Memories of underdevelopment

Image: Cyrus Saurius


The solution for the development of Brazil and the consequent increase in wages and national income comes from an increase in productivity in the productive sector, not in trade and services

Why do Brazilian graduates go to the US to be waiters?

A curious question that seems simple but has several other built-in questions is the reason for having a more comfortable financial life as a waiter in the US than with a higher education in Brazil, for most of those who leave college.

The reason, of course, is that in many cases a salary for a waiter, mason, cleaner or nanny in rich countries exceeds the exclusive salaries of certain professions that require a higher education in Brazil or in any other poor countries. But what few people question is why these salaries are higher in rich countries. If a waiter does exactly the same thing in Brazil and the US and even in periods where Brazil's unemployment rate was as low as the US wage gap remained so large, how can there be such different wages?

It can be believed that the reason is that the local currency is stronger or valued worldwide. This is certainly an important factor, but it is a consequence, not a cause, of the wage gap between the two countries. The reason, in fact, is that labor productivity in the US is higher than in Brazil. But why?

We could point to several factors such as infrastructure, educational level or good regulatory environment for business. Could it be, then, that if we had American highways, railroads and electric power sources, Brazilian waiters would be as well paid as they are in the USA? Or if we import students there for years on end, perhaps? Or simply if we copied the private, tax and business law rules of that country? Of course.

American waiters earn more than Brazilians, in relation to the purchasing power of wages in each country, because in the productive sector (outside the trade and services sector where waiters work) productivity is higher due to greater technological advancement . In other words, over the years American companies have learned to produce more difficult things, which add more value to human life and have higher prices for that, in addition to fewer companies in the world knowing how to produce these complex goods with the same quality. In this way these companies were increasing their profits and conquering consumer markets in countries around the world. With greater productivity, workers in these companies in the productive sector are able to negotiate higher wages. But then, what does this have to do with waiters who wait tables in New York?

All companies, whether in the productive sector, commerce or services, compete with each other for workers, leading to a certain approximation between wages in one sector in relation to the other. If industry pays well, commerce will have to raise wages or be left without workers. In short, the increase in productivity resulting from technological advances leads to an increase in labor productivity in the productive sector, which ultimately raises wages in other sectors as well, such as commerce and services.

Knowing this, it is clear that the solution for the development of Brazil and the consequent increase in wages and national income comes from an increase in productivity in the productive sector, not in commerce and services. No country gets rich by opening millions of hamburger shops or barbershops all over the place. Trade and services only capture the income generated by the wealth produced in the productive sector, which does not have that name. And if a country occupies its workers in the productive sector only in livestock, agriculture and mining — within companies that, even if they were global monopolies and alone met the world demand for such simpler products, would not raise the Brazilian GDP per capita to the American GDP — in instead of teaching them how to produce more difficult goods with greater added value such as medical, mechanical or electronic equipment, this increase in labor productivity necessary to achieve wealth becomes impossible within global trade, making it impossible for the wage bill to grow country in real terms.

In addition, the salary difference between waiters in the US and Brazil, which leads Brazilians with higher education to leave the country to serve dishes or drive cars in the US, shows us that any wealth generated in society comes from human work, whether physical or intellectual. In order for part of the American workers to stop consuming their working time in the production of shoes to produce smartphones or drones, other workers had to study and work to create such equipment, over the years, until the capital was built — capital that in the practice is accumulated past labor (buildings, roads, technological know-how, patents) along with what exists in nature itself (like oil or gold) — so that a larger part of the mass of wage earners could have more productive jobs and, finally, to provide a higher salary and purchasing power to the American or Brazilian waiters who moved there.

Although it is clear that wealth is explained by the productivity of physical and intellectual work, regardless of the production system adopted, it is important to remember that a large part of the concentration of wealth in rich countries comes from the superprofit of their companies, made possible by globalization and overexploitation of the work in poor countries. In addition to the existence of borders that make possible the wage difference between labor markets in rich and poor countries.

Our technological backwardness prevents high salaries outside of high bureaucratic positions

Brazil is decades behind in relation to the technological domain of our companies, in relation to the economically developed world. The process of deindustrialization in Brazil that has taken place since the Plano Real has intensified this delay, despite its enormous success in stabilizing the currency and inflation.

