The liberal counter-attack

Albert Rivera, Mario Vargas Llosa and Luis Garicano

On 29 January 2019, the Rafael del Pino Foundation organised the dialogue "El contrataque liberal" on the occasion of the presentation of Luis Garicano's book of the same title published by Península. Albert Rivera spoke at the event, followed by a dialogue between Mario Vargas Llosa and Luis Garicano.

Mario Vargas Llosa was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010. Born in Arequipa (Peru) in 1936, he is a journalist, writer and politician. He studied literature and law and worked for several publications, including as editor of the magazine Literatura. When he moved to Paris, he joined Agence France Press and also worked for French Radio Television. In Peru, Vargas Llosa entered the television scene and the world of politics, where he was defeated by Alberto Fujimori in the 1990 presidential elections. His collaboration with EL PAÍS, being one of the newspaper's most recognisable signatures on the international scene, began in 1993. Appointed member of the Real Academia Española in 1994, his work has been translated into more than 30 languages.

Luis Garicano Luis Garicano is an internationally recognised figure for his research on issues such as the impact of technology on global economic development and the organisation of economic activity, and the future of employment in the knowledge economy. In 2017, he joined IE as Professor of Strategy and Economics, where he directs the Center for the Digital Economy, which will promote and finance the development of studies in the fields of economics, business, sociology and law. The Centre will design courses for IE Business School students and organise conferences to disseminate the results of his research. Garicano has developed his extensive teaching career at the University of Chicago and the London School of Economics, where he has been a full professor and professor; he has also been a visiting professor at MIT and the London Business School. He has also held positions as an economist at the European Commission and at McKinsey & Company.

Albert Rivera is President of Ciudadanos. He holds a degree in Law, a Master's degree in Law from ESADE and is a PhD student (2002-2004) in Constitutional Law at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. He studied at the University of Helsinki (Finland) in 2001 and in 2009 he took a course in Political Marketing at the George Washington University (USA). During his time at university, representing Ramon Llull University, he won the Spanish University Debating League Championship. From 2002 to 2006 he worked for La Caixa as a legal advisor. In 2006 he was elected to the Parliament of Catalonia and since the elections of 20 December 2015 he has been a member of the Congress of Deputies.


