Us [and them]
Since time immemorial, what the Greek geographers defined as the Iberian Peninsula has been the basis on which Spanish history has been constructed, forging different realities. But with the development of Spain – at the beginning of the 19th century – different political conceptions have sought a way of structuring it to their advantage at any price. Therefore, some have insisted on establishing a fictitious historical and territorial uniformity, simply because they share the same geography. Catalonia has shared this plot of land, but its historical reality is different and it is important to remember this, now that the debate is once again open.
Oriol Garcia Farré, historian and 11Onze agent
The traditional history of Spain has been constructed based on the premise of giving a unique protagonism to Castile – extended with Andalusia and Extremadura – which has been exclusively identified with Spain. The periphery, especially the eastern Mediterranean and the northwest of the peninsula, has been allowed to play either a secondary role or to acquire a certain relevance from time to time, especially at times when Castilian decadence was most evident.
Thus, Castile – always from a negationist point of view – has made people believe that there is a “Spanish nation” and a “peripheral” identity that it has defined as nationalities. But the reality is different. The Spanish nation, like the Catalan nation or the Basque nation, exists because it is acknowledged by those who claim to be part of it. Therefore, trivialisation is once again used to confuse public opinion and try to avoid any legitimate process of self-determination. In this sense, the construction of the identity of the Spanish nation often becomes a systematic destruction of the “peripheries”, that is to say, Spanish nationalism ends up constructing its identity by repressing the differences between the territories it considers to be national.
This vision has highlighted the serious problem of Spain’s historical reality. Firstly, it has highlighted Spain’s imperfection as a political project, given that it has repeatedly shown the continuous problems of adaptability to Western standards, especially in terms of the dynamics of adopting capitalism, liberalism and rationalism in the triple aspect of the economic, political and cultural realities. Secondly, and even more importantly, Castile’s utter failure in its task of making Spain a harmonious community, fully satisfied with itself and tolerant of the other territories that make it up. If the plurinationality of the state is hidden, the past is distorted.
Spain’s imperfection as a political project has become evident, given that it has repeatedly shown the continuous problems of adaptability to Western standards.
Dismantling “the unity of destiny as a universal fact”
Within the Francoist school system, historiography was articulated according to the concept of “Reconquest”, which is a historiographical concept – still used in the secondary school curricula of Castile – that describes the process of recovery – since the Muslims were not the legitimate owners of the Hispanic territory – of the feudal world over the Muslim and Jewish world. This process would begin shortly after the arrival of the Arabs on the Iberian peninsula (8th century) and would end with the Catholic Monarchs (15th century), who would eventually unify “Spain” as an integral state. This Reconquest would end up forging “the Spanish spirit”.
In the middle of the last century, a group of historians – in order to legitimise the victors of the Civil War – undertook the task of constructing historical arguments to support the new regime. The theoretical corpus was based on finding “the essence of Spain”. Thus, Spanishist historiography came to “prove” that there were indeed distinctive characteristics of continuity between the prehistoric past and the present which define this “Spanish spirit”.
Currently, research tends to break the territorial homogeneity of the provinces. It shows an increasingly clear predisposition to carry out research that emphasises social and territorial differences, such as the latest studies on the 8th century Hispano-Goths, which show significant differences between the peninsular societies, mainly conditioned by the habitats where they carried out their activities. The archaeological evidence -without shying away from documentary sources- shows conclusively that the process of Romanisation affected them in very different ways.
Therefore, the crises of late antiquity from the 3rd to the 8th centuries would provoke much more profound changes, which would affect the different peninsular territories unequally. Consequently, the arrival of the Arabs in the Iberian Peninsula would also affect these societies in different ways, so that the idea of continuity between the Visigothic kingdom and the subsequent political formations would be diluted like sugar.
Archaeology has confirmed that the penetration of the Muslim world into peninsular territory was not as traumatic as it was made out to be. The archaeological remains reveal that, after the conquest, the peninsular territory was never abandoned. Therefore, all this would show that many Hispano-Goths professed the new Muslim faith, not so much out of conviction, but in order to maintain ownership of the land. And this land would be transformed by the introduction of new systems of agricultural production, based mainly on the management and power of water.
Research tends to break down the territorial homogeneity of the provinces and shows an increasingly clear predisposition to carry out research that emphasises social and territorial differences.
Delegitimising the origins in order to cancel out the differences
From the 9th century onwards, most of the peninsular territories were organised as kingdoms, with the king as their highest representative. In contrast, in the northeastern territories of the peninsula, the county would be the administrative structure to be implemented, and the count – imposed from Aachen – would be in charge of administering justice, guaranteeing public order and managing taxation.
This differentiating element – such as the Carolingian organisation of the Catalan territory – will be widely combated by Francoist historiography through a policy of diminishing its relevance. For this reason, it will be considered a government structure with little historical relevance and, for this reason, there will be a lack of will to disseminate it – both in academic circles and in school curricula – which will impact its knowledge.
Therefore, we should not be surprised that these historians do not want to understand that our singularity is the result of a legal framework different from the Hispanic matrix. The Catalan territory was assigned following the Carolingian policy of the Renovatio Imperii. This was probably the reason for its lack of diffusion since the essence of Spain was so far away!
Certainly, the title of king is one of the oldest and best-known political offices. The oldest ruling term is found in the Indo-European REG (to rule/rule) which evolved into Latin as REX. In the context of the political transformations that took place from the 4th century onwards in Western Europe, large territories were governed by Germanic military leaders, who gradually freed themselves from Roman domination and organised themselves as kingdoms. The new territorial leaders – whether Goths, Franks or Suevi – followed their legal tradition and adopted the title of rex as the highest political figure.
Therefore, all the peninsular rulers would be perpetuating their juridical legality. While the Astur-Leonese, Navarrese and Castilian dynasties would continue to use the title of king, the Catalan sovereign would use the title of count, given that he would continue to be legally linked to the French dynasty – heir to Carolingian legality through the Capeta family – and legitimised by the Pope, until the signing of the Treaty of Corbeil and ratified at the Treaty of Anagni in the mid-13th century. In practice, all will be sovereigns with the same power, whether kings or counts.
The most paradoxical fact about the history of Spain – built on the historiographical concept of the Reconquest – is that it is constructed on the false premise of assigning a continuing legitimacy from the Visigothic kingdom to the Astur kingdom.
It has been widely concluded that this maxim is not true. Historians have shown that the indigenous Cantabrian populations – be they Astur, Cantabrian or Basque – always maintained a very distant and warlike relationship with the Roman, Visigothic, Arab or Carolingian world. Therefore, their isolation was due more to a problem of a poor administrative framework than to fierce resistance against Roman, Visigoth, Arab or Carolingian conquerors. Consequently, the propagandistic pamphlet that the three chronicles of Alfonso III of Asturias represent – especially the Albeldense, which in fact is where the famous concept of Reconquest comes from – must be read for what they are: a legal legitimisation before public opinion (and God) of the aggression carried out against a part of the Hispanic population whose only difference – compared to the rest of the population – is that they profess a different religion.