With this technological backwardness, high salaries in the country are very restricted to bureaucratic positions in management and directors of companies and in senior positions in the Brazilian public sector. Therefore, in general, to have access to a high salary in Brazil, it is necessary to conquer or be placed in a bureaucratic position in the public or private sector. As the bureaucratic positions of private companies are positions of trust or related to privileged information, this high echelon of the private sector is restricted to heir families of large companies or restricted sectors with access to privileged information in the market, such as certain departments of specific universities. On the other hand, senior positions in the public sector are almost entirely filled by members of the upper middle class, who have access to the best education and preparatory courses. Not without reason, half of the students entering elite Armed Forces schools are children of military personnel, and this process is repeated in various public service bodies in Brazil.

Medium and low wages are reserved for technical professionals, including those with enormous training and experience in the productive and service sectors. As a result, the best trained technical professionals in the country (who have much more to offer society than bureaucrats in the public or private sectors) end up doomed to mediocre salaries or leave the country. In the academic area, where technical training is even more intense than in companies in the productive sector, what is observed are great professionals going to study and work in rich countries, in the process dubbed the brain drain.

Brazil will not be democratic as long as it is a mere exporter of commodities

Countries dependent on commodity exports such as Brazil and most countries in the global south, which have their economies focused on the simple services, agriculture and mining sectors, are not usually countries with institutions as strong and not as democratic as European countries and of the north of the planet in general. This is because, under capitalism, economic power is society's main instrument of power, embodying political and military power within itself in most places. With few dominant economic activities, the economic elite of a country like Brazil ends up being very concentrated, which prevents democracy from functioning closer to a full democracy, as it happens in almost all developed countries.

With highly concentrated economic power, the islands of power within the political and military sectors of each country in the global south end up being less dispersed, causing an almost feudal concentration of power in these countries. The way out of this structure and the path to a more democratic society would be the diversification of the economy, which only occurs after a process of industrialization and technological advancement, as occurred in the United Kingdom and the United States centuries ago and in the Asian Tigers more recently in history. It turns out that, with a concentrated and powerful economic elite, changes in this sense that would also cause major changes in the division of power within society do not happen, as they are prevented by this elite linked to agriculture and mining, either through boycotts, military or institutional coups or just media campaigns.

One of the roads to economic development, caused by industrialization and technological advancement, which also leads to greater democratization of society, occurs when concentrated local elites need to develop their country technologically to defend themselves against military threats from other powers or to prevent their share in global trade (share of exports of products and services that circulate the planet) is reduced by the economic growth of another power led by another local elite of another country.

As the Brazilian elite has never played a leading role in global trade, to the point of fearing the emergence and growth of any competing power, and does not even have any ambition to grow in global trade and conquer a greater share of the global demand for products and services , Brazil is likely to remain trapped in this concentrated economic structure and undemocratic society. Only a change of mindset in the economic elite that comes to fear competitors from other countries or a radical change in thinking within the Armed Forces could give Brazil a chance to try to develop economically and thus be a more democratic country as well.

Voting is not enough: Brazil has to take to the streets like Chile to carry out structural changes

People's most frequent opinion about demonstrations is usually divided into two large groups: those who are skeptical about the power of the people on the street to bring about concrete changes in society and those who believe in this political force as the strongest and most transformative. Even so, within the second group of thought, of which I am a part, few question how exactly popular demonstrations exercise power in the power structure of capitalist society.

When the people take to the streets demanding changes by the State, the president, governor or mayor has two options: accept the demands or repress the protests. As the tendency of the system is to maintain power, demonstrations that threaten order are usually repressed to some degree. The determinant is the degree of violence the State police and military forces will be activated, and in the most serious cases, they will agree to attack the people themselves. When the ruler is unwilling to massacre his population, killing thousands of protesters without mercy, large-scale demonstrations usually neutralize the military power of the state. It is worth remembering that military power is the most efficient and raw force in the exercise of power, followed by economic and political power. In this specific case of successive manifestations, the political power of the organized people manages to suppress the military power in force in specific and momentary conditions.

