On September 3, Netflix released part 1 of the fifth and final season of La casa de papel (Money Heist), one of the streaming service’s most popular shows of all time. It is a gripping drama of a group of robbers carrying out almost impossible heists of the heavily fortified Royal Mint of Spain (seasons 1-2) and Bank of Spain (seasons 3-5), meticulously planned by a brilliant mastermind, known as “the Professor,” interspersed with intense relationship drama. However, the problematic political ideology that underpins the show is usually ignored by viewers and critics alike. The main song that is sung throughout the series by the characters after the Professor teaches it to them is the anti-fascist anthem “Bella Ciao,” a song of the Italian partisans, who led the fight against Nazi Germany and the Mussolini regime in World War II. Thanks to the popularity of the series, “Bella Ciao” actually charted in many countries in 2018.
A central theme is that the robbers are the modern reincarnation of the Italian anti-fascist resistance. The idea of the robbers as “the resistance” becomes more blatant in Season 3, which starts after one of the robbers is captured on the tropical island where he resides after the successful completion of the heist of the Royal Mint and is sent overseas to be tortured instead of being returned to Spain to stand trial. The Professor specifically declares war against the system, and unlike in the first two seasons, where there are “good guys” among the police, in season 3, the police are depicted as vile torturers, and we are introduced to César Gandía, the head of security at the Bank of Spain, who is a scary-looking racist. In season 4, we learn that the former hostage most vocal in his hatred of the robbers, Arturo, is, in fact, a rapist.
Throughout the series, the robbers’ popularity with the public is emphasized. We see large crowds in Madrid dressed like the robbers and protesting in their favor, and the robbers boost their popularity further by raining down over 100 million euros from a blimp on the streets of Madrid. The Professor notes with pride that the mask of Salvador Dalí, which the robbers wear during the heists, has become a symbol of resistance throughout the world and that their actions have inspired demonstrations against corruption in Brazil and marches for women’s rights in several countries. Their supporters have filled stadiums in France and in Saudi Arabia, and we even see protesters at the G-20 summit in Hamburg dressed in Dalí masks waving the flag of Antifa.
Given how heroically the robbers are portrayed and how vilely those opposed to them are depicted, one would have thought that Mussolini had risen from the dead and declared himself emperor for life over all of Spain. But alas, modern-day Spain is a pluralistic democracy that guarantees the rights of all its citizens. For example, even the left–leaning NGO Freedom House, which has rated political rights and freedom since 1941 on a scale of zero to 100, gives Spain full marks in response to questions such as “do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities,” and whether the Spanish government “operates with openness and transparency,” guarantees freedom of religion, protects citizens from domestic violence, and ensures that NGOs and labor unions have freedom to organize. Furthermore, it notes that women are well represented in politics, holding 43 percent and 38 percent of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, respectively.
During the first four seasons, the great paradox of the show’s politics is too obvious to ignore: The evil “system” the robbers are resisting is the only reason that they have managed to stay alive and carry out their heists. A dictatorial regime would have stormed the Royal Mint and killed all the robbers without any regard to civilian casualties, and the Professor uses his mastery of the Spanish legal code to his advantage. In Season 5, however, the notion of the Spanish state as a state constrained by law completely disappears, as Colonel Tamayo, one of the show’s main antagonists, calls in the army to storm the Bank of Spain and is very explicit that he couldn’t care less whether the hostages are killed.
Likewise, the show’s creators lack an even rudimentary understanding of economics as they depict seizing the Royal Mint to print almost a billion euros as a victimless crime no different than quantitative easing. As the Professor argues in season 2, episode 8:
But what we’re doing is okay to you when other people do it. In the year 2011, the European Central Bank made 171 billion euros out of nowhere. . . just like we are doing, only bigger. 185 billion in 2012. 145 billion euros in 2013. Do you know where all that money went? To the banks. Directly from the factory to the pockets of the rich. Did anyone call the European Central Bank a thief? “Liquidity injections,” they called it. And they pulled it out of nowhere, Raquel. Out of nowhere.
This is insane. If everyone starts printing money and dropping it from blimps, then money would have no value, and Spain would experience the hyperinflation of Venezuela. Moreover, quantitative easing has actually been very harmful to banks because its purpose is to lower long-term interest rates, and banks make money on the spread between short-term and long-term rates.
There is, however, one aspect of Spanish politics that La casa de papel gets right. The Spanish public, and in particular, Spanish youth, have reason to be disillusioned. Youth unemployment in Spain was 35.1 percent in July 2021 and 31.4 percent pre-pandemic, as compared with 9.2 percent in the U.S. in July 2021 and 8.3 percent pre-pandemic. Total unemployment in Spain was 14.3 percent in July 2021 and 13.9 percent pre-pandemic versus 5.4 percent in the U.S. in July 2021 and 3.5 percent pre-pandemic. The obvious solution to these problems, which La casa de papel unsurprisingly ignores, is economic liberalization. Spain is notorious for its inflexible labor laws, which stifle entrepreneurship, disincentivize hiring, and create a two-tier employment market, and its overweening state, with a tax-to-GDP ratio of 34.6 percent versus 24.5 percent for the U.S. For example, the OECD ranks the U.S.’s employment flexibility as better than all the countries in either the EU or the OECD, with a score of 92.4 out of 100, while Spain is ranked 26th with a score of 60.8 out of 100. Moreover, while the global Left casts itself as the defender of immigrants, the unemployment rate for immigrants is 18.9 percent in Spain, as compared with a paltry 3.1 percent in the U.S. Not only do Spaniards face reduced employment opportunities, as compared with Americans, but they are also subject to an onerous sales tax of 16 percent, as compared with an average of 6.6 percent in the U.S. Even American progressives tend to oppose high sales taxes because they are regressive.
Spain’s employment crisis demonstrates many of the fundamental problems with the European social-democratic economic model, yet instead of recognizing the root cause of Spain’s difficulties, the series advocates Antifa-style revolution. Indeed, the ultimate irony of the show is that while it purports to draw inspiration from 20th-century European history by depicting the robbers as modern-day Italian partisans, its creators have failed to learn one of the most important lessons of the past century of European history, and one that can be easily gleaned when comparing Spanish and American youth- and immigrant-unemployment rates: Statist economic ideology denies opportunity to society’s most vulnerable.