Economics for social transformation

Paul Klee, The Eye, 1938


Commentary on the recently released book by Juliane Furno and Pedro Rossi

The Perseu Abramo Foundation (FPA), in partnership with Editora Autonomia Literária, launched Economics for social transformation: small manual to change the world, written by Juliane Furno, recently admitted to the Department of Economics at UERJ, and Pedro Rossi, professor at the Institute of Economics at UFRJ. This is a beautiful and necessary initiative.

“Collaborate with the collective effort to know, understand and build arguments to transform the world in which we live. It is impossible to advance in the fight for democracy, for the reconstruction and transformation of Brazil without critically appropriating essential knowledge of the economy”, explain Carlos Henrique Arabic and Jorge Bittar in the Preface. Julian Rodrigues, coordinator of political training at the Perseu Abramo Foundation, reiterates the precept of the book's title: “As Paulo Freire (and Karl Marx) taught us, theory and practice always form a dialectical unity. Whoever knows more, fights better.”

The work – from the Argumento Collection – is written in an attractive language with artistic illustrations of Guanabara Gazette which make reading pleasurable, not superficial, with at the end of each chapter indications of texts, films and other content to delve deeper into the themes. An excellent introduction to the study of political economy for social fighters, a tool to understand the functioning of a system – capitalism – that produces and reproduces the ferris wheel of alienation.

Contrary to the orthodox vulgate of economists who encourage conformity with the status quo, and whose reforms always aim to favor the dominant classes, naturalize inequalities and privileges and weaken the subjects who transform the reality that exists, the authors propose to “systematize and hierarchize basic economic knowledge so that it serves as an instrument for critical understanding of Brazilian and international economy” (p. 12).

The book is divided into four parts. The first is more theoretical and conceptual; the second presents an exposition of capitalism from the XNUMXth century to the present day; the third analyzes the economy in Brazil together with a proposal for a socially fair and environmentally sustainable economic model, incorporating ecological reflections that relativize the positivist notion of progress; the fourth seeks to dismantle economic myths and neoliberal narratives so that left-wing militancy can be placed in conditions capable of concrete political struggle.

The authors' criticism of free market apologists deconstructs the dogmatism of the Washington Consensus and lays the foundations for knowledge of the systemic gears, in the soil of history. They are interested in showing the class foundation of two antagonistic visions: on the one hand “the political economy of the bourgeoisie” and, on the other, “the political economy of the working classes”. The theory, therefore, implies a political position. To criticize bourgeois hypocrisy is to assume a radical refusal of inhumanity and the lack of empathy with the suffering of the people.

Hypocrisy appears in the attempt to transpose a term from moral philosophy (“austerity”) that carries a connotation of sacrifice (“discipline, parsimony, prudence, sobriety” to avoid “expensive, insatiable, prodigal, wasteful behaviors”), which leads to to virtuous values ​​from the perspective of individuals' lives, for the scope of “the functions of the State, seeking to reduce its social responsibilities” (p. 185).

The assertion is fraudulent, and those who repeat it in the economic journalism of the corporate media help to create a great mystification. They are part of the team of “ideologues”, together with financial consultancies, giving the hegemonic discourse on the economy a political dimension for the defense of the establishment, as a consequence, of the abysmal inequalities between classes in society.

However, this does not mean falling into a kind of sociologism of the type that would oppose one class and “its” theory to another class and “its” theory, schematically. “Neoliberalism did not gain primacy because society read its authors and became convinced of their ideas, especially in times of economic crisis experienced by the main countries that adopted interventionist policies known as 'Welfare State'.

Neoliberalism gains relevance by blaming the intervening State and the set of social rights for the crisis that hit these nations in the late 1970s. According to this interpretation, the permissive State excessively expanded public spending and placed several barriers to the free functioning of the market, being responsible for the crisis” (p. 50-1).

The challenge “is to organize a rights-based economy driven by two main drivers of economic growth: (i) income distribution; and (ii) the expansion of social and environmental infrastructure”. The objective is “the solution to historical problems of Brazilian society such as urban mobility, health, education, structural racism, gender inequality, environmental degradation, but also a new logic for organizing economic planning” (p. 171).

The democratic-popular field thus expands the bibliographical collection for sociopolitical, economic and cultural emancipation. It embodies the “war of position” of the “subalterns”, in the Gramscian lexicon, in the name of social justice and dignity against any type of subordination and domination that creates obstacles to the right to have rights, or that denies the lesson par excellence established in the Age Contemporary, after the French Revolution, with the hope of universalizing “freedom, equality and fraternity” in the Republic from the Lula 3.0 government, driven by progressive parties, social movements, unions, community entities…

After closing the book, we can safely respond to the Questions from a reading worker, formulated in the poem by Eugen Bertolt Friedrich Brecht (Augsburg, 1898 – East Berlin, 1956):

“Who built Thebes of the Seven Gates?
And the many times destroyed Babylon –
Who rebuilt it so many times?
In which houses in Lima shining with gold did the builders live?
Where did the bricklayers go the night it was finished?
The Wall of China?

Young Alexander conquered India.
Him alone?
Felipe of Spain cried when the Armada
It sank. Didn't anyone else cry?
Frederick II won the Seven Years' War. Who

Did you win beyond him?

Every page is a victory.
Who cooked the victory feast?
Every ten years a Great Man.
Who paid the expenses?

So many reports.

So many questions."

* Luiz Marques is a professor of political science at UFRGS. He was the state secretary of culture in Rio Grande do Sul during the Olívio Dutra government..


Juliane Furno & Pedro Rossi. Economics for social transformation: small manual to change the world. São Paulo, Fundação Perseu Abramo / Ed. Autonomia Literária, 2023, 232 pages.

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