Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira — a democratic nationalist public intellectual



Bresser-Pereira positions himself as an architect of the future, of the national project, of the political construction of Brazil, a characteristic that exudes from his work

The organization, production and dissemination of Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira's research, as well as other dimensions of his public action, configure, in the Postgraduate Course , a work so broad that approaching it, especially with the aim of risking a general comment, can lead anyone who proposes such boldness, as is the case here, to feel like they are in a labyrinth. What is the way out of this challenge, which thread to follow? I chose to highlight and intertwine the distinct and numerous empirical sources of his actions and productions as bearers of qualities that, although anchored in the academic universe, make Bresser-Pereira even more than a scholar university student: he is a public intellectual of Brazilian society.

Jürgen Habermas, by describing and distinguishing the private and public spheres, and Edward Said, among others, contributed to the approach to the concept of public intellectual, which concerns a select group of people who are not only, as seems to be more frequent, academic scholars, but, at the same time, political and/or cultural activists. Such people intertwine these two dimensions in their work and actions in general in such a way that they end up becoming references in certain matters in the public sphere.

However, non-academic individuals, such as journalists, writers and artists, among others, have also played the role of public intellectuals. It is beyond the purpose of this text to discuss whether the term public intellectual is redundant and a category used primarily in the USA. Such criticism considers that the public character is inherent to the intellectual condition and that such an emphasis would be a reaction, which emerged in that country in the 1970s, in the context of the Vietnam War, against the anti-intellectualism that existed there.

Bresser-Pereira, on the one hand, writes for an academic audience in the area of ​​Economics and Social Sciences in general. His Google Scholar records no less than 49.902 citations, and his i10-index is 512. In other words, he is a widely read and cited author in the Social Sciences, in Postgraduate Course of this field of knowledge. And this is not due, above all, to his longevity, as he is 89 years old, but to his high productivity, the quality, originality and authorial boldness of his production and the consequent respectability among his peers.

To avoid possible injustices, I will not mention other names, besides, if I did, I would compare Bresser-Pereira's production with that of living Brazilian intellectuals of the same age group, but these seem not to have registered on Google Scholar, a custom last. But other sources can provide comparative indicators. Since 2022, for example, information from the Ad Scientific Index. Bresser-Pereira has been first on the list of the top 100 Latin American economists.

On the other hand, he wrote and still writes and speaks to the general public, in the country's main newspapers and magazines, television channels, radio stations and social networks. Another dimension of his actions concerns his participation in government management and in the struggles for democracy in Brazil. In the 1980s, during the management of the Government of the State of São Paulo headed by Franco Montoro, he was president of the State Bank of São Paulo and Secretary of the Government, as well as Minister of Finance under President José Sarney, who appointed him to face the persistent crisis inflation that only the Real Plan, back in 1993-1994, could solve.

Bresser-Pereira had been one of the pioneers in formulating the theory of inertial inflation, a fundamental knowledge base of the stabilization plan put into practice by the Itamar Franco government. In the 1990s, he was Minister of Federal Administration and State Reform, in the first presidential term of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and Minister of Science and Technology in the second government of that President of the Republic, a position from which he left in 1999.

Since the 1970s, he has taken sides with the redemocratization of Brazil, having been a member of the MDB, then PMDB, an association he left in 1988 to support the founding of the PSDB, which he joined. He broke with the Tucanos in 2011, considering that this party had migrated to the right and that the social democratic position in the national political-ideological spectrum was occupied by the PT. In fact, he agrees with his ideological self-identification as a center-left intellectual, not a communist.

In the last 10 years, for example, he criticized the trial of the so-called mensalão by the STF, for its mediatized politicization against the PT and for the adoption of the theory of domination of the facts, which would have implied convictions of PT leaders without evidence. He then argued that the modus operandi The anti-corruption campaign of Operation Lava Jato was one of the causes of the 2015-2016 recession and criticized the deposition of Dilma Rousseff, describing it as a coup, a white coup, a parliamentary coup. I believe that these data, among others, allow us to qualify, substantively, as a public intellectual and to classify him as a democratic and republican nationalist.

I will approach Bresser-Pereira's condition as a public intellectual in three dimensions, taking into account the variables time, space and content of ideas. In a beautiful samba by Wilson Batista, re-recorded by Paulinho da Viola, we read: “My world is today, there is no tomorrow for me”. The time on the horizon of public intellectual Bresser-Pereira has been both today, like that of the aforementioned samba artist, and the future. His actions aim to place the present at the service of tomorrow, of becoming, of the becoming of the dialectical transformation of Hegel and Marx, a horizon that inhabits his thought and that he proposes to be constructed daily.

Bresser-Pereira's time is the destiny-time of the navigator who believes that “navigating is necessary, living is not necessary”. The reference horizon in its journey of change is the Brazilian nation, through development, a normative national objective that is still uncompleted. Bres ser-Pereira positions himself as an architect of the future, of the national project, of the political construction of Brazil, a characteristic that exudes from his work (Miranda, 2014).

On the other hand, in the famous passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes, opposite situations are mobilized, as when we read that “for everything there is a determined time and for everything there is a time under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die; time to plant and time to uproot what was planted”, and so on. However, regarding Bresser-Pereira's own temporality, I would highlight the contextualized continuity of his core ideas, especially in the last 20 years, obstinately affirmed and reaffirmed, without going through opposing cycles and guided by the ambitious and relevant project of new developmentalism.

This does not mean that he did not change some aspects of his reflections, such as the reformulation of his approach to developmentalism itself, which changed from the old national and indigenous model to the aforementioned new model, which encompasses the perspective of active participation in the external market, through export of goods and services. The question remains about what the new developmentalism thinks in relation to the export of capital by Brazilian companies, that is, about the installation in other countries of multinationals based in Brazil, controlled by indigenous capital.

After all, as he does not work with economic models that ignore history, adapting to circumstances, especially those that involve changes of structural magnitude, is part of his scientific perspective. Furthermore, when courageously taking the risk of writing about current issues, he may be subject to reviewing some positions, always doing so with transparency and honesty. But his central horizons of values ​​remained, although adapting to temporal mutability: development of the nation through the market economy, democracy, social justice and, in recent years, sustainability.

Furthermore, although realistic, he is also optimistic, but not jingoistic. The equation formulated by Gramsci comes to mind when weighing the optimism of the will with the pessimism of reason. Bresser-Pereira's realism appears, for example, when he expresses pessimism regarding the behavior of Brazilian industrial entrepreneurs, their weak nationalism, or the nation's erratic paths during the conservative and neoliberal governments of Michel Temer and Jair Bolsonaro. But he does not rule out hope for the future, so he does not seem to endorse ideas such as the entropy of the economic and social system (Streeck, 2016). He prefers, first of all, to direct the will and reason in constructively overcoming contradictions, instead of imprisoning them in the pessimism that, emanating from rationality, discourages volition.

The main physical space and reflective universe of reference for his thought and action is Brazil, the Brazilian nation, which occupies the country's territory and builds a national society and State within it. But the nation does not just contextualize the physical-social space of its intellectual representation. It is also an object, a theme, an essential concern of his work, in the broad sense mentioned above. If there is something that characterizes Bresser-Pereira, it is nationalism: he is a nationalist, in the economic and political senses, of building the sovereign nation, an anti-dependency and anti-imperialist organic to a class fraction, real or imaginary, an industrial bourgeoisie Brazilian woman interested in leading the democratic development of the country.

He appropriates content from Marxism, such as certain analyzes of social classes and economic imperialism. But he also does this in relation to other classics, such as Weber, Keynes, etc. For Bresser-Pereira, capital is made at home, so he rejects the strategy of growth with external savings proposed by developed countries to countries like Brazil, as he does not believe that this path will lead to an increase in investments, while it tends to produce current account deficits, to appreciate the exchange rate and to halt growth (Bresser-Pereira & Gala, 2007). Bresser-Pereira's nationalism is economic, not militaristic, much less ethnic. But, by not renouncing democracy, he defends democratic nationalism, a central element of his political economy. This dimension of this public intellectual's thought-action is fundamental, so it is now time to advance a little in the content of his work.

Its commitment to transforming reality is guided by the strong idea that the nation must organize itself into a democratic, independent and developed republic. Fear that the idea of ​​nation will be lost, abandoned. Its main historical-national moment of reference is the nationalism built on the trail of Getúlio Vargas – seen by him as a great statesman – and the corresponding Varguismo, which, as we know, continued after the death of this president of the Republic and historical political leader of the Republic. Brazilian modernization.

Nationalist ideology also inspired two other references by Bresser-Pereira, without prejudice to his critical distance in relation to them, Celso Furtado and the Instituto Superior de Estudos Brasileiros (ISEB), which are among the main sources of formulation of the nationalist ideology. developmentalism. The public intellectual addressed here is a continuator of the Brazilian developmental tradition of economists and institutions, which, in addition to those already mentioned, has references such as Inácio Rangel, Rômulo de Almeida and Delfim Netto (adviser of his doctoral thesis), among others.

Finally, from the Revolution of 1930, according to Bresser-Pereira, the Brazilian national and industrial revolution took place, which he is so proud of, although he also recognizes its limitations, such as the concentration of income, and inevitabilities, such as modernizing authoritarianism (Bresser-Pereira) Pereira, 1972, 2016).

Bresser-Pereira raises the banner of liberal-democratic reformism, with social-democratic inspiration, but formulated with the aim of adapting to Brazilian structural conditions, distinct from European ones. In this tireless commitment, carried out since the 1970s, he has managed to open and sustain channels of dialogue with relevant actors in Brazilian civil society, that is, not only those from São Paulo and, in particular, São Paulo residents, from the city where he was born and lives , but from various regions and states. Among these interlocutors, several members of the academic community of Social Sciences and Humanities stand out, starting with economists, political scientists, sociologists, company administrators from the public and private sectors, historians, among others, such as journalists and political leaders.

One of the main academic fruits of these dialogues and intellectual efforts has been the construction of an alternative to neoclassical orthodoxy, called new developmentalism, defined as “a theoretical system in formation applied to middle-income countries, consisting of a macroeconomy and a political economy already relatively well developed and a microeconomy under construction” (Bresser-Pereira, 2016, p. 31).

This undertaking synthesizes two sides of the same coin of Bresser-Pereira's strategic action: it is productive academic work and, simultaneously, a contribution addressed to debates in the public sphere. The current of new-developmentalist economic thought originated in the process of change in the national situation, stimulated by the failure of neoliberal policies in Latin America, since the end of the 1990s, which saw the electoral victories of Hugo Chávez, in Venezuela, in 1998, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in Brazil, in 2002, among other left-wing leaders who reached the presidency in their countries, most of them with a moderate ideological profile.

Subsequently, this process of Latin American political renewal was called Pink Wave. Several years of governments that adhered, some more, others less, to the unsuccessful neoliberal ideology, starting, in the Brazilian case, with the presidency of Fernando Collor de Mello, going through those of Itamar Franco and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, provided a window of opportunity for new ideas, coalitions, public policies and democratic renewal. Several partners join Bresser-Pereira in this intellectual endeavor of thinking about an alternative for Brazilian development in the context of an international capitalist system driven by finance (Guttman, 2008), which pressures countries to conform to a structural arrangement of macroeconomic policy that encourages stagnation and crises.

In this sense, at the risk of unintentionally being unfair to other colleagues, I would highlight your partnerships with economists Nelson Marconi and José Luis Oreiro (Bresser-Pereira et al., 2017). In fact, Bresser-Pereira produced in partnership with dozens of authors, some of them published in Political Economy Magazine, or Brazilian Journal of Political Economy, a quarterly periodical that he has edited since 1981, having achieved a status important among economists and social scientists in general, as well as in Qualis Periódicos.

Although new developmentalism is not the only strand of developmental thought in Brazil today, nor even the main one, at least in terms of the impact it had on the public policies of the progressive governments of Lula I and II and Dilma I (Dilma II was forced to backtrack on its decision-making agenda), there seems to be no other group as organized, formulating in such a systematic way its ideas and proposals on how to overcome the persistent decades of economic stagnation in Brazil as the one led by Bresser-Pereira, an intellectual who, in In academic terms, he belongs to the São Paulo School of Business Administration, at Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV EAESP), an institution where he has already led 18 editions of the Economic Forum and where he is now organizing the sixth edition of the Workshop on New Developmentalism, international character.