The history of Spain -built on the historiographical concept of the Reconquest- is constructed on the basis of a false premise.
The will to alter reality
“In Dei nomine. Ego Ramirus, Dei gratia rex aragonensis, dono tibi, Raimundo [Berengario], barchinonensium comes et marchio, filiam meam in uxorem, cum tocius regni aragonensis integritate, sicut pater meus Sancius, rex, vel fratres mei, Petrus et Ildefonsus…. ” is undoubtedly one of the key fragments of the history of Catalonia that has aroused the greatest historiographical hostility, especially on the Aragonese side.
This fragment corresponds to the famous “Capitulaciones Matrimoniales de Barbastro”, which were ratified with the “Renuncia de Zaragoza” – both from 1137 – by which King Ramiro II of Aragon, the Monk, publicly informed his subjects that he was giving his daughter, his kingdom and his honours to Count Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Barcelona and that this donation would be sealed through the marriage between the Count of Barcelona and his daughter, Peronella.
As a result, the Count of Barcelona was named Crown Prince of Aragon, and Ramiro – despite retaining the title – was returned to the monastery of San Pedro el Viejo in Huesca, from where he left in haste to be crowned king. For her part, Peronella – only one year old – was sent to Barcelona to be educated as the future Countess Consort of Barcelona and Queen of Aragon. Thirteen years later, Count Ramon Berenguer married her in Lleida, once she was legally old enough to do so, that is, fourteen years old. It would then be the first-born son of this union – Alfonso el Trovador – who would become the first person to hold both titles – count and king – which would legitimise the new political conception that arose from this donation.
Unaltered historical reality confirms the fact that after the “Public Renunciation of Saragossa”, the kingdom of Aragon remained in the political background, given that it had voluntarily dispossessed itself of its succession value, a key element in the 12th century. Despite this, the successive Counts of Barcelona would always respect and maintain all the Aragonese institutions, marking the beginning of the Catalan-Aragonese Confederation.
It is therefore essential not to fall into the political trap that circulates among certain Spanish circles, who argue that Peronella of Aragon was the key element that allowed the Catalan counties to be annexed to the kingdom of Aragon. It would be foolish to believe that a one-year-old princess would fall in love with a twenty-four-year-old count of Barcelona and that the latter – at the height of his dominions – would offer his territories to Aragon in exchange for “a more prestigious title”. Likewise, the fact of constructing two parallel genealogies – Alfonso I of Catalonia is the same as Alfonso II of Aragon – shows that there is malice and a desire to distort reality.
The real problem facing Aragon at the beginning of the 11th century was to find a legal solution in the will of King Alfonso I “el Batallador”, who, having died without descendants, had given all his territories to the military Orders, and this caused an institutional debacle. The Castilians – taking advantage of this power vacuum and legitimised by the king’s repudiated ex-wife – began the invasion of Saragossa, followed by the disconnection of Navarre through the figure of García Ramírez, known as “el Resaurador”. As a result, Aragon was severely weakened economically, with the consequent risk of disappearing.
Contrary to what Aragonese extremists would want you to believe, the union of Aragon with the Catalan counties was the only viable solution for the Aragonese oligarchy. It was the only way to put a stop to the pressure exerted by both Castilians and Navarrese and thus be able to boost its agricultural and livestock economy with a clear outlet to the Mediterranean markets.
It would be foolish to believe that a one-year-old princess would fall in love with a twenty-four-year-old count of Barcelona and that the latter – at the height of his dominions – would offer his territories to Aragon in exchange for “a more prestigious title.
Setting limits to power
At the end of the 11th century, a new mentality appeared in Barcelona society, based on work, business morals and friendship. Thus, Barcelona was able to develop its own form of capital accumulation, based on increasing and improving agricultural production in its territory, which enabled it to become the administrative epicentre of the Catalan counties. The notions of profit, investment and capital crystallised throughout the 12th century and led the Counts of Barcelona to conquer the cities of Tortosa, Lleida and Balaguer, and the frustrated attempt to conquer Mallorca.
And all this was possible thanks to a climate of social stability that, after the political disaster of the feudal revolts, led to the imposition of the convenientiae or feudal pacts between equals. From then on, the culture of the pact became generalised throughout the Catalan counties and became one of our peculiarities. As a result of this pact, the first version of the Usatges de Barcelona, the basis of Catalan customary law, was drawn up.
Gradually, Catalan sovereignty would be distributed among – counts, nobility, clergy and upright citizens – who would represent a large part of society. This constitutionalist policy would therefore be one of the distinctive features of the Crown, which from the 13th century onwards would be extended as the expansionist policies of the counts continued to be implemented. These new territories would be configured as states, where the Crown would ensure that the particularities of each territory were maintained. Catalonia would then be defined as a Principality, given that its highest authority would be the figure of a prince or the first among equals.
In contrast to the rest of the peninsular territories – where the problem of power was centred on sacralisation – in Catalonia, the conflict was centred on its use. The constant evolution of Catalan law would end up granting power to the count by cession (between equals). He would therefore be obliged to manage his expenditure correctly and to respect the different privileges, customs, privileges and usages of his territories. Therefore, pactism between equals will be encouraged, in order to balance the economic interests between the nobility, the clergy and the bourgeoisie, in order to maintain social stability.
As a result – and long before the English – the Catalan Courts would be the perfect model of parliamentarianism, which would constitute the nucleus of the Catalan pacifist tradition that has survived to the present day. Unfortunately, with the defeat of 1714 and the implementation of the Decree of Nueva Planta, the Catalan-Aragonese Confederation was fulminated and broken up into different provinces of a new centralised monarchy that would govern the entire Iberian Peninsula without legal differences.
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And the next day, nothing was ever the same again.
The adoption of a new economic logic at the beginning of the 19th century allowed the English and Dutch to acquire a dominant position over the rest of the European economies, and by extension, over the rest of the world’s economies. This prompted the old European monarchies – Castile, Portugal, France, Austria, Prussia and Russia – to seek ways of embracing this modern socio-economic vision in order to eradicate their endemic poverty, but unlike the former, it forced them to undergo tumultuous processes of adaptability to the new economic system.
Oriol Garcia Farré, historian and 11Onze agent
At the beginning of the 17th century, the first colonial empires with deeply Catholic roots – such as Castile and Portugal – were structurally bleeding to death as a result of decades of fierce fighting against the Protestant and Turkish world, which was causing them significant losses of economic resources and a growing territorial delegitimisation. The repression exercised by the Catholic Castilian fundamentalists – led by their king – against the Dutch Calvinist world, far from definitively subjugating those territories, had the opposite effect, as it brought to the surface a survival instinct that has been widely studied by the Social Sciences.
