Spanish Prisoners

ON Sept. 11, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Barcelona calling for Catalonia’s independence from Spain. Artur Mas, the Catalan prime minister, reacted by dissolving the regional Parliament and calling for elections on Nov. 25, which will likely strengthen his party’s position. Catalonia’s Parliament, which represents an autonomous region the size of Belgium in Spain’s northeast corner, has overwhelmingly supported holding a referendum on independence despite the Spanish Constitution’s ban on secession. So in addition to its economic woes, Spain now faces a deep constitutional crisis.

History can follow a capricious path, sometimes meandering slowly for decades only to accelerate abruptly and take a vertiginous turn. The immediate cause of Catalonia’s sudden outbreak of secessionist fever is so-called fiscal looting. The region accounts for about one-fourth of Spain’s exports. But for every euro Catalans pay in taxes, only 57 cents is spent in the region. Before taxes, Catalonia is the fourth richest of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions. After taxes, it drops to ninth — a form of forced redistribution unparalleled in contemporary Europe.

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