On the occasion of the presentation of the book "The Liberal Counterattack", by Luis Garicano, Professor of Economics at IE Business School, a dialogue between the author and Nobel Laureate in Literature Mario Vargas Llosa took place on 29 January 2019 at the Rafael del Pino Foundation. During the event, both analysed the origins of current populism and nationalism, as well as the response that liberals can give to them. Vargas Llosa recalled that the reality we live in today, despite all its problems, is infinitely superior to the past. Two hundred years ago, 90% of the world's population lived in poverty. Today, thanks to globalisation, only 10% do so. In this sense, we should be optimistic because the world has become globalised thanks to the expansion of markets and a technological revolution unprecedented in history. But, as a result of these changes, a feeling of unease, discomfort and insecurity has arisen in Western societies, allowing social phenomena that were thought to be extinct, such as nationalism, to resurface. And many, especially in Europe, are looking to it as a response to this uncertainty. Thanks to globalisation and technology, today, for the first time in history, countries can choose whether they want to be rich or poor. But this situation causes enormous uncertainty, because of the job insecurities that come with it. Artificial intelligence is already a reality of our time, which will inevitably begin to replace human labour, since robots can work 24 hours a day and their productivity is infinitely higher. Many human beings feel lost in this new reality and seek a return to the tribe, to surround themselves with people with whom they feel comfortable and safe, who speak their language and practice their customs. This is the raison d'être of the nationalism that we thought was extinct: the deep desire to escape from this insecurity. Garicano pointed out that we first became aware of the populist threat on the day of Brexit. Then we have seen how this movement was reproduced with Trump in the United States, with nationalism in Catalonia, in Hungary or in Poland. It seems that, in each place, it is something different, but there is a common substratum to all these phenomena: the changes induced by technology in the labour market. People are witnessing the destruction of routine jobs and have no certainty that the future will be better. Therefore, if we want to fight populism, we have to understand the causes and look for answers. People's fear is legitimate and needs to be addressed. That answer lies in a dynamic market and a strong welfare state, which is what allows this dynamic market to exist. Part of the answer, therefore, consists of rethinking the welfare state. Vargas Llosa added that artificial intelligence is going to put many people out of work. We tend to think that it will be the most humble jobs that are going to be wiped out, but, in reality, those who are affected and who will suffer from the replacement of human labour by machines are the middle classes. Hairdressers, hotel cleaners and waiters are not going to disappear, but the employees of the huge bureaucracies who do the kind of routine work that can be done by machines will. And while new jobs will emerge, people feel that there will never be enough to replace the jobs that robots will take. So we have to explain to people that the world has changed and that our mentality must also change to adapt to this new world where the benefits will far outweigh the detriments. The problem, in this sense, is that the triumph of nationalism would be a major obstacle to progress. For this reason, progress must be accompanied by ideas. Garicano pointed out, in this respect, that we humans are very good at finding what we want to do. What is true is that a very rapid transition is taking place and that it affects many jobs, but those affected can do other things. Returning to the question of nationalism, Vargas Llosa makes a very clear distinction between nationalism and patriotism. Patriotism is a benign and fraternal feeling. It is understandable that one feels comfortable with the homeland of one's parents, with people who speak the same language, who practice similar customs. There is no hatred of others in that. But it is when this feeling is distorted by demagogues interested in gaining power that nationalism begins to appear. In the past, nationalism has littered the world with corpses. That is why it is essential to confront nationalism without inferiority complexes and with ideas and policies that show those who fear this world in an irrefutable and contagious way that this world can be much, much better as long as we do things in the right direction, in an altruistic, fraternal and constructive direction. This is the mainstay of freedom, of democracy. No European country on its own can meet the great challenges of our time. This reality is what brought Europe into being. In the face of it, nationalisms counterpose an archaic, nationalist idea, a Europe that never existed. Garicano added that what the government is saying is that it does not know how to control these forces of globalisation and technological change. The feeling that people have is that, if they are not given answers, they will look for other answers. In Catalonia there is a feeling that the state decides a series of things and then they are not implemented. This is a huge breeding ground for populism. One way to eliminate anxiety is to tell people that the problems are understood and that the means will be put in place to resolve them, so that the will that has been expressed is fulfilled. In the face of this liquid modernity, liberalism has to say that there are decisions that are taken democratically and that they will be complied with. There has to be a state that says that the law will be complied with. With respect to Europe, Garicano commented that it has been the meeting point for these emerging nationalisms. They all see Europe as the enemy to beat, because it is the overcoming of conflict. They speak with this tone with the idea of destroying Europe from within. Europe is the key to this peace and prosperity. What we have to show is that Europe works. Europe has given arguments to the populists in two areas, namely migration and the euro, which touch people's hearts and pockets. Europe has created technocratic institutions, which are incomplete and useless when we are at the core of national sovereignty. They feed this anti-European populism. Europe is the solution, it is necessary, but it has to work. Vargas Llosa concluded that the best proof that Europe works is Spain. One need only have lived fifty years to see for oneself the enormous benefits that Europe brings to its member countries. In the 1950s, Spain was an underdeveloped country that looked very much like Latin America. In the 1960s, Europe opened its doors to millions of Spaniards who went to work in other countries, whose remittances contributed greatly to economic development. Afterwards, Spain astonished the world with its political transition from a poor and closed country to an open and very prosperous one. This would not have been possible without Europe.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for the comments, opinions or statements made by the people who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their sole responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio González, are the result of the debates held at the meeting held for this purpose at the Foundation and are the responsibility of the authors.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for any comments, opinions or statements made by third parties. In this respect, the FRP is not obliged to monitor the views expressed by such third parties who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their own responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio J. González, are the result of the discussions that took place during the conference organised for this purpose at the Foundation and are the sole responsibility of its authors.