At the root of the conflict was the Dutch refusal to contribute financially to the Hispanic imperial cause, which sought to universalise Catholic culture. For more than eighty years, imperial encounters sought to break the Dutch protective ring that had been built up to counter the pressure exerted by the famous Flanders “tercios”. This line of defence consisted of forty-three towns and fifty-five fortifications. Forced to live within this territorial microcosm, Dutch survival – as people – required rationalisation and systematisation of public and private initiatives.
First and foremost, Amsterdam was to become the epicentre of power for the seventeen United Provinces. From there, they would promote the creation of a free and open market that would be able to satisfy the needs – in that context of permanent war – of all the cities of the Dutch territory. Thus, it would encourage the diversification of agriculture as a basis for future specialisation and division of labour, foster technological innovation to improve agricultural production, promote fairs and markets to encourage the exchange of goods and services, expand internal trade networks and seek external trade routes through the development of a powerful shipbuilding industry, and guarantee the right to private ownership of the means of production. But above all, the government of the federation of the United Provinces would enforce all commercial contracts and ensure full freedom of movement of both people and goods through the creation of a Dutch standing army.
Therefore, this whole level of organisation resulting from the conjunction of the public and private spheres would be designed to meet the needs of the population in the face of Catholic pressure, which would lead to a significant increase in public spending. To reduce it, a financing mechanism would be developed consisting of issuing long-term public debt securities, which would be traded on the recently created Amsterdam stock exchange.
Forced to live within that territorial microcosm, Dutch survival – as people – demanded rationalisation and systematisation of public and private initiatives.
And Descartes came to the rescue!
A transcendental event was the contribution of the philosopher René Descartes to the mentality of Northern European society. Through his treatise “Man” he will argue that humans are divided into two distinct components: an immaterial mind and a material body, the latter understood as a perfect machine. In this way, he will succeed in separating the mind from the body and establish a hierarchical relationship between the two. Therefore, as the seigniorial classes dominate nature and seek to control it for productive purposes, the mind will have to dominate the body for the same purpose.
This view will be exploited by Calvinists to model the “good Christian” as one who controls his body, his passions and his desires and thus ends up self-imposing a regular and productive order. Therefore, any inclination towards joy, play, spontaneity or the pleasures of bodily experience will be considered potentially immoral.
All these ideas will be fused into a new explicit value system: idleness is a sin and productivity is a virtue. Within Calvinist theology, profit will become a symbol of moral success. It will be the test of salvation. To maximise profit, people will be encouraged to organise their lives around productivity and those who fall behind – during the race for productivity or fall into poverty – will be branded with the stigma of sin. This new ethic of discipline and self-mastery will become central to the culture of capitalism.
The creation of new monopolies
Until then, commercial expeditions had operated on the basis of small fleets created and controlled expressly by the monarchies. Most of the time, the company was set up for a single commercial voyage and, on its return, the small fleet was liquidated so as not to bear the costs of maintenance. Investment in such ventures was therefore extremely costly and high risk, not only because of the usual dangers of piracy, disease and shipwrecks but also because of the conditions of the spice market, where inelastic demand – insensitive to price changes – and relatively elastic supply – price changes increasing supply – could cause prices to fall at just the wrong time and ruin the venture’s prospects of profitability.
Thus, if the commercial expedition was successful, it has been calculated that the return was close to 400% of the initial investment, allowing the Crown to boost its economy. On the other hand, if it was a failure, it was the Crown itself who assumed the losses and, consequently, it was the population who ended up paying the debt through higher taxes and lower salaries, since the Monarchy managed the violence.
But in the early 17th century, through the formalisation of stable agreements – known as cartels – the respective governments of England and Holland obtained charters granted to private initiatives in the spice sector to trade with the East Indies. With the creation of the British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company, entrepreneurial mechanisms were put in place to control supply and minimise risk in the global spice trade.
The novelty arose in the founding process of both companies when they came up against the problem of financing. Given the size and high costs involved, the founders of the companies were unable to finance the entire cost of the project, which made it necessary to obtain financing by selling part of their securities to merchants and small savers, to whom they granted them a share of the companies’ future profits in exchange.
The stock exchange becomes the key to the new system
Thus, both the British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company would be the first shareholder-owned companies to be listed on the London and Amsterdam stock exchanges respectively. From then on, any English company seeking finance would be able to trade in its own securities. In less than a hundred years, more than a hundred English companies will be trading their own securities on the London Stock Exchange. For their part, any resident within the United Provinces would have the possibility to register in writing – in any of the 17 Dutch Chambers – the amount of money they wanted to invest on the stock exchange. At the beginning of the 19th century, both companies will distribute annual dividends of 40% to all shareholders and will be the first companies to publish their profits annually.
Supported by the methodical rationality of the Protestant world, both the English and the Dutch managed to give commercial continuity to those companies, which eventually became true multinationals for almost three hundred years, thanks to the use of the stock exchange as a mechanism to finance future commercial expansions. Therefore, the new economic system will be more dynamically and efficiently self-regulating, unlike the old centralised system, which still remains today. Within a few years, the new financial mechanisms and continuous private initiatives will break up the old commercial monopolies controlled by the first colonial empires, which had been self-legitimised by the right of conquest through the Treaties of Tordesillas, Zaragoza and Cateau-Cambrésis.
The two companies will be structured as a modern vertically integrated global supply chain corporation divided by a conglomerate of companies that will allow them to diversify into multiple commercial and industrial activities, such as international trade, shipbuilding and the production and marketing of spices. The companies would become so large in the early 19th century that they would gain quasi-governmental powers over their colonies, such as the ability to wage war, imprison and execute convicts, negotiate treaties, issue currency, have their own flag and conquer new territories. The most extreme case was the British East India Company, which ruled India until its dissolution in the late 19th century when it passed directly into the hands of the British Crown.
Therefore, we would never be able to understand the English industrial revolution of the late 18th century if we untied it from the financial revolution that began in the early 17th century. As England was able to obtain more raw materials and more markets, it would be forced to mechanise all its production processes in order to satisfy the growing world demand. By the middle of the 19th century, it would control 30% of world markets, although this would change at the end of the century when new competitors appeared.
We would never be able to understand the English industrial revolution at the end of the 18th century if we untied it from the financial revolution that began at the beginning of the 17th century.
A system to satisfy social welfare
Unlike mercantilism, capitalism will decide not to consume all its goods, since it will organise itself rationally and methodically for the sole purpose of producing, accumulating and investing its goods in order to produce more and more. In this sense, capital investment decisions will be determined by profit expectations, whereby the profitability of invested capital will play a fundamental role in any economic activity.
