The backward elite and its ills

Image: Pieter Bruegel
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By PAULO NOGUEIRA BATISTA JR.*

Outside the alternative media, there is almost no more space for views critical of the “market consensus”, only opinions consistent with the priorities and prejudices of the elite are widely disseminated.

Today, I would like to throw a few punches at the “backward elite”. She deserves so much more than tecos, of course. But I will exercise some self-restraint. It's not easy to do, as the reader can imagine. In Brazil, the owners of money and power have highly problematic characteristics, as has been known for a long time. Machado de Assis already noted in 1861: “The real country, this is a good one, reveals the best instincts; but the official country, that is caricature and burlesque”. Machado was one of many great Brazilians who did not accept the contrast between the country and its ruling classes.

The hypocrisy of the Tupiniquim elite, for example, is out of the ordinary. For some time now, the favorite sport of a portion of the traditional media has been attacking the federal government, considered uncivilized, incompetent and damaging to the country's image abroad. Thankfully, the attack has its place. It is inappropriate, however, to blame only Bolsonaro and Bolsonarism for our dramas and impasses. The “backward elite”, including prominent figures who are now in opposition to the government, have contributed appreciably to the current misery. Or not? I have the slight impression that yes. Nor is it known, for sure, the sincerity and firmness of these neo-opponents.

“Late Elite”. Perhaps there is no better designation than that, coined by Jessé Souza, for the Brazilian ruling classes or their dominant fractions. Even when they believe themselves to be modern and cosmopolitan, their distinguishing feature is backwardness, attachment to the past and the outdated..

The Chicken Coop Orthodoxy

The aversion to the free and open debate of ideas is another striking trait of the backward elite. This is reflected in the virtual absence of economic debate in the corporate media, which allows the consecration of primary and antiquated doctrines as incontestable truths. If the debate had been freer in recent decades, extravagant economic theses and harmful to the national interest would hardly have prospered. For example, the idea that “foreign savings” is essential for the development of an emerging economy and the related postulate that significant deficits in current external accounts are desirable. Or the naive assumption that the floating exchange rate regime exempts a country from maintaining high international reserves. Or, still, the belief that monetary expansion necessarily results in inflation. Pearls of chicken coop orthodoxy…

When I returned from China, at the end of 2017, I found that discussions of economic issues in the main Brazilian media, which had never been the most diverse, had almost disappeared. Only opinions consistent with the priorities and prejudices of the elite of backwardness are widely disseminated, especially of its hegemonic fraction, the financial system – the notorious gang of buffoons. This fraternity, when it thinks, or pretends to think, resorts to what I usually call “chicken coop orthodoxy”, a simplified version of the economic orthodoxy invented in the United States in past decades. Now, without debate, without confrontation of ideas, one cannot properly speak of democracy.

A bit of national political history

What I have just said can and should provoke indignation, but never surprise. The backward elite is only democratic in discourse. Its practice is authoritarian and, when necessary, a coup. The classic example is the old UDN – the so-called União Democrática Nacional, a supposedly liberal party created in 1945 and extinguished in 1965. Due to its almost always great difficulty in winning presidential elections, the UDN supported or led almost all, if not all, political coups. of the time – against Getúlio, against JK, against Jango. There was, in fact, a small mistake in the name of the party – it should have been called not UDN, but UGN, União Coupista Nacional. The UGN and its successors only managed to reach the Presidency through elections when they focused on exotic, somewhat unhinged figures, such as Jânio Quadros and, later, Fernando Collor. In both cases, the exoticism was such that they did not complete the mandates for which they were elected. Jair Bolsonaro is the latest version of this “ugenist” resource, aggravated, however, by more dangerous traits, fascist or at least proto-fascist.

The UGN has important contemporary successors, who stood out in recent political crises. The PSDB, now decadent, was the closest to the “ugenist” model. Aécio Neves, defeated in 2014, called for sabotage against the re-elected president, launched the parliamentary coup and formed the perfect image of the UGN in the 21st century.

Alternative media is the lifeline of the crop

But I return to the narrowing of the national economic debate. Outside of alternative media, there is almost no room left for views critical of the “market consensus”. In corporate media, space is tight and strictly controlled. By the way, if it weren't for the alternative media, with its variety of publications, websites, blogs, etc., this economist who writes to you would be reduced to practically total silence. He would be climbing the walls, like a professional gecko (as Nelson Rodrigues would say).

The virtual suppression of economic debate takes its toll. The reader may not be able to assess the damage being done to the country, for decades, with the subordination of economic policy to the worst of the chicken coop orthodoxy!

I stop and reread what I wrote. It got a little violent. Self-restraint didn't work well. I apologize, reader, for the exaltation of some passages. I am well aware that putting emphasis on words and exclamation points can harm more than convince. But the emergency situation we are living in perhaps justifies and forgives the rhetorical excesses.

*Paulo Nogueira Batista Jr. he was vice-president of the New Development Bank, established by the BRICS in Shanghai, and executive director at the IMF for Brazil and ten other countries. Author, among other books, of Brazil doesn't fit in anyone's backyard: backstage of the life of a Brazilian economist in the IMF and the BRICS and other texts on nationalism and our mongrel complex (LeYa).

An abridged version of this article was published in the journal Capital letter, on February 5, 2021.

 

 

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