In the 2018 and 2022 presidential elections, Nelson Marconi occupied a prominent position in the economic advisory of candidate Ciro Gomes (PDT), who ended up incorporating some ideas from new developmentalism into his government proposals. On the other hand, I assess that the ideas of the social-developmentalist current, present mainly in productions by researchers from Unicamp and the UFRJ Institute of Economics, had more ideological penetration in governments headed by PT presidents, but its intellectual formulators seem to be less articulate as organized academic research group.

There was a discussion about whether or not the New Economic Matrix (NME), implemented during Dilma Rousseff's first government, had been influenced by the new developmentalism, due to the measures aimed at lowering interest rates and depreciating the exchange rate. In any case, Bresser-Pereira criticized the NME, a macroeconomic policy that, supported by changes in some relative prices, did not achieve the guidelines sought by new developmentalism, starting with the reversal of deindustrialization.

Another characteristic of the content of Bresser-Pereira's work is its interdisciplinary character, since it covers themes, concepts and arguments from several academic areas: Economic Science, including the methodology of this discipline, Political Economy, National History and International Relations, Sociology , Political Science, Political Philosophy, Administration Sciences, especially public management, among other areas of academic culture.

In the same way, he is concerned with theoretical rigor and, having a historical, inductive (but without devaluing logic, deduction) and, not infrequently, comparative methodological perspective, he is attentive to the dialectic between the general and the particular, perspective- key to understanding the capitalist economic and social system as an abstract totality, a mode of production distinct from other existing ones, but also as a social formation, that is, with distinct concrete manifestations. In relation to Brazil, for example, his historical reading leads him to see cycles, in dialogue with other authors, such as Celso Furtado and Caio Prado Junior.

But he does not only identify economic cycles, as they are also political, or cycles of political economy, which include the construction of the national State, in the 1930th century, the capitalist revolution since the 1988 Revolution and democracy, starting with the XNUMX Constitution.

I think it is important to highlight your interdisciplinary approach, as I consider it a merit. In recent decades, specialization in Human Sciences, which occurred, for example, but not only in Political Science, has hindered dialogue with other disciplines. Your work The political construction of Brazil, to cite a reference, contains Brazilian economic and social thought woven into dialogue across the disciplinary border, as shown in the text and bibliography of this book and many others, as well as hundreds of articles by this ultra-productive professor and researcher.

When analyzing the work Development and crisis in Brazil, published in 2003 by the public intellectual discussed here, Fonseca (2015) characterizes Bresser-Pereira both as one of the interpreters of Brazilian development and as an author whose creativity is based on eclecticism. In fact, one of Bresser-Pereira's qualities, rooted in his thirst for knowledge (inherent to the scientist by vocation), is his attitude of drinking from the broad source of the universe of Human Sciences and Philosophy, not to mention his attachment to the arts in general .

This stimulates his imagination and creativity, his bold thinking, as well as his originality and non-aversion to risk, typical virtues of the public intellectual. Examples of this are manifested in ideas and concepts such as loss of the idea of ​​nation, national-dependent society, national-dependent bourgeoisie, weak nationalism, access to demand (when discussing one of its key themes, the overvaluation of the exchange rate in Brazil ), among many others.

But he reconciles the interdisciplinary approach with the technical specialty, as when he focuses more specifically on some concepts or problems, for example, on the competitive exchange rate, a central theme in the new-developmental strategy, which values ​​exports, sales of products and services in the international market, configuring the so-called model export-led ou export-oriented industrialization.

When approaching the exchange rate, he covers several levels of the dialectical spiral, from the most concrete to the most abstract, such as the distinction between value and price, its importance for development, its historical uses, as in the case of East Asian countries, the problem of Dutch disease, which worries him so much, in addition to concepts such as current equilibrium and industrial equilibrium exchange rates. When delving deeper into this technical approach to the exchange rate, he does not hesitate to be controversial and transparent, making it clear that his proposal may, initially, imply a drop in wages and inflation, and that the State's fight against Dutch disease may involve increase in taxes for exporters of commodities.

