The Damnation of History and the Struggle for the Future

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By JOSÉ LUÍS FIORI*

The search for a new development project for Brazil will have to start with a new international power strategy

“After 1940, Argentina entered an entropic process of social division and chronic political crisis, as it failed to unite around a new development strategy, adequate to the geopolitical and economic context created by the end of the Second World War, by the decline of the England, and for the world supremacy of the United States.” (José Luís Fiori, History, strategy and development, P. 272).

There is a question hanging in the air: what will happen in the country when the population realizes that the Brazilian economy has collapsed and that the economic program of this government does not have the slightest possibility of putting the country back on the path of growth? With or without pension reform, whatever it may be, even the one proposed by Mr. Guedes. And what happens after that?

More likely, the government's economic team will be sacked and replaced by some other group of economists that mitigate the most destructive traits of the government's ultraliberal program. Even so, the possibility cannot be ruled out that the president himself will be replaced by one of his extreme right-wing allies in this coalition built in a hasty and irresponsible manner, around an absolutely inept and insane figure. But if none of that happens and things continue to drag on and get worse in the near future, the most likely thing is that the extreme right forces will be soundly defeated in the next presidential elections.

The problem is that, when this happens, Brazil will already have completed another “lost decade”, which makes it even more difficult to predict and plan what will happen, and what can be done in the 2020s, to withdraw the country from chaos. It is, however, essential and urgent to imagine and reflect on this future, so as not to repeat past mistakes. To do so, the best path is to start by re-reading the past itself and then analyze, with more attention, the case of some countries that made identical choices, and that anticipate the consequences of the course adopted by Brazil. in an extremely synthetic way, in the 1980s of the last century, when “South American developmentalism” entered a crisis and was abandoned by all countries on the continent where it had been hegemonic since the end of World War II. This collapse occurred simultaneously with the “crisis of American hegemony”, in the 1970s, and with the change in the international economic strategy of the United States, during the Ronald Reagan administration, in the 1980s. the great “neoliberal turn” in South America, when the political and economic elites of the continent adopted together, and almost simultaneously, the same program of reforms and liberal policies advocated by what was called, at the time, the “Washington Consensus” .

However, in all countries where they were applied, these neoliberal policies produced low economic growth and increased social inequalities. And at the start of the new millennium, the negative results contributed to South America making a new about-face, this time “to the left”, taking advantage of the vacuum created in the region by the global war on terrorism, which shifted the attention of United States to the Middle East.

In a few years, almost all countries on the continent elected nationalist, developmentalist or socialist governments, with anti-neoliberal rhetoric and an economic project whose common denominator pointed in a much more nationalist and developmentalist direction than liberal. It was during this period, already in the first decade of the new millennium, that Brazil and some other countries on the continent decided to increase state control of some strategic assets in the region, particularly in the field of energy, as happened after the discovery of pre-salt in the Brazil, and unconventional gas in Argentina. And South America then resumed its old regional integration project, now under Brazilian leadership, with the expansion of Mercosur and the creation of Unasur.

Once again, however, as in the legend of Penelope, the Latin American continent unraveled everything again, after the international economic crisis of 2008 and, in particular, after the change in the strategic doctrine of the United States, with the government of Donald Trump , which sponsors coups d'état and ultraliberal governments while practicing – paradoxically – protectionism and economic nationalism in domo suo. But it seems that everything is moving faster and faster, because there are already strong indications that this new liberal wave will be even shorter than the previous one, as is the case – outside of South America – of Lopez Obrador's victory in Mexico, and the huge popular reaction against the ultraliberal government of Mauricio Macri in Argentina.

Argentina, by the way, is the oldest and most paradigmatic case of this true “South American seesaw”. The economic program of the government of Maurício Macri, for example, almost entirely reproduced the ultraliberal ideas of the economist Domingo Cavallo, which had already been proven in the governments of Carlos Menem (1989-1999) and Fernando de la Rua (1999-2001), before the Peronist governments of Nestor Kirshner (2003-2007) and Cristina Kirshner (2007-2015), which led, in turn, to the return of liberalism, with the electoral victory of Maurício de Macri in October 2015. Parliamentary support of Maurício Macri allowed him to approve, without major problems, the famous reforms of Social Security and labor legislation, maintaining a rigorous policy of fiscal austerity and privatization of what still remained in the hands of the Argentine State.

Despite all this, the economic policy of the Macri government produced disastrous results. In 2018, the Argentine economy suffered a drop of 2,5%, and in 2019, the country's GDP should have another drop of 3,1%, according to the most optimistic forecasts. With an inflation rate of around 46%, an unemployment rate close to 10%, and 32% of the population below the poverty line, Argentina is gradually becoming an underdeveloped country, something it had never been before. On the contrary, at the beginning of the 1940th century, Argentina was one of the six richest economies in the world, and even until the 50s, it continued to be the richest and most homogeneous country in all of South America. And it was only after the 1870s that Argentina lost the economic momentum of its Golden Age (1930-XNUMX), facing, since then, a prolonged process of social and political fragmentation, ever more profound and radical, which advances in the form of a pendular and repetitive movement, which sometimes points in the liberal direction, sometimes in the direction of Peronism, but with mutual destruction, by each of the parties, in the previous round.

Brazil entered this same “seesaw”, but only after the economic crisis of the 1980s, which was succeeded by three neoliberal governments, between 1990 and 2002, and by three hybrid governments, but closer to a “progressive developmentalism”, with a strong bias towards social inclusion and affirmation of the country's international sovereignty, between 2003 and 2015. And it returned to the liberal agenda after the 2015/16 coup d'état, in an even more radical way than in FHC's period, with the proposal minister Paulo Guedes and his team of former Chicago School students. In fact, his repeated defense of the need to completely “destroy” the developmental heritage is much more reminiscent of the positions of the liberal economist Eugenio Gudin, defended in the debate he held in the 1940s with the industrialist entrepreneur Roberto Simonsen, regarding the “correct” role of the State, market and planning in Brazilian development. The problem is that today this liberal agenda appears to be supported by an alliance and a government formed by extreme right-wing reserve soldiers together with various fundamentalist religious sects, financed by traditional elites, tutored by the great conservative press and supported, in the last instance, by the US government.

This true Frankenstein perhaps explains why the Brazilian disaster is happening more quickly than in Argentina, which increases the probability that Brazil ends up a prisoner of the same “seesaw” that condemns the neighboring country, and South America itself, to do and undo the same thing dozens of times, practically without leaving the place – or even worse, downloading more and more. With the difference that, if this were to happen again in Brazil, the disintegration process would have to be much faster and more perverse than in Argentina, because Brazil starts from a much higher level of inequality and poverty than our neighbors had in the last century. . In this case, the most likely is that Brazil will enter a long process of “secular and precocious stagnation” or, what is worse, a prolonged economic depression, interrupted by small “expansive hiccups”, unable to contain the advance of social disintegration, which should be increasingly violent and cruel towards the vast majority of the Brazilian population, which is the poorest and most unprotected. In any case, this will be the country they will find ahead of them, and it will be the gigantic challenge for the new Brazilian leaders who will be elected in 2022, to replace the current captain-president, or any other extreme right-wing character who may come to take your place.

But be careful, because Brazil is not yet definitively condemned to repeat the “Argentine seesaw”, nor does it necessarily need to resort to its same developmentalist model of the past. In case of victory of some coalition of progressive forces, it is very difficult to anticipate the economic policy measures that should be implemented to keep the country out of chaos. But one thing is obvious: Brazil will have to radically change its international stance, in particular with regard to the United States, which considers itself fully entitled to exercise its sovereignty within the entire “Western Hemisphere”. That is, from our point of view, the fight for a new development project for Brazil will have to start with a new strategy of international power.

But if this is the path chosen by Brazilians, there is no mistaking it: the new elected officials in 2022 will have to put a damper on the shameful foreign policy of this far-right government, and start a new type of relationship. with the United States, which will always be, at the same time, one of complementarity, competition and conflict, especially within South America, and in relation to flows and resources from the South Atlantic. In any case, and in any case, the fundamental thing is that the new Brazilian government is guided always and in the first place by the compass of its own social, economic and geopolitical objectives. Aware that they will have a very narrow and complicated path ahead of them, and that this path will take a long time to consolidate. But at the same time, with the certainty that this is the time that all great countries have taken to build their own future, without being humiliated, and without ever having to be ashamed of themselves and their past.

* Jose Luis Fiori Professor at the Graduate Program in International Political Economy at UFRJ. Author, among other books, of Global power and the new geopolitics of nations (Boitempo).

 

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