The enlightened scholars defended capitalism as the only economic system capable of generating sufficient wealth to satisfy social welfare, which could only be maintained on the condition that it generated continuous economic growth in the production of goods and services. Thus, meeting this crucial social need will only be possible if there is a progressive specialisation in work or if new skills are acquired by individuals, companies, territories or countries. But it will also be necessary to maintain unchanged and without interference, the existence of free competition – based on the law of supply and demand – which will require a willingness to do so without coercion or fraud on the part of the participants in commercial transactions.
This innovative economic system will imply a new way of doing things based on the existence of three key axioms: the accumulation of capital as a source of economic development, strong privatisation of the means of production and the obligation to make constant profits. Therefore, the theoreticians of capitalism will be aware that the maintenance of the new economic system will force the systematic search for new markets and the creation of new and increasingly aggressive consumer dependencies between individuals, companies, territories or countries all over the world.
The maintenance of the new economic system will force the systematic search for new markets and the creation of new and increasingly aggressive consumer dependencies between individuals, companies, territories or countries all over the world.
The perversity of the system
Within the system itself lies a hidden self-destruction trigger that is activated when goods start rising in price, driven by the idea that their value can never fall. There are few areas of human activity where historical memory counts for as little as in the field of finance.
Financial crises and bubbles have been repeating themselves – in a more or less cyclical fashion – since 6 February 1637, when investment in tulip bulbs in Holland inflated prices to the point where a bulb could be worth as much as a house, or when in 1720 the English state fraudulently altered the real value of the South Sea Company’s shares in order to place debt, which would end up triggering a crisis of biblical proportions in its economy.
It may be tulips, shares in public companies, the debt of a growing country, investments in railways, dot-com stocks or complex financial assets, but in the end, there will always be a trigger: a war, a bankruptcy, a rumour or simply someone smarter who will cause a few to go ahead and sell the securities, and behind them the rest will try and fail to do so. This is what we now call “financial bubble bursts”. In credit contracts, the flow of money comes to a standstill, and what was once worth a lot is now worth nothing. The crisis begins. Bigger and bigger, more expansive and much more contagious.
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According to UNHCR, 50% of refugee children are unable to attend primary school and 22% of young people are unable to attend secondary school. One of the most important rights of children, the right to education, is therefore violated. 11Onze Rolls Up its Sleeves collaborates with Better Shelter to build Shelter Schools for children in northern Syria affected by the earthquakes last February.
Syria has been in crisis for more than 12 years, with war and devastating earthquakes. As a result, some 7 million people are internally displaced. One of the most vulnerable groups is children who have lost not only their homes and families but also the chance to continue being children and to receive an education.
The role of education
A UNESCO report highlights the key role of education in creating a better future for everyone. Low levels of access to education and high levels of inequality in education increase the risk of violence and conflict. It is a fish that bites its own tail. Observed over 21 years, areas with very low rates of education were 50% more likely to experience conflict.
Which students are in classrooms
UNHCR estimates that, when there is a disaster, refugee pupils end up missing an average of three to four school years. And, of course, these are not normal classes. You can find children who have lost their families, who have suffered abuse, who have lost their homes and who may have disabilities.
Despite the difficulties, these classrooms can transform children. They can learn to read, write and do maths. If they do well, they will continue with specific subjects such as science, geography and history. But they will also learn basic health care and hygiene. They will study human rights and how and from whom to get help. They are thus being prepared for a tough world that has already dealt them severe blows when they were very young.
But the role of teachers is not only to educate children but to keep them in a safe space. This is also what the Shelter Schools that 11Onze Rolls Up its Sleeves promotes with Better Shelter are: places where nothing bad can happen to you.
What are the Better Shelter Schools like?
11Onze Rolls Up its Sleeves
From 11Onze we have decided to roll up our sleeves and we want to build 50 Shelter Schools for the children of Northern Syria. This way we will be able to help 1,750 children. To make this possible, we need 100,000 euros that 11Onze Rolls Up its Sleeves will send to Better Shelter to carry out the action on the ground. Can we count on you?
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The two Voyager probes launched into space by NASA in 1977 were designed to explore the outer planets of our solar system. They were accompanied by a gramophone record made of copper and covered in gold containing a message to show the existence of life on Earth to possible intelligent extraterrestrial beings.
In the vastness of the cosmos, two tiny time capsules traverse interstellar space with a message intended to make our existence known to any intelligent extraterrestrial life forms they may encounter along the way. A message in a cosmic bottle containing a small sample of what humanity and planet Earth are all about also symbolises our eagerness and ability to discover new frontiers.
Carl Sagan, the well-known American astrophysicist, astronomer and science communicator, led the team that created the “Golden Record” in 1972. The Voyager Programme’s Golden Record was to be an upgrade of the plates previously mounted on the Pioneer probes, with much more information about life on Earth and the essence of humanity.
The discs are thirty centimetres in diameter, made of gold-plated copper. These metals were chosen for their chemical stability and thermal properties, as they had to be strong enough to withstand the forces of the launch and subsequent thermal changes in space. A tiny amount of uranium-235 was also added to serve as a clock so that a future extraterrestrial discoverer could deduce its age.
The contents of the Golden Records
The beating of a heart, birdsongs, Bach’s Brandenburg concerto, a Balinese dancer, a human embryo… The golden records include a compendium of sounds, images and information that provide an overview of the Earth and its inhabitants. The contents of the records range from greetings in various languages to recordings of popular music, sounds of nature, photographs of people and landscapes, and even instructions on how to play them.
Each record includes 90 minutes of music with pieces from different cultural traditions, from classical music to popular music from various countries. The intention was to capture cultural diversity and human artistic expression and show it to the rest of the universe. This idea was imprinted on the records: “To the creators of music – all worlds, all times”.
Selected nature sounds were also recorded to show some examples of what life is like on Earth, conveying the richness and complexity of our natural environment. As well as 115 photographs in analogue format, ranging from stunning landscapes to depictions of human anatomy and scientific diagrams. In addition, greetings in 55 different languages (no, there are no greetings in Catalan) were included to show the linguistic diversity of our planet.
The Voyager space probes are the most distant man-made objects from Earth and the first to reach interstellar space. Thanks to NASA’s latest efforts, they will have a lifespan until around 2026 and then continue their journey in silence. The likelihood that they will ever be found by intelligent extraterrestrial life is minuscule, but the message contained in the golden records will live on forever and ever in outer space.
If you want to discover the best option to protect your savings, enter Preciosos 11Onze. We will help you buy at the best price the safe-haven asset par excellence: physical gold.
