Pocket – the most sensitive part of the human body

Image: David Buchi


Jair Bolsonaro's main assets in the economy and what Lula can do to stop them

What some had been predicting for some time was confirmed: Jair Bolsonaro arrives competitive in the elections. Despite everything he did and didn't do, he has conditions to win, even if he is not the favorite, given his high rejection rates.

In any case, is it not surprising, reader, that a president with the track record does he still manage to have something like 30% of the voting intentions? It is true that the competitiveness of the president, governor or mayor who is running for re-election in office is usually assured. He has a typewriter and pen in his hand, in addition to the permanent exhibition that his position gives him. And, if he has a majority in Parliament, he can approve many electoral measures, especially if parliamentarians are all for money, as is happening now in the National Congress. Competitiveness can be undermined by a below-critical performance, as is the case of the current president, but it takes a lot of effort to get out of the running. It happens, but it's rare. And Jair Bolsonaro, whether we like it or not, has his assets.

I will address two interconnected questions: (i) What are Jair Bolsonaro's main assets, especially in the economy? (ii) And what can Lula do to counter arrest them?


Bolsonaro's Economic Assets

The president's strengths are political and personal, of different kinds, and notably include his charismatic and young wife – a kind of degenerate Evita Perón. But I will only deal with the economic trump cards, perhaps decisive in the social emergency that the people are going through. The pocket, as Delfim Netto used to say, is the most sensitive part of the human body, especially when there is a lack of food, housing, public transport, education, health and everything else.

The government acted on two fronts to face the social emergency, doing everything possible and impossible, permitted and illegal, to: (a) lower fuel prices; and (b) launch an expansion of social transfers, increasing the Auxílio Brasil to R$600 and other benefits. The reduction in fuel prices brought deflation in the month of July. And the social package has a double electoral aspect. First: it puts money quickly in the hands of those who are struggling. Second: these beneficiaries are those who immediately spend everything they receive, generating a greater dynamic or multiplier effect on demand and the economy.

It so happens, reader, that the level of economic activity has already been recovering, albeit slowly, throughout 2022. This is the case of the services sector, notably, which accounts for a preponderant part of GDP. Employment was rising, even if slowly and with precarious and poorly paid jobs. The unemployment rate remains high, but has been steadily falling. With the impetus provided by the social package, this temporary trend of reactivation should be accentuated.


What should Lula's response be?

Lula and his team have vast political and electoral experience since the 1980s. Lula is the most experienced candidate in Brazil and, perhaps, in the world. I run the risk of teaching the priest ours to the vicar. In any case, I proceed.

The nature of the challenge is obvious. Jair Bolsonaro does. Lula promises to do. Jair Bolsonaro disburses. Lula promises to disburse. For those who are in need of everything, money weighs more than words.

There is no way to solve this challenge satisfactorily, obviously. But perhaps Lula needs to be, right away, a little more specific in the social area, saying with all the letters, with numbers and clear words, what will be done or proposed in this area, as of January 2023.

Teresa Campello, former Minister of Social Development, and other specialists in the field, have plenty of capacity to present the main points of a new Bolsa Família starting in January. A new Bolsa Família that takes the old one as a starting point and that includes, let's say, among other aspects: (a) the proposal to increase the value of the benefit to something like R$ 800 reais per month; (b) converting the higher monthly amount into a permanent, non-emergency one; (c) raising the minimum income threshold from which payments are made so that more Brazilians are included; (d) reduction and later elimination of queues in the program, which grew in the Bolsonaro period; (e) improvement of the single register of beneficiaries to allow efficient execution; (f) resumption and strengthening of important education and health conditionalities, combined with social assistance to beneficiaries. Lula and her team are certainly already working in that direction. Measures like these are justified from the social point of view and would have an electoral impact.

Perhaps the important thing is to get reasonably detailed proposals out on the street, by the way. Lula has a lot of knowledge and experience. He is the ideal politician to present, with credibility, proposals to combat hunger and poverty. When he talks about social issues, he speaks from his experiences and his family. And, moreover, with the authority of someone who developed innovative social programs when he was president – ​​over two terms, and not as a last-minute electoral expedient.

*Paulo Nogueira Batista Jr. he holds the Celso Furtado Chair at the College of High Studies at UFRJ. He was vice-president of the New Development Bank, established by the BRICS in Shanghai. Author, among other books, of Brazil doesn't fit in anyone's backyard (LeYa).

Extended version of article published in the journal capital letter on August 19, 2022.

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