Fernandez-Villaverde on Spain's Economic Success

"On July 21, 1959, Franco’s government approved an executive order that implemented the “Plan de Estabilización” (the “Stabilization Plan”). The result of a memorandum of understanding with the IMF, the World Bank, and the OECD, the “stability plan” committed Spain to a rather standard program of fiscal and monetary stability, opening to international trade and foreign investment, and growing integration with international economic organizations. Simultaneously, the government had undertaken, in 1957, an administrative reform that enhanced state capability and an extremely efficient top civil service was established. Forget about the guy giving you a driving license at the local DMV; what matters is the quality of the senior permanent secretary of the Treasury, which has been outstanding since 1957 without interruption.

The “stability plan” broke an inward-looking development model with growing barriers to trade that had been followed since 1874. By 1959 Spain was poor for much deeper reasons than the 1936-1939 Civil War. Most recent releases of Maddison’s NIPA data for Spain, helped by the work of top researchers such as Leandro Prado de la Escosura show, that by 1929, Spain had fallen dramatically behind its European peers except Portugal and Greece.

The combination of macroeconomic stability, freer flow of goods and capital, and stronger state capability triggered several decades of fast economic growth. Most people would naively mention tourism. These observers forget that Spain became a magnet for the European car industry. In 2017, Spain produced more passenger cars than France or the U.K. and nearly as many as the U.S. (although the U.S. number is biased by the importance of pickup trucks in the U.S. production mix). Even more importantly, Spain is one of leading world producers of car parts."