geographic lottery

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By JOSÉ CLÓVIS DE M. LIMA*

Iceland's pension system has abundant resources to guarantee the retirement and pensions of its population for years and years.

I borrow the title analogy from a fellow journalist. He often uses the term “genetic lottery” to refer to topics related to the field of medicine and uses sophisticated philosophical concepts to address the limits of rational conjectures. I do not dare to employ them at the risk of embarrassing myself with the most knowledgeable.

I do intend, in the shadow of those who know the subject well, to try to imagine how different it would be to have been born in Iceland and not in Picuí, in the interior of Paraíba, and to have migrated as a boy to São Paulo with my parents, fleeing the drought of the 1970s and extreme poverty. .

Right off the bat I say, dear reader: as a good northeasterner that I am, I would never get used to the cold in Iceland! However, if I were born there, I might say just the opposite: how can these poor mortals live in such a hot place? Well, it's not about the hot or cold climate that I want to talk about, it's about the geographic lottery of being born in a country that treats the question of pensions and pensions for its inhabitants as something fundamental for the future of the country.

Wow, comrade! You will tell me with some reason, talking about Iceland's social security system is something that is outside our reality. Iceland is a country with just over 300 inhabitants and the social reality there is very different from ours.

This article stems from the news that the retirement and pension system implemented in Iceland has sufficient resources to guarantee the future and survival of its aging population for many years. There, workers contribute with 4% of their earnings and companies with almost 12%, in a system that is divided into three parts: a general and public one, which guarantees a kind of basic income for all citizens; some public pension funds and private provident funds.

The difference between Iceland's system and that of other European countries that have adopted similar public pension models is that workers can choose which pension fund to invest in. It is true that these funds had a loss of about 20% with the international financial crisis of 2008, but since then they have recovered and now have enough accumulated resources to intend to modify the legislation and invest a higher percentage not only internally, but in the outside. Using non-technical language, these funds are for Iceland what Celso Furtado thought of when he helped create national social investment banks.

Now back to the conjecture I would like to make. Ever wondered if when I started working in the 1980s I could choose to collect 4% of my earnings into a public provident fund of my choosing? That the company where I worked for a year and four months, before my military enlistment, there on Avenida São João, next to the old and charming Comodoro cinema, had instead deducted it from my salary and not passed it on to the INSS, as Did he naughty do it, making the due contribution on the net gain of his capital and the enormous profits he had on the sale of tires and accessories for cars and with that helped to build a social assistance fund?

The Brazilian taxation system and tax collection is chaotic. With regard to the INSS, it was not – until recently – nationally computerized; some companies, such as the one I worked for in the 1980s and which had its headquarters in Curitiba, collected the contribution from the workers and did not deposit it into the insured person's account, so that when the latter asked for a count of working time and contribution there at the front for retirement purposes, as I did recently, I would have the dismay of knowing that I need to prove the work record and wait for the INSS to assess whether or not to consider this contribution time.

As I left the INSS agency, I was taken by a few questions: who is going to pay this tax evasion bill? The company that no longer exists? Me, the taxpayer harmed on both ends? Or, ultimately, society in general, through the additional burden of the State?

Returning to our theme of the geographic lottery. More qualified experts may object that there is a conceptual difference between social security and welfare and assistance. Yes, that actually exists, but wisely, both Icelandic legislators and our 1988 constituents knew how to respond, each in their own way, to what societies expected.

In the Brazilian case, if it weren't for the 1988 Constitution, we would be living – in this context marked by economic stagnation and the pandemic – in complete social chaos. Social assistance and retirement and pensions are largely managed by the INSS, Federal Government bodies; military, States and Municipalities also have their pension institutes and there are some private pension funds, however, it is precisely the INSS that fulfills the function of broad social security in our country. A large part of these resources come precisely from the contributions of workers in the private sector.

The employer's contribution to the INSS exists, but I believe that it could be greater and linked not only to capital gains, but, mainly, to equity gains. When we talk about the taxation of large fortunes, I immediately think of this. People rightly complain about high taxes, but would our elite be willing to give up part of their equity and capital gains to give back socially?

In many Brazilian cities, it is precisely the pension and retirement of the poorest – combined or not with the Bolsa Familia, now renamed – that continue to make the economy spin and guarantee a little bit of beans and flour on the plates of millions of Brazilians, in addition to help keep children in schools.

I know that we are very far from the reality of Iceland, but if we created this guarantee fund for companies to build a basic and citizen income, as Eduardo Suplicy has been proclaiming for years, that would make many of us not think about being born in another place than not in Brazil.

*José Clovis de M. Lima, civil servant, holds a degree in philosophy from USP.

 

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