically, the lack of a state favoured private initiative to replace it in the construction of the infrastructures necessary for industrial development. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the bourgeoisie was a very important social actor and during Franco's regime, despite the connivance of many, Catalan businessmen - as well as prominent economists - pushed for a way out of autarky. Andreu Farràs explains, in the opening of the dossier that we publish this Sunday, how, in 1958, Jaume Vicens Vives addressed the sons of the bourgeoisie to ask them for a commitment: "In the current situation, you, because of who you are and what you represent, have to assume certain responsibilities, you have to produce reflection that will move the country forward". It was then that, under the leadership of Carlos Ferrer Salat, the Cercle d'Economia was founded, which had great influence in the following decades, and today is in the midst of reflecting on its role, influence and usefulness.
The growth of the public sector, obviously the payment of taxes, and above all the emergence of large industries regulated by the State or the European Union have favoured the distancing of the business sector from Catalan political power and its social influence.
We can mark the great milestone of public-private cooperation in the Olympic project, and at the peak of the Catalan independence bid in 2017 as the moment of maximum distancing. Today big business in Catalonia belong above all to sectors regulated from Madrid and Brussels to which it has moved closer, and it does not have an easy or productive dialogue with the Generalitat. In fact, at decisive moments in recent years, dialogue has been stormy or even non-existent between politics and the main Catalan managers and businessmen.
Catalan society does not need the bourgeoisie as it did in the nineteenth century, and the concept of the social elite has changed a lot, but it does need businessmen, managers and entrepreneurs involved with the society in which they live, and who participate in its reconstruction at a time of profound crisis. At a time of gravity such as the present, it would be desirable to involve even those who live in Catalonia but pay taxes in Madrid, attracted by Ayuso's flute or by the threats of the establishment of 2017.
It is time to re-establish cooperation and wake up the elites. In fact, we should also ask ourselves whether the very concept of elite is as we would really want it in a developed democracy and country. Are our elites the fruit of meritocracy, of the social elevator, of equal opportunities? Does the social elevator really work in the economy? And in politics?
The answer is not very optimistic here, but neither is it in France, the cradle of the elite with republican values and not the elite interpreted as an extractive caste as it is often done here, where today the channels of selection and the functioning of the social elevator are also in question. Just this week President Macron announced the closure of the ENE, the national school of administration, in order to remodel it. The ENE has produced the leaders of politics and business from the post-war period to the present day, and according to the President of the Republic, it has become a "mould of the single thought". A safe-conduct that provides lifelong job protection, and 72% of those who enter are the children of managers and 6% the children of workers.
The times of reconstruction are also opportunities to do things right, and Catalonia will emerge from the post-pandemic hole sooner if she gets the support of society as a whole, especially with the responsibility of politicians and entrepreneurs, whether bourgeois or not.