Furthermore, as already mentioned, the affirmation of the nation passes through development, a process that Bresser-Pereira conceives, in the good tradition of classical political economy, as having a clear political dimension, not being, therefore, a mere result of the autonomous functioning of free- market, especially in the initial stages of capital accumulation. But he does not renounce the perspective of the developmental state, particularly essential for countries like Brazil in the current international context of globalization.

There is no development process, whether failed or successful, that does not require interaction between, on the one hand, the State and, on the other, society and the economy. However, the catch up it requires a project and strategy, it requires a coalition between classes and class fractions, it requires a developmental State that, equipped with ideas of effective quality and support (support force), leads a collective action of the national community, a broad process of economic and social transformation , political and ideological.

But the State, a key instrument of collective action, needs to coordinate with market agents, to overcome challenges, as if it were a broadly democratic political party at the service of the nation's development, an objective that involves a basic lever, industrialization. directed towards the technological frontier, that is, it is not about any industrialization. It is up to the developmental State to induce business investment in industry, which should result in business profits, capital accumulation and an increase in national income, with a view to combating inequalities.

Moving from middle income to high income is a key goal. In Bresser-Pereira's vision of the State, the market economy does not necessarily imply a political-decision-making order guided by economic liberalism. Market economy does not require a (neo)liberal State, a perspective also called the minimal State. The political option that, in theory, can lead middle-income countries to catch up it is the developmental State, under penalty of undeveloped nations stagnating and losing the historic train of development.

As already mentioned, through new developmentalism, Bresser-Pereira has been a pioneer, in this third millennium, in the theoretical formulation of the theme of development in Brazil. The current developmental effort aims to adapt ideas to the context of globalization, international trade rules and regional integration policies, which is very different from the post-war context; It also aims to overcome the middle income trap and, finally, formulate a macroeconomic theory and a political economy, which can, together, unfold into a project and, hopefully democracy will contemplate, into an effective strategy of action and government decisions. - such as alternative public policies to the decision-making framework with a neoliberal horizon.

But its valorization of the State does not disrespect civil rights and individual freedoms, on the contrary. Bresser-Pereira rejects economic liberalism, but not political liberalism, as long as it leverages a democratic representative system, not an oligarchic one, such as one that has census suffrage or one that has an institutional arrangement aimed at restricting the scope of democracy. On the contrary, he supports participatory democracy.

Finally, I dared a general comment on Bresser-Pereira's work and actions, taking him as a democratic nationalist public intellectual of Brazilian society, on the center-left, who interacts both with his academic peers and with several other actors, including members of the so-called political class, general readers, etc. An intellectual, above all, optimistic, both by will and rationality: after all, how can reason invest an entire life in building the Brazilian nation without being steeped in the belief that it is possible to make it viable? David Hume's (2003) famous argument comes to mind: “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them” (Sect. III).

His nationalism, his driving idea of ​​nation-building, at least with regard to the class fraction that is the main interlocutor of his transformative imagination, a progressive and reformist industrial bourgeoisie, which he, indirectly and/or directly, calls to political action, seems to make Bresser-Pereira one of the “last of the Mohicans” of the national democratic business community, in a heroic struggle against national dependence, for the survival of the autonomous, sovereign country, effectively the driver of its own destiny, through development, a process that must focus on cutting-edge industrialization.

On the other hand, with regard to the developmentalist intellectuality, it exists, resists and acts, so much so that it is within it that it has built one of the main organized currents of current Brazilian developmentalism, new developmentalism, its main rational passion, something like the meaning of interest for Albert Hirschman, (1977), a concept that synthesizes reason and desire.

Faced with the country's challenges in overcoming inequalities, challenges whose importance only increased as a result of the national regression between 2016 and 2022, the ideas, motivations and example of Bresser-Pereira, an author who calls for the formulation and implementation of a nation project , focused on development, capable of leveraging a fruitful marriage between the economic-social order and the political order, make this public intellectual a brilliant member of Brazilian society. As Caetano Veloso wrote, “people are meant to shine, not to starve.”

*Marcus Ianoni is a professor at the Department of Political Science at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF).

Originally published in Public management notebooks, v. 29, 2024.


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