When he served in Brussels as European Commissioner for Economic & Financial Affairs (1999-2004), he denied that the introduction of the euro contributed to inflation. Then in December 2007 he said, "When I was in Brussels, I said the opposite, but now I can say that the euro has had an inflationary effect on low cost items." Was that a misreading, or was he misleading?
At that same time he predicted that Spain's inflation rate, which was 4.1%, would go below 3% by March 2008. Solbes was wrong again, as by April it had risen to 4.6%. By May it was 4.7%. Misreading, or misleading?
Solbes continued to deny there was an economic crisis through the first half of 2008, as people lost jobs, the cost of living soared, the real estate bubble burst, and the economy just generally went into the toilet. In May Solbes equated "crisis" with "recession," and added, "To talk about recession is exaggerated." Misreading, or misleading?
It seemed like he might be ready to admit the truth when it was leaked to the media that he used the word "crisis" in a June 10th closed door session of parliament. However, on June 11th he qualified that by saying, “Yesterday, the only thing I said was that we need to prepare for a crisis, but I never talked about 'the crisis.'” The official line from the Socialist Party spokesperson, José Antonio Alonso, was that Solbes had had a “slip of the tongue.” Misreading, or misleading?
Then to muddy the water further, he said on June 13th that while the Spanish economy was experiencing an “abrupt adjustment” he didn't use the word “crisis” because that would be "abusing a false affirmation. Crisis means that everything is going badly and that every other thing is going well, neither one thing or the other.” Misreading, or misleading?
By July he had finally started using the "C" word publicly, even declaring in one interview, "For me, this is the most complex crisis we have ever experienced because of the number of factors that are on the table." But around then he had moved on to avoiding the "R" word. In an interview in August he said, "We think there will be very low or flat growth in the coming quarters, but we are not thinking of a recession." Misleading, or misreading?
Last summer Solbes and Company forecast that Spain would avoid recession and that the GDP would actually grow a full 1%. This was very different from what most other economists were saying. Then yesterday he and the Government belatedly acknowledged the country is in a recession when he announced that his ministry was changing the forecast from one of GDP growth to one with a 1.6% drop. Misreading, or misleading?
Of course, there are still many non-government economists who are not as confident as Solbes, with some predicting the Spanish economy will contract as much as 3% this year. Neither the dire views of others, nor his lousy performance so far, seem to have given him pause. Indeed, while finally admitting he was wrong yesterday, he also had the temerity to make yet another prediction. According to his crystal ball (which must be what he uses in lieu of economic theory), 2009 will see the worst of the crisis, 2010 will witness GDP growth of 1.2%, and 2011 will experience a jump up to 2.6%. Misreading, or misleading?
Of course, people here say that Solbes is only delivering the information Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero wants him to, and I don't doubt it for a second. Certainly the buck stops with Zapatero, but it would be nice to have an Economy Minister who told the PM and the people what they needed to hear.
Instead what is it exactly that he offers? Is it misreading, or misleading? Double-speaking, or misspeaking? Denying, or lying? Call it what you will, but it does not often resemble the truth.
Finally, one more question: if you were running a business, would you hire someone with a track record like this?
Dios nos ayude, amig@s,