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Catalonia, gold and bitcoin

Is the era of the superstate coming to an end? There are signs that it is
There's more than one way to make a country

European and American markets weren’t much moved by the Catalonian independence referendum even if international news networks were full of the heavy-handed Spanish police tactics and the corresponding outrage that met it.

The market in Spain, though, was hit badly.

WATCH: Bitcoin and Gold to retain popularity following Catalonia vote, says Proactive's Alastair Ford

The IBEX - run out of Madrid, of course, and not Catalonia - dropped to a 15 month low, while Spanish government bond yields rose by nearly 2%. So, locally-focussed investors are jittery at least, even if the unease hasn’t yet rippled beyond the Iberian Peninsula.

To be sure, the Catalonian independence vote hasn’t had any impact on the German economy, or the French or the Italian.

Not yet, at any rate - German economic numbers continue to look good and the European Union in general is busy enjoying broad-based growth.

A little local difficulty in Spain ought not to be much to worry about.

But market participants have been wondering for a while about the integrity of nation states, and if a Union made up of lots of them may not turn out to be weaker than the sum of its parts.

US different, but still illuminating

Across the Pond, the example of the US is different, but still illuminating.

Old arguments that the US was only ever meant to be a loose confederation of states are assuming a new credence. Guardian columnists, not generally commentators favourably disposed to secession talk, are now openly considering  the US as separate countries.

Secession talk for California is now real and current, where a generation ago it would have been fringe at best. And if the actual likelihood of “Calexit” remains pie-in-the sky, there’s no doubt that economically and culturally it is a country mile away from Arkansas or Alabama.

And, contrary to the standard liberal narrative, in which education and wide dissemination of knowledge drive everyone towards a common understanding, these economic and cultural differences are only becoming more pronounced.

Indeed, they are being helped along by the advances of the information age, including the internet, and more latterly, bitcoin and other blockchain currencies.

Rise of the “cryptos”

With the rise of these “cryptos”, a long-standing desire for alternatives to the US dollar as the world’s de-facto currency are is at last coming to fruition.

Could it be that crypto-currencies will allow separatists the world over to survive economically where in the past they would have been snuffed out at the first whiff of a shopping trip?

And is it coincidence that the gold price rose markedly a decade ago just as the US financial system finally closed down its last major point of weakness, the Swiss banking system?

Switzerland was for centuries a place where independently-minded but sophisticated people could store cash and assets away from the eyes of government apparatchiks. The system got a bad name by helping Nazis and tax-dodgers, but at least there was another system available to people who didn’t want to bow to US financial suzerainty.

In the modern era, the runaway success of bitcoin at a time when major trading blocks are attempting world domination is surely no co-incidence. You can buy gold, but where do you put it? Now you can buy bitcoin and you can keep it on your computer.

Homage to Catalonia

What does this all have to do with Catalonia?

Well, countries come and go, but as long as there’s trade there will be cash. Who controls that cash is shortly to become one of the major issues of the day.

Because, for the last century or so, as it’s attempted to bow out of religion, the major business of the state has been tax collection. And in order to sustain that business - or as the modern jargon would have it, to boost sales or revenue - the state has also looked for more and more areas in which to spend the money that it raises.

Hence governments now fund education, health, poverty relief, scientific research, data gathering, cultural activities, social integration and more, whereas before they contented themselves solely with defence and the regulation of trade.

The modern liberal state is the General Electric of government - or Tiny Rowland’s Lonhro -  an increasingly complex sprawl of revenue generating activities, whose existential purpose often isn’t clear.

Why is Catalonia part of Spain? The basic answer is that it was signed over to the Aragonese by the French in the thirteenth century, the Aragonese then subsequently taking on the crown of Spain when a later king, Ferdinand, got together with Isabella of Castile.

But such answers are increasingly irrelevant in today’s modern age. These territorial demarcations were laid down in an age when it could take days to travel just a few score miles by land, and one of the most efficient means of transport was actually sailing ship.

The high water mark of this tendency to equate power with national frontiers probably came with the scramble for Africa when almost the entire surface of the earth was coloured in on maps by a combination of colonial government and the Americans.

But it’s been in retreat ever since then. Nationalism and the romantic movement went hand in hand, and both are out. What’s left is a lattice of state apparatuses constructed to serve a 19th century world. Because in Europe these appear weaker in the aftermath of two world wars there has been an effort to make them stronger – the European Union.

Trend different in US and UK

In America and the UK the trend has been going the other way. And it may not be long before the European electorate take a look across the cultural divide and work out why. Already right wing parties are on the rise in France, Austria, the Netherlands, Hungary, Greece, to some extent, and latterly Germany.

And Spain still had a fascist dictator when Posh Spice was born.

Neither Europe nor America are yet continents that are at ease with themselves.

And in many cases the state’s efforts to rectify this are proving counter-productive: liberalism is now casting covetous eyes on once relinquished realms of morality, belief and prejudice.

Not only are you not allowed to voice prejudices - theoretically you are not even allowed to hold them inside your own head. This is obviously anathema to independent-minded Americans in the Mid-West and elsewhere, and they kick back with their own kinds of extremism, often directed against centralised government.

If you have certain views on what you do, or do not want your taxes to pay for, North American and European governments can and do over-rule you at will. If you have certain views on religion, marriage, how to raise children, likewise.

Contrary to the prediction of George Orwell, the thought police is actually an agency staffed by liberals.

But new identities can take the form of old tropes. In Spain, we have Catalonia, where Orwell himself fought of course, during the Spanish Civil War. In his famous book, Barcelona is painted as the cradle of anarchism: an alarming prospect to the old collapsing European order in the late 1930s.

Now though, with that order gone and crime rates falling around the world, do we really need these monstrous relics of statehood still controlling our lives? 

© mining Capital 2018

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