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The planning and execution of an electoral campaign entail a significant expense that is an extraordinary economic burden for a political party. What does it cost? Where does the money come from? Gemma Vallet, director of 11Onze District, explains in a new episode of La Plaça.
The funding of an election campaign is a fundamental aspect of democracy, as it directly affects freedom and equality of competition between political parties. In Catalonia, as elsewhere, several questions have been debated about which funding model is the most appropriate regarding transparency, fairness and current regulation.
The basis for establishing a budget for an election campaign is similar to those we would use to draw up a budget for any business or social project. In the same way that funding can come from savings, grants, contributions or borrowing. For example, according to the electoral law, “parties are entitled to free advertising space, both on radio and television stations and outdoor advertising,” explains Vallet.
The state establishes, by law, various subsidies to political parties for expenses arising from electoral activities. These subsidies depend to a large extent on the results obtained in the previous elections, around 270 euros per councillor. This is a challenge for new parties, as the director of 11Onze District points out, “if you are a new party, this money does not reach you, so you have an added difficulty”.
At the same time, the state also subsidises the electoral costs of sending electoral propaganda, envelopes and ballot papers to voters. Subsidies that, as Vallet says, “are also established based on the number of votes and councillors obtained in the previous elections”.
Unlike models dependent on private funding, as in the United States, in principle, this formula allows them to maintain the most significant independence from the economic powers. According to Vallet, in a model based on private funding, “the parties that win are an extension of the big corporations”.
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Climate change, the war in Ukraine and the logistical funnel caused by the pandemic have reopened the debate on a possible global food crisis and the importance of rethinking the production model for essential crops in order to guarantee our food sovereignty.
Food sovereignty refers to the ability of a country or region to determine its own agricultural and food policies and to produce the basic foodstuffs to meet the needs of the local population as a whole. Not having food sovereignty means being dependent on food imports and not having sufficient control over one’s own food production.
This dependence on food imports increases a country’s vulnerability to international market fluctuations and food price increases caused by geopolitical conflicts or climate change. In addition, the focus on large-scale crop production for export has resulted in even more dependency and loss of food sovereignty for many countries, despite lowering the final price of the product at the expense of increasing the carbon footprint.
Securing supply chains
The collateral effects of droughts in North Africa, frosts in Central Asia, floods in Pakistan and war in Ukraine are just some of the causes for the alarming shortages of staple food supplies that are already affecting a large part of the world’s population.
According to the latest report by the United Nations, almost 3.1 billion people cannot afford a healthy diet rich in basic nutrients. And we are not only talking about developing countries, inflation in Europe has severely affected people’s purchasing power, pushing up food basket prices, while logistical problems are forcing many countries to take emergency measures to ensure the availability of certain basic foodstuffs.
Without going any further, February’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) shows that food in Catalonia is 14.5% more expensive than a year ago, with vegetables and pulses rising by more than 18% since January. These record price rises have had a direct effect on the cost of more than 200 food products.
In addition, our territory is suffering the most severe drought since 2008, when water reserves in reservoirs and internal basins fell by up to 20%. Drought has affected the cereal harvest throughout Spain and France. The Port of Tarragona has an almost total occupation of its quays, half of them loaded with agri-food products imported from other countries to make up for this shortage of cereals.
Low food self-sufficiency
Much agricultural land has been lost in Catalonia since the 1950s. Today, just over 25% of the Catalan territory is devoted to agricultural crops, half the European average, and 70% of the agricultural surface area is rain-fed. This means that Catalonia only achieves a degree of food sovereignty of between 40% and 45%.
Agriculture only contributes 1,622 million euros to Catalonia’s GDP (2022), making it the economic sector with the least impact on GDP, and a far cry from the 187,185 million euros generated by the services sector. Even so, it is still a strategic sector for society as a whole, and purely because it provides the raw material for the main foodstuffs, it is one of the main sectors that must be maintained and developed.
The question, however, is what price we are prepared to pay to maintain this strategic sector for our society. Agricultural activity in Catalonia has declined progressively over the last few years, and the Unió de Pagesos frequently warns that if they cannot compete with the prices of the distributors, many of them will not be able to make a living and will have to stop their activity.
A change of mentality
Driving change towards a new food system that practices rational resource management is not only necessary, but it is also essential to move towards the sustainability of our society as we face the climatic and geopolitical challenges in which we are immersed. However, this comes at a cost and involves social, cultural and environmental trade-offs that society will have to consider.
Crops have to adapt to the water available, contrary to what has been done until now, especially when we take into account that the average temperature in Catalonia is expected to rise by 2 to 3 degrees over the next twenty years, reducing the availability of water by 20%. For example, instead of producing maize for export or for feeding pigs, we could grow vegetables that we now import from other regions, a change which would contribute to food sovereignty.
On the other hand, it is necessary to democratise the means of production and land. Reclaim agricultural land for local family farms, 50% of which have had to be abandoned in the last 15 years, to the extent that 55% of agricultural land is in the hands of only five families. Controlling food prices or subsidising production costs in a timely manner can help to ensure that people can make a living from what they produce.
At present, the limitations of the territory and the agri-food model certainly do not allow for food sovereignty in Catalonia, but working towards greater self-sufficiency is possible if there is a long-term political vision and if society is willing to assume the cost of this paradigm shift.
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The public employment offer approved this year by the Catalan Government and the Spanish Government exceeds 60,000 vacancies. We offer ten tips to prepare for a civil service examination with guarantees in case you are thinking of it.
Given the instability of the labour market, you may be thinking about preparing for a civil servant competitive examination. It is undoubtedly a good time to do so, given the large public employment offer announced by both the Catalan and the Spanish governments.
If you decide to take the plunge, the first thing you need to be clear about is which option best suits your interests, your profile and your skills. Also, be aware that you will need a certain spirit of sacrifice to put in the hours of study every day, you will have to be constant and never lose motivation.
Júlia Pérez, director of the Adams training academies in Catalonia, shares ten fundamental tips for preparing for civil service examinations with guaranteed success.
- Keep the objective in mind. To stay motivated, you must never lose sight of the goal for which you are striving.
- Time management. Be clear about how much time you have to study. The more hours a day you can dedicate, the better. But, in any case, it is necessary to make a realistic plan to see how many months it will take to prepare for the exams.
- Studying the right way. We must bear in mind that studying does not mean spending hours in front of a book. It is essential to find ways to make the most of your time.
- Enjoying the study. We must try to have fun while we study so that so many hours do not turn into hell.
- Organisation. We must be very organised because we will spend many hours alone in front of books, notes and questionnaires.
- Support. Furthermore, we need to feel that our environment, both family and friends, support and help us.
- Train, train and train. This is a long-distance race, so it is a good idea to do a lot of exam practice.
- Keep negative thoughts under control. We are bound to have them, so we must try to control them. In this sense, the first point helps a lot: having a clear objective and always keeping it in our mind.
