Land as a store of value

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By GUSTAVO FELIPE OLESKO*

Agrarian Question, crisis and advance of capital in the countryside in the XNUMXst century

“Land, particularly in Brazil, has acquired the character of a reserve of value, a heritage reserve, that is, land is appropriated mainly for speculative purposes and not for production. That is, the capitalists, as a result of the almost permanent inflation that existed for a long time in the Brazilian economy, see land as a “safe investment”, which does not “devalue”. This is how empty urban land and unproductive large estates are retained.” (Ariovaldo Umbelino de Oliveira)[I]

The last few years, after the advance of reactionaryism on a global scale, have demonstrated how the Agrarian Question is still central for peripheral countries, despite the fact that many world-renowned thinkers in peasant studies such as Hnery Bernstein (2006) have considered this problem to be over. Field fires in South America and also in Africa are not just products of criminal actions, the search for expansion of properties, etc. they are much more a symbol of how reactionary rule in the US has brought a new cycle of expansion of capital's attack on the countryside and against the peasants to the global south. This is one of the central points still little discussed outside the academic circuit linked to agrarian studies.

First, it is necessary to understand the global dynamics regarding geopolitics, political and economic geography, especially with the rise to power of reactionary rulers. Trump is the great guarantor of these guys, the same Trump is the symbol of a vile ruler, who borders on ridicule, but who nevertheless came to power and in a devastating way led the US to destroy 4 of its pillars (or masks, already rotten) of support: first, the end of the “benevolent” and liberal leadership in the western world, which was followed by Clinton, “comrade” Bush (it seems strange just to remember his good relationship with Lula and other center-left rulers) and Obama; secondly, the collapse of the ever-fragile person racial in the country (recalling that George Floyd was not murdered in a racist southern state, portrayed in Hollywood series and films, but in Minnesota, or the recent events in also northern Wisconsin); third, the intensification of the class struggle in that country since, contrary to his speech, Trump deepened the liberalization of work in that country; and finally, the fourth point, that of “soft” or disguised intervention in South America, with evident actions in Brazil since 2014 (via Justice, via politics, via economics), Bolivia, Colombia, etc.

The Brazilian case, a soft power of the global south, is exemplary. The rise of Jair Messias and his group was not a fluke or a strategic error by the ruling classes (at least not by the hard core). Guedes was one of the first to understand where the winds were blowing and boarded the Bolsonarist ship early in the morning. As a result, what I call tutored Bonapartism was created in the country. Bonapartism because, like Marx[ii] had already analyzed in the case of Napoleon III, the clan rose to power supported by the layers to the tattered, the Brazilian lumpen, both workers and capitalists. Also Bonapartism because, still in Marx, the clan works for itself, they understand themselves as above institutions, as guardians of the social order. And why guarded? Tutored because it is tolerated by the mainstream media and the “markets” thanks to an ultraliberal apparatus that promised the liquidation of national assets, whether state or public services… and in this context enter the issue of public lands. They are also protected by the military, especially the army, thanks to the promise (so far fulfilled) of a significant increase in the defense budget, the boastful ideology and the defense of the Amazon against enemies (formerly NGOs, today France)

Guedes, rentier and ultraliberal, created around himself the myth that he would “kill with rentism” with his speech right after taking office. For those little informed on our side of the trench, his measure of lowering interest rates to the lowest levels in Brazilian history was this fact being consummated, leaving little room for criticism. However, it is necessary to know that the issue of interest is inseparably linked to the prices of land properties, especially agrarian ones. Therefore, when interest rates fall, land prices rise almost automatically. Add to that the sharp rise in the dollar since the ultraliberals came to power.

But what is the reason for this? The land as a reserve of value in Brazil is an old fact as several scholars have analyzed. Ariovaldo Umbelino de Oliveira and also José de Souza Martins in their works portrayed how, in addition, land is an equivalent of capital in Brazil and was widely used in financial speculation, that is, in the stock exchanges. This mechanism is simple: the land is valued at a certain price, this price is used in its mortgage with subsidized interest normally at half the Selic rate, so it was always advantageous to invest in debt securities, given that you would always receive a lot in return and guaranteed. An example of this would be the 24,9% interest rate of FHC's last term, where a speculator would pay 12,4% interest on his mortgage but would receive this 24,9% on top of it. Clean profit of 12,4%. This mechanism was widely used until very recently and, as Coggiola teaches us, it was one of the engines of the explosion of the Brazilian internal debt.

With the low interest rate, 2% in August 2020, such a mechanism is no longer worthwhile. However, land prices have a new tree and ends up generating a land grabbing race. This is the explanation for the fires that devastate not only Brazil, but the entire South American continent. Add to this the need for anchoring in the real on the part of several investors who fear a new crisis due to the unrealistic increase in the values ​​of shares traded on various stock exchanges around the world. That is, the drop in interest rates and the need for a concrete guarantee, the land, generates the expansion of land grabbing on public lands with forest cover and on lands where several squatter peasants live.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. An important issue is that the International Division of Labour, in constant reconfiguration since the person neoliberalism after the fall of the USSR, further accelerated its new plot: Latin America as the world's breadbasket. The reprimarization of the economy has been constant since the mid-1980s, with a drop in the share of the manufacturing industry in GDP from almost 21% in 1985 to 11% in 2019. Meanwhile, agribusiness is gaining ground… it is this same agribusiness that is also advancing on public lands, killing people and destroying nature together with large unproductive landowners (keeping in mind that according to INCRA data, already very suspicious and with a standard of understanding productivity dating back to the 1970s, only 30% of large properties can be understood as productive, the rest is unproductive latifundia, for speculation). We haven't even gone into the question of the environmental destruction caused by this race for properties, the already evident environmental change in the southernmost part of the Amazon (with the great droughts in Paraná and Pantanal) or even the dismantling of an already fragile existing food security in the country with the dollar at the heights and exports as the absolute north.

Therefore, the agrarian question is not dead, the class struggle intensifies with the massacre of capitalists and large landowners on peasants, Brazilian indigenous peoples and quilombolas, and South American indigenous peoples and peasants. The XNUMXst century, which for some began with the end of the USSR, has its first turn, gains expression in an even more cruel and violent, more unequal and that needs even more blood to lubricate the rotten gears of the capitalist mode of production in its phase late than Mandel[iii] warned us.

*Gustavo Felipe Olesko He holds a PhD in Human Geography from USP.

 

Notes


[I]OLIVEIRA, Ariovaldo Umbelino de. Capitalist mode of production, agriculture and agrarian reform, P. 64. São Paulo, FFLCH, 2007.

[ii]MARX, Carl. The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. São Paulo, Boitempo Editorial, 2018.

[iii]ALMOND, Ernest. late capitalism. São Paulo: Abril Cultural (The Economists), 1982.

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