Spain rearranges furniture as economy sinks

Tue May 26, 2009 9:24pm EDT
 
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By Paul Day

MADRID (Reuters) - Moving a 17-meter (55.76 feet) high monument to Christopher Columbus 100 meters down the road is how the Spanish government is interpreting the advice of John Maynard Keynes.

The economist once argued it would be preferable to pay workers to dig holes in the ground, and fill them in again, rather than allowing them to stand idle and deprive the economy of the multiplier effect of their wages.

So Spain's government is paying for the return of the concrete-based monument, topped by a three-meter marble statue of the Italian explorer, to a roundabout in the middle of Madrid's Plaza Colon -- exactly where it had stood for almost 100 years until 1973.

Plan E (Spanish Plan for Economic Stimulus and Employment) is part of Spain's equivalent to the "New Deal" U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt devised in response to The Great Depression, a plan partly drawn up by Keynes himself.

Moving the Columbus monument will take 65 workers until the end of the year. For them, the project gives Spain a little time to find a longer-term solution to unemployment that is rising faster than in any other European Union country.

"What will they do once the monument has been moved?" said one worker, surveying the chaos in the central Madrid plaza amid preparations for the move and another Plan E project, construction of a new underground car park.

"Well, I guess they'll have to hope for a Plan F, then a Plan G," he said, on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The Socialist government has been enthusiastically Keynesian in its response to the steep downturn: many of Madrid's major streets are now a labyrinth of roadworks, negotiated only with difficulty by pedestrians and traffic.   Continued...

 
<p>A crane is seen by the 17-metre high monument of Christopher Columbus at Madrid's Colon Square May 21, 2009. REUTERS/Susana Vera</p>