In addition, if popular demonstrations have enough support from society, that is, from the working class, protests and strikes threaten the current economic power of the country, exercised by the economic elites. Economic power, in addition to being able to acquire military power through armies and weapons, acts originally by exercising power over society by owning the means of production (companies) and controlling the means of exchange (banks). In specific situations of successful strikes, this economic power of the elites is also locally neutralized, since only human labor is capable of generating more wealth for society.

It is basically for these reasons that popular demonstrations have so much strength within the division of power in capitalist society, being able to determine the course of the country by imposing its will on the military powers of the armies and the economic powers of the capitalist elite. The bad news is that popular demonstrations with great support, which resist police aggression and which organize objective agendas are rare in the history of any country. And to make the bad news worse, these conditions generally only arise in situations of serious social crisis, as was the case in Chile, which generated a new constituent assembly through peaceful mass protests.

Differences between PT and PDT are of little importance in real politics

It is no secret that the main thesis of Ciro Gomes' PDT is that the best thing for Brazil is a national development project, with coordination and encouragement from the State in partnership with the market. The aim would be to transform the current agrarian and financier national bourgeoisie into an agrarian, financier but also industrial and scientific bourgeoisie. The problem with this thesis is its realization beyond the victory at the polls. Both the current economic power and the current military power are against these changes and prefer to maintain their power status as it is today. Unlike the USA, which in the Civil War had an industrial bourgeoisie opposed to an agrarian bourgeoisie, and unlike countries like Venezuela and Bolivia where, through nationalist insurgencies within the Army, the country's power board was changed through military power, Brazil has not a wing of developmentalism neither in the bourgeoisie nor in the Armed Forces.

Lula's PT project, on the other hand, does not believe in this structural transformation proposed by Ciro Gomes and believes that Brazil should follow a path of exporting commodities with less income inequality. It is a less ambitious and perhaps more realistic project, however, it is very little transformative for the Brazilian population.

It turns out that what separates Ciro from Lula, from the point of view of the country's project, is the belief or disbelief in the possibility of a developmentalist bourgeoisie emerging in the country. Both sides know that for Brazil to become a developed country, it would have to repeat what China is doing today and what Korea and Taiwan did in the recent past and the USA and the United Kingdom in the more distant past, that is: industrial policy, with government purchases, sector subsidies, reverse engineering and specific import restrictions.

Therefore, a Lula-Ciro, Lula or Ciro-only government would be practically the same, since Ciro does not have the power to carry out the transformations he wants and Lula does not even speak on the subject because he is aware of this reality. The only factor that could bring about the transformation that Ciro Gomes wants, a national development project, would be the people on the streets. Peaceful street protests (since the violent ones do not have massive support from the population) that resist police aggression and remain in the streets for days or even weeks, in a general strike. Only then would the economic powers (which depend on the exploitation of labor to be exercised) and the military powers (which would not have the courage to cause a massacre in the streets) be neutralized and “defeated” by the political power of the people. A similar situation occurred in Chile recently where the people demanded a new constituent.

Taking all this into account, any divergence between Lula and Ciro and between PT and PDT is totally irrelevant to the real politics of Brazil, since the determining factor for a real transformation in the country would be the adherence of the population as a whole to the nationalist project. To the point of being willing to take to the streets to be beaten by the police and go on strike at the risk of losing her job. The question is: is there the possibility of such a strong class and nation consciousness to emerge in the country, or are Lula and her experience right in being more humble in seeking only an exporting agrarian country with more income distribution?

National sovereignty only comes with obtaining nuclear weapons

National sovereignty does not come through the internal freedom to elect its own presidents and parliamentarians, as the most naive think. However, neither does it come from energy self-sufficiency or economic independence from other countries, as the less naive think. National sovereignty comes through military power, which is the form of sovereign power above political and economic powers.

In the current global military context, equipped armies, ships and aircraft are not enough to have enough power to prevent boycotts, attacks and foreign interventions by potential imperialists. Only nuclear weapons, more specifically, atomic bombs, guarantee national sovereignty. This is historically proven by China, Russia, Iran and even North Korea, which were not dominated by the US only because of having these weapons available for defense. Since the US, in addition to having many nuclear weapons, has already used its own devastating Japan, as everyone knows.