- Better in company. We must be in good company. That’s why it helps a lot to have teachers and other candidates help us not to feel so lonely.
- Taking care of yourself. You have to take good care of yourself, both body and mind, and never stop believing that you can achieve your goal. In fact, many people achieve it every year, so why shouldn’t you be one of them?
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The economic exuberance of the late 17th century will make the European monarchies believe that the wealth of the world is static and just needs to be shared out. The constant inflow of gold and silver into the economy would allow them to universalise their idea of civilisation, and they would take advantage of the wonder caused in those cultures with ancestral practices and beliefs. Of the 700 million people who will inhabit the world, almost 120 million will live in Europe, given that globalisation – begun two centuries earlier – will provide them with a food variety that will allow them to extend their life expectancy.
Oriol Garcia Farré, historian and 11Onze agent
By the end of the century, Europeans will have empirically verified the whole of the earth, which will enable them to generate cartography based on observation of reality. Gone will be the imaginary geography based on dogmatic superstitions. Thus, an infinite number of descriptions of exotic civilisations would appear in the European imaginary, which would bring about a change in tastes -more orientalised- and would give rise to a progressive critical attitude towards the beliefs that Europeans held about the world. This feeling of cultural universality will be diluted as Europeans understand that the world is also inhabited by a multitude of cultures and civilisations, which are different from the descriptions contained in the Bible.
Therefore, the adoption of critical thinking will entail the encyclopaedic codification of nature through the revolutionary scientific method, which will be based on observation, experimentation and empirical speculation. Physics – written in mathematical language – will describe the shapes and measurements of celestial bodies, using the newly created analytical geometry. And from this moment on, science will become a body of knowledge differentiated from philosophy and religion. All this will lead to a perception of reality that will cause European intellectual elites to question such basic concepts as property, justice, power and, above all, religion.
“The adoption of critical thinking will entail the encyclopaedic codification of nature through the revolutionary scientific method, which will be based on observation, experimentation and empirical speculation”.
The questioning of the divinisation of power
Clearly, the Church – both Catholic and Protestant – will have to face a multitude of dissenting voices that will doubt the divine origin of the sacred texts, since the divine authorship of the Holy Scriptures will be questioned. Religion will then become an individual and private matter between man or woman and God. And by virtue of this privatisation, Europeans will progressively free themselves from compulsory dependence on the dogmatic disciplines imposed by the Church since the 10th century.
The fact of questioning the sacred foundation that justified the existence of Christian states would crack the confessional legitimacy of the political authority represented by the monarch. With the awareness of the self – through the rational principle “cogito ergo sum” – modern philosophy was inaugurated, which led enlightened scholars to openly question the divinisation of royal power.
This innovative rational thinking will provoke a frontal clash between the supporters of absolute power – in the hands of a single person and fiercely defended by all the European monarchies – against the defenders of the natural state of the human being, who will argue that “no man can be subjected to the arbitrary will of another man, nor can he be forced to obey laws that another man would not follow as he would”. This thought will provoke a profound crisis of European consciousness, which will open the way to the invention of liberty and the claim for social equality.
Absolute power and mercantilism
The theorists of monarchical power – such as Jean Bodin and Thomas Hobbes – justified absolutism as the most perfect form of government and the only one capable of managing the vast accumulation of wealth extracted from the colonies. The high civil service – appointed by the king himself – will develop ever more efficient mechanisms to meticulously organise the state’s finances, since its profits will not only be made by introducing large quantities of gold and silver into the economic system but also by maximising exports and minimising imports with the help of strategic tariffs.
Convinced that the wealth of the world was static because it could only be taken, traded or stolen, absolutist monarchies would persecute any intrusion or private initiative that would destabilise the international trade system, such as the systematic persecution of piracy. On the other hand, the multitude of war conflicts between the different European monarchies – throughout the 17th and 18th centuries – will be seen as a necessary exchange of wealth, territories or people in which everyone will either win or lose and in this way, the economic system will be maintained, which will always have to add up to zero.
The European monarchies – overjoyed by abundance – will completely forget about the lives of their subjects. Marvelling at the situation, they were incapable of implementing social and economic improvements and soon came up against the serious problem of collective poverty within their societies. And in a context of incipient social conflict – such as that of the early 18th century – the economists of the time, Colbert, Mun, Serra or Misselden, defended the application of a low wage policy as the only way to achieve competitiveness in international trade, followed by the perverse argument that “if the population has wages above subsistence level, these will be the cause of the reduction in labour effort”.
The wealth extracted from the colonies will not only be accumulated or transformed into the productive resources that the economy requires but above all it will be used to be exhibited through the arts – architecture, painting and sculpture – the sciences and culture. And all this will lead to a paradox when the main absolutist monarchies – French, Austrian, Russian or Castilian – will be able to live in their lavish palaces, in the most exquisite and refined opulence, regardless of the scarcity of resources on which most of their subjects lived. Even so, this structural dynamic would crumble with the irruption of enlightened rationalism in European thought, which would contribute to the definitive rupture of the status quo of centuries of monarchical excesses. Enlightened despotism attributed to the monarch the mission of bringing economic progress and social welfare to all his subjects, which led to an infinite number of social conflicts. On this point, not all European monarchies tackled the problem of redistributing wealth in the same way.
“The main absolutist monarchies will be able to live in their lavish palaces, in the most exquisite and refined opulence, without caring about the scarcity of resources on which the majority of their subjects lived.”
Two solutions to the same problem
One of the answers would be provided by the Crown of Castile through its economic policies, which would still allow it to enjoy relative international predominance. However, the massive extraction of precious metals from the “New World” – which had allowed it to become obsessed with its particular idea of cultural universalisation – had led to short-sightedness and a lack of adaptability to the changing movements of the economy. Therefore, faced with the challenge of redistributing prosperity among its subjects, it will find itself trapped between a gigantic debt and a lethargic society that will depend mostly on royal decisions and the resources coming from the colonies. All this will reveal the existence of a parasitic social pyramid that will result in a single peasant – constrained by the system of censuses and privileges – being obliged to feed thirty non-producers.
Therefore, the strategy followed by the Crown of Castile – through the king’s ‘valid ones’, the famous Duke of Lerma, the Count-Duke of Olivares or Father Nithard – would be to exert strong fiscal pressure by increasing or creating new taxes on the fragile peasant economies, or on the urban classes by constantly raising prices and lowering wages. This economic programme sought to obtain the maximum resources to continue to support the idea of Empire, given that until then it had allowed them to enjoy a positive balance of trade. In contrast, the nobility and the clergy would be completely exempt from all these tax burdens, as well as allowing them to increase their income. In the end, all this led to a significant impoverishment of Castilian society, with disastrous consequences for the birth rate and the depopulation of large areas of the ‘Meseta’, which would not fully recover until the beginning of the 20th century. And to top it all off, society would be hijacked by the Court of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, which would ensure – through censorship, the creaming of “banned” books and misogynist fundamentalism – that no critical thought that shunned the official line would germinate.
