July 2, 2015 | Commentary on Economy, Global Economy, Macroeconomy

Spain's Podemos Could Make Greece Look Like Child's Play

Sick of what Greece is doing to your 401(k)? Well, there’s a bigger threat looming in the form of a far leftist movement in a larger Mediterranean country. Spain’s Podemos party has just taken over the country’s biggest cities. Oh, and it really doesn’t care about your capitalist savings.

Podemos, or “We Can” in Spanish—one of its regional affiliates is actually called “Si, se puede”, or literally “Yes, We Can”—might quibble with being identified as leftist, or even as an organized party at all. It sometimes calls itself “an alternative project,” or a “social movement,” and it insists it is all about transcending the left-right paradigm. All the other parties, from left to right, are disparaged as “the caste.”

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, a 36-year-old ponytailed academic-turned-media-darling, also insists the party did not borrow its name from Barack Obama but that both borrowed it from Latino activists in the 1960s and ‘70s. “Obama was quite clever using that, but it’s not a creation of Obama,” Iglesias eagerly told Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman in a Feb. 17 interview.

But party, movement or simply “space,” Podemos has been very good at winning elections and amassing power. Even though it did not even present itself as a party in local elections in May, candidates linked to it walked away with the mayoralties of six of Spain’s biggest cities: Madrid, Barcelona, Cadiz, Santiago de Compostela, Zaragoza and La Coruna.

Think of it as not just New York, but also Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Dallas and Atlanta all being run by Bill DeBlasio. It means Podemos is now in charge of local policies for 6 million Spaniards in a country of 40 million and leaves it poised to create greater electoral havoc in national elections that have to be called by December this year.

If it were to win, it promises to restructure Spain’s massive debt of $1.16 trillion, which is close to 100 percent of GDP, to adjust it to “social justice criteria and legitimacy.” This, of course, would mean ending the mild spending cuts instituted by the center-right government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (cuts which Podemos denounces as an “austerity program”) and turn on the Keynesian spending spigot.

But Iglesias doesn’t stop there. He also promises to copy France’s 35-hour work week model; ban companies that make a profit from firing workers; raise taxes on companies with profits above $1.1 million; raise the minimum wage and establish a “maximum wage;” audit the debt to figure out which part is “illegitimate” and thus not worth paying; and, of course, “make rich people pay taxes.”

There’s much, much more to Podemos’s program, but you get the picture. Suffice it to say the party and Iglesias are very close to the government of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his leftist Syriza party, which caused so much consternation this week by breaking off talks with his European Union and International Monetary Fund creditors.

But Greece is small potatoes by comparison. Spain is the euro’s fourth largest economy, and Podemos has associations beyond Athens.

A foundation associated with Podemos has done consulting work for Venezuela, and Podemos is also linked with Iran, as one of Iglesias’ two TV shows are run by Iran’s state-run Spanish-language TV service. Iglesias also calls Fidel Castro’s Cuba “a reference point.”

Iglesias always takes great umbrage when he’s reminded about his links with these unsavory, despotic regimes. But it is clear that when he quips that he wishes that Spain’s head of state were elected, and not be a title that King Philip VI has inherited, he conveniently forgets that no Iranian or Cuban ever voted Khamenei or Castro into power.

It also is clear the party seeks nothing less than the complete overthrow of Spain’s post-Franco status quo, from the destruction of the two-party system, to the end of the monarchy, the aristocracy and the way the economy is run.

Small wonder that members of Spain’s weak center-right party, Rajoy’s Popular Party, say Podemos candidates, such as the new mayor of Madrid, Manuela Carmena, want “to break the Western democratic system as we know it.”

It also doesn’t help that once in a while he admits even in public that, sure, he’s a leftist, but that crying this from rooftops is not always a good strategy. “I’m leftist, of course,” he told Goodman. “But in order to create a new political majority in our country, the notion of left and right is not always useful.”

Podemos has benefited mightily from Spain’s rocketing 22.5 percent unemployment (50 percent among the young who flock to Podemos); corruption scandals which have ensnared the leading parties and the Royal Family; the EU’s endemic democratic deficit (important decisions are taken by unelected bureaucrats); and the general lack of confidence that is weighing down many Western societies.

It probably helps to think of the Podemos phenomenon as the terminus point of the various anti-globalization, anti-capitalist and occupy movements the globe has seen over the past few years. It has simple answers to complex problems that, if enacted into policy, would make the global economy wish it were still dealing with just Greece.

 - Michael Gonzalez is a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

This article originally appeared in Forbes. The original piece can be found at http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikegonzalez3/2015/07/01/spains-podemos-could-make-greece-look-like-childs-play/.

About the Author

Mike Gonzalez Senior Fellow
The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy