The voice of statistics

Tradition has it that Marcus Aurelius, the last of those who passed into history as the five good emperors of Rome, always took a slave with him on his walks through the city. The function of the slave was to keep saying in his ear, amid the acclamations and cheers from his subjects, "remember you are only a man". In the history of Rome, Marcus Aurelius is known as 'The Wise'.

We don't have that slave, but we do have figures, and, when figures appear, speeches and the story fade into insignificance. For 29 days of the month we can pay attention to the arguments from institutions that insistently tell us about the economic strength of the Costa del Sol, how buoyant Malaga is compared with other Andalusian provinces, the sea of opportunities which tourism brings for our future prosperity, our status as an economic motor... but once a month the unemployment figures are released to warn us, like a voice of conscience with the vocation of a spoilsport, that the model doesn't work.

Sometimes we tend to forget about the numbers. The need to feed our self-esteem allows us to accept the impression of streets full of tourists, hotels with no vacancies, work opportunities (badly paid) in tourist resorts when the weather gets hotter... but this is just a deception, no matter how much we would love to believe it is true.

This year, despite what the situation looks like from the street, the national institute of statistics (INE) joined in with the cheering and gave us some figures, difficult to relate to any empirical experience, which spoke of record hotel occupancy levels. It is irrelevant today to discuss how much the INE figures reflected reality, the manner in which they were measured and above all how far the hotel owners were obliged to reduce their prices to avoid having empty rooms in August. Some figures have value: those regarding unemployment - Malaga, the second province in Spain in which unemployment has increased most; Marbella, once again bordering 10,000 unemployed - keep reminding us, like Marcus Aurelius' slave, about the vulnerability and weakness of our economy.

The mad months are coming now. The ones when unemployment shoots up again, until the next summer comes knocking at the door. Then we will once again allow ourselves to be fooled by our impressions on the street and we will postpone, for another year, the essential debate on the best way to tackle a change in the productive model. And also how to realise that, rather than pandering to our self-esteem, we need to face up to reality.