On the other hand, we find the response of the northern European territories – such as the English Crown and the seventeen United Provinces – which will involve firmly introducing Enlightenment ideas into society, politics and economics. While England was to become a parliamentary monarchy through a political process that limited the power of the monarch and the separation of powers, the military union of Utrecht – made up of the seventeen United Provinces – fought energetically until the Peace of Münster against the occupation of the Crown of Castile to become the republic of the United Provinces of the North. Both territories will adopt a new approach to trade that will lead to a mutation of the economic system and will adopt a free market logic without restrictions or state protection. The generation of wealth will no longer be through blood but through the individual’s ability to accumulate capital, which will lead to the emergence of surplus value, the source of the new conflict. And in this new economic paradigm, the State will no longer have a place, given that the basic and irreducible elements that will drive this new mentality will be – both for companies and individuals – under the economic imperative of maximising profits and minimising losses.
“In contrast, the nobility and the clergy will be totally exempt from all these tax burdens, as well as allowing them to increase the collection of their rents.”
Change of the economic paradigm
The cultural universality that had prevailed until then would be replaced by new reasoning based on “if it can be shown that the economic output of all the world’s industrial production must be concentrated in Madagascar or Fiji or that the entire population of black Africa must move to the New World to work on the cotton or sugar cane plantations, there is no economic argument that can stop these initiatives”. And so capitalism will impose ever more extensive globalisation and reach ever more remote regions, which will be more profoundly transformed.
The world will be divided into productive plots according to global criteria such as “it makes no sense to produce bananas in Norway because they are much cheaper to produce in Honduras”. Therefore, when Argentinean landowners will only produce meat or Australian farmers will only be expert wool producers, they will have abandoned their own agricultural production, since it will be more profitable for them to buy grain production for their own consumption abroad. Thus, these transactions will allow them to speculate and get a better economic return on their investments.
And in this sense, both England and Holland were the only exporters of capital and financial services to the American or Asian colonies in order to destabilise the old empires – Castile and Portugal – and thus secure the raw materials for the incipient industrial revolution. The London and Antwerp stock exchanges – founded at the end of the 17th century – would become the commercial capitals of the new economy based on the expectation of speculative dynamism, which would be mainly participated in by the descendants of the Sephardic Jews expelled by the Hispanic Monarchy at the end of the 15th century.
From the beginning, both England and Holland were certain that in order to develop the new economic paradigm, a process of concentration of economic activity by means of the urbanisation of coastal areas had to be set in motion, which enabled them to promote shipbuilding and the development of manufacturing close to the ports. This allowed them to turn their coastlines into economically very dynamic and powerful areas. A similar situation occurred on the Mediterranean peninsular coast, which became one of the territories with economic growth similar to that of the territories of Northern Europe. It was then that Catalonia would acquire territorial cohesion on the basis of an urban system closely intertwined with Barcelona – as a commercial and political centre – while at the same time, the industry would develop for the nearby towns – Sants and Saint Martin de Provençales – and mercantile activity would be reoriented towards the Atlantic and the interior of the peninsula.
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A record-breaking Diada de Sant Jordi is expected. There will be more than 4,000 flower stalls and 1,000 book stalls in Barcelona alone. Literary activities will be held all over the country.
Catalonia is experiencing one of its most special festivities this Sunday. The Diada de Sant Jordi is, at the same time, St Valentine’s Day, Book Day and the day of the patron saint of Catalonia.
All of this, weather allowing, means that we can expect a successful event despite the Barça – Atlético de Madrid match. In fact, the Cambra del Llibre de Catalunya hopes to match the figures of 2022, when 1.7 million books were sold, with a total turnover of 22.5 million euros.
In addition to the Catalan capital, which will concentrate the stands in the centre between the streets Gran de Gràcia and La Rambla, the literary activities and stands will be held all over the country. In Tarragona the stops will be located on Rambla Nova, in Girona on Esplanada de la Copa and in Lleida you will find them on Avinguda Francesc Macià and Rambla de Ferran.
From 11Onze we would like to wish you a very good Diada. Enjoy the literature, but when it comes to talking about money… Don’t fall for fairytales!
The chronological arc from the Treaty of Tordesillas to the declaration of independence of the United States of America represents the first process – on a global scale – of the distribution and exploitation of the whole world by the European monarchies. During this period, the succulent income produced by the spoils of war or by the indiscriminate plundering of the native populations was transformed into an unprecedented binge of gold and silver, which was introduced into the European economy. For this reason, the construction of the first colonial empires was based on a mercantile economy that enabled them to live up to expectations.
From the outset, the European monarchies were convinced that all the territories of the world belonged to them by right of conquest. In this way, cartography allowed them to gradually extend and possess ownership of land, over which they legitimised themselves as possessors in order to impose – not always by force – their model of civilisation on the native societies.
This process of cultural supremacy was based on the religious certainty of questioning the true human nature of the natives. And the firm belief in this reasoning will motivate the European monarchies to project a geography of large spaces to be Christianised. The greed of the newcomers led to numerous abuses and genocides, but also to an unprecedented demographic catastrophe, as the territories of the new world were reduced to 80% of their native population.
The progressive development of maritime techniques – such as the improvement of the compass, the construction of caravels or the updating of world maps – will allow Europeans to be able to navigate all the seas and oceans that make up the planet in just a few years. This feat will result in the division of the world into two halves, two geographical lines which, drawn between the two poles, will give them the power, signed by the papal authority, to divide the world into zones for navigation, fishing and conquest. The first line will be 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands, while the second will be set at 297.5 leagues east of the Molucca’s.
The discovery of important deposits of precious metals in America – between Mexico and Peru – or the arrival on the islands of Southeast Asian species, led to the foundation or re-foundation of important American, African or Asian cities, which acquired a different territorial role in order to ensure a regular flow of wealth to Europe. The European monarchies thus began to control all trade passing through their territories in order to protect their economic gains.
From the beginning of the 16th century until the mid-18th century, the first colonial empires would maintain a strict mercantile monopoly with their colonies, and trade with people or companies that were not subjects of or related to the Crown would be prohibited. Castile, for example, regarded the English, Dutch and French, not as competitors but as enemies and the cause of acts of piracy.
The colonial mercantilist system
Trade with the colonies was based on the premise that the colonists had to sell their raw materials – at a low price and with high taxes – exclusively to companies designated by the Crown. At the same time, the colonists would only be able to buy consumer goods manufactured by this select group of entrepreneurs. Therefore, monarchies will favour the unlimited enrichment of companies and individuals close to the state, since they will be denied competition. This mercantilist system will create useless needs for the natives and will seek to perpetually maintain the colonies underdeveloped – whether American, African or Asian – in order to nullify possible direct competition with the metropolis.
And to make matters worse, the senior civil servants close to the king’s council will also play a very important role in this innovative economic system, since they had the ability to speed up or delay bureaucratic procedures in order to favour one or the other. The emergence of illicit and parallel trade between colonies was therefore inevitable and led many entrepreneurs, both large and small, to seek ways of circumventing the bureaucratic controls imposed by the Crown itself.
Acting as nouveau riche, the first colonial empires – mainly Castile – will spend an indecent amount of economic resources to build their concept of civilisation. This obsession – sometimes uncontrolled – will lead them to embark on countless conflicts of all kinds, such as theological disputes, family conflicts, commercial affairs or lavish megalomaniac constructions.
“This mercantilist system will create useless needs for the natives and will seek to perpetually maintain colonies underdeveloped – both American, African and Asian – in order to nullify possible direct competitors with the metropolis”.
Financing the empire with precious metals
Coinciding with the time of greatest economic extraction from the American colonies – between the late 16th and early 17th centuries – Castile spent more than 7 million ducats to maintain its fleet in the Mediterranean during the famous Battle of Lepanto. In approximately seven years, a staggering 11.7 million ducats would be spent to finance the countless campaigns in Flanders.
To commemorate the victory in the battle of Saint-Quentin against the French troops, more than 6.5 million ducats will be spent to build the magnificent Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Thanks to the construction and launching of the Grande y Felicísima Armada, the well known Invincible Armada, 9 million ducats were sent directly to the bottom of the sea. And of course, this Catholic and universal civilisation will need to build a new capital on the banks of the Manzanares River. For the reader who is curious about the conversion, the ducat of the 16th and early 17th century would currently be equivalent to around 167.1 euros. True, the figures are… shocking!
Therefore, between 1500 and 1650, the Castilian monarchy – and by proximity, the rest of the European monarchies – lived in a veritable economic bubble generated by the massive influx of precious metals. The latest studies estimate that the Castilian Crown extracted some 17,000 tonnes of silver and 70 tonnes of gold from the American colonies. This metal binge led the state to have a distorted view of the real economy.
The paradox occurred when, despite the huge inflow of gold and silver and the collection of high taxes, they did not cover all the expenses incurred by the state. We should bear in mind that the Castilian Crown would only use this extraordinary wealth to finance all the delusions of grandeur of the Castilian elites, which in most cases would come into direct conflict with the real needs of the population. For this reason, when the oligarchies of a country were more interested in working for lavishness than for the real possibilities offered by the reinvestment of capital, all this leads to the destruction of the productive fabric itself.
Indebtedness of the Castilian Crown
By the mid-17th century, the Castilian Crown was in debt to the tune of more than 100 million ducats. This gigantic debt forced them to declare successive suspensions of payments. To plug this hole, the Crown was forced to issue a large amount of public debt, which would end up in the hands of the main European banks, such as the German banks – the Fuggers and the Welsers – and the Genoese banks of the Spínola, Centurione, Balbi, Strata and, above all, Gio Luca Pallavicino. The Crown will pay the Welsers by granting them the exploitation of the mines in Mexico and the right of conquest over extensive territories in what are now Venezuela and Colombia. For their part, the Fuggers will obtain all the commercial concessions over the territories of Chile and Peru. Today, they are some of the most powerful families of the continent. And, all the luxourious palaces of the strada nuova de Genova, principal artery of luxury in the city, still today, they constitute the biggest concentration of aristocratic residences in all of Europe.
Faced with the successive financial crises that the Castilian Crown began to suffer, many European businessmen living in the American colonies preferred not to ship their precious metals to Castilian ports – a monopoly granted in Cádiz and Seville – for fear of the massive confiscations decreed by the Crown. They, therefore, sought to invest their assets in other emerging sectors of the colonial economy at the end of the 17th century, such as agriculture, livestock and manufacturing production.
The Castilian Crown was therefore forced to look for new and regular sources of income. For this reason, it set in motion the ambitious plan of the king’s minister, the Count-Duke of Olivares, known as the Unión de Armas, which would require each kingdom that formed part of the Hispanic Monarchy – that is, mainly Portugal and the Crown of Aragon – to contribute a certain amount of money and soldiers.
“By the middle of the 17th century, the Castilian Crown would have an economic debt of more than 100 million ducats. This gigantic debt forced them to declare successive suspensions of payments”.
Relaxing the trade monopoly
Portugal, which had been part of the Hispanic Monarchy since the end of the 16th century, refused to grant any further economic contribution, given that Castile exploited its colonies, which led to a war that lasted more than 28 years. Finally, with the economic support of England and Holland, Portugal managed to free itself from the control of the Habsburgs, but the price it had to pay involved the cession of important territories in Brazil and the change of ownership of the colonies of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Cape Town, Goa, Bombay, Macao and Nagasaki, among others.
As for the Crown of Aragon, the Castilian oligarchy did not gauge the situation correctly when it accepted that King Philip IV would swear the Catalan constitutions, a sine qua non condition for obtaining the desired funds. Ignorance of the laws regulating the king’s functions within the Catalan territories would be the focus of important institutional discussions, given that the king – within the Principality – was obliged by law to explain the use of the resources granted. For their part, the Catalans were more interested in having their proposals for new Catalan constitutions approved and grievances addressed than in engaging in absurd wars.
But at the genesis of the institutional debate – between Castile and the Principality – we find a much deeper problem. If, since the end of the 16th century, Castile had moved towards a political system of an absolutist nature, where power resided in a single person, who decided without being accountable to any parliament, the opposite was true in the Principality, where the General Courts of Catalonia were the legislative body representing all strata of society, including the king.
The constant inflow of precious metals into the Castilian economy would remain stable until the mid-18th century, but only a very small percentage would remain within the Castilian economic system since the rest would continue to be used to pay off the monstrous debt of the State. Historiography estimates that it was not until 1820 that the Spanish state recovered from this huge expenditure, largely due to the fact that it had annexed the productive economy of the whole of the peninsular Mediterranean strip at the beginning of the 18th century.
The system of privileges and monopolies developed by the Bourbon trade policy continued to fail, and new agents had to be introduced to guarantee the viability of trade with America. Therefore, with the Royal Decree of Free Trade of 2 February 1778, the monopoly of Cádiz and Seville was definitively broken and Catalonia’s direct trade with America was favoured, which provided a new way of doing business. Funnily enough, today, 34% of Spain’s GDP continues to be contributed by the productive economy of the entire Mediterranean peninsular strip. Therefore, nothing happens by chance…
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