If one day Brazil tries to be a developed country, that is, to compete with the rich countries of the world in the markets for medium and high technology products (such as hospital equipment, petroleum derivatives, medicines, automobiles, aircraft and electronics in general ), will need to have national sovereignty, as part of capitalism is the trend towards oligopolization and the expulsion of anyone who may compete with established players who profit from the global market. To be able to even try to develop with a national development plan with industrial policy, a fact that is difficult to succeed in which conditions as the Brazilian past itself and that of India have already demonstrated, Brazil would need to have geopolitical support, and consequently military support, from Russia or China, the only ones capable of stopping US imperialism. Korea and Taiwan had the USA, Hong Kong and Singapore had China, we have no power that guarantees sufficient sovereignty for economic development, that is, insertion in the highest chains of global trade.

However, depending on submission to less harmful powers than the US, which is the case of Russia and, mainly, China, would not be an ideal solution for Brazil. Since, still did not guarantee the sovereignty of the country. Thus, national sovereignty would only be achieved through obtaining and producing nuclear weapons, when this is possible in history, if one day it will be.

Bolsonarismo achieved in years what the left has been failing for decades: overcoming the mainstream media

The left has tried for decades to combat the political narrative issued in unison by the country's major media outlets. Through trade unions, social movements and lectures at universities. It turns out that, in today's world, without unionization, none of this affects the mass population of Brazil. The Bolsonarist right, on the other hand, managed to create an impressive wave and a dominant ideology that, despite having points in common with the narrative of the hegemonic media, is very different from it and has spread throughout Brazil in a much more efficient way than the strategies of class consciousness and left nationalism.

The core of this Bolsonarist communication strategy is to act through emotions, especially fear. For this to come true, simple-minded characters, striking images and catchphrases were used. Characters such as Bolsonaro Mito, Lula Ladrão, Ciro and the money printer, and others, made it possible to disseminate messages contrary to leftist leaders while making their leader perfect and messianic.

In addition to the characters, a lot of impactful images were used, such as memes making dishonest comparisons, scary photographs of places totally different from what the subtitles said, short videos taken out of context, and so on. There was also a lot of use of catchphrases that are repeated among supporters of Bolsonarism such as “Brazil will become Venezuela”, “PT broke Petrobrás and Brazil” and that famous one used whenever any criticism was directed at the Bolsonaro family. : “but what about the PT, what about Lula?”. Bolsonarism's attack and defense strategies could be triggered by characters, images or short videos and catchphrases. Different from the left that debates in two-hour forums and twenty-minute texts.

To combat Bolsonarism, the left does not need to do much, as this movement has naturally been eroded by its natural failure as a political practice and by the opposition of the hegemonic media against Bolsonaro. What the left needs is to overcome the narrative of the mainstream media, of what is repeated on Globo, Globo News, SBT, Band, Record and the biggest channels on YouTube about politics (all from the right). If you don't say so, a Moro-Huck ticket will have great chances in 2022, for example.

This depends on a strategy similar to that of Bolsonarism, albeit without the dishonest and corrupt side of the former. On the networks, the left needs to create simple characters (heroes and villains), impactful images (Brazil's inequality and poverty are naturally shocking) and generate its own simplistic catchphrases that convey the message that the left needs to convey. It also needs to have transmission networks through Facebook and WhatsApp as Bolsonarism has, even if through robots paid to dubious companies (it is worth remembering that in the Dilma x Aécio campaign, robots were already being used).

Convincing the working class that it is exploited by the property-owning class, that there is no meritocracy in Brazil, that the government is the only way for the poor to assume power to recover what was taken from them by the rich and that Brazil you'll be rich selling beans and buying a plane, it's not impossible, it just can't be done just through long and boring texts like this one. Bolsonarism, unfortunately, taught the Brazilian left, so academicist, a lesson.


As with any thesis, there are exceptions. Some countries are commodity dependent (when more than 50% of their exports are commodities) but have high GDP per capita. This occurs in countries with large amounts of rare ores, in huge volumes and/or of very high quality. Along with a very small population, they end up having a high GDP per capita. This is the case in Australia, New Zealand and Chile. However, in countries without such luck in exorbitant natural wealth and high market prices and with large populations, industrialization and technological advancement are the only path to economic development. There are also countries with very advantageous geographical positions that have their economy dependent on another country that is close and exports high value-added goods, which is the case of Hong Kong and Singapore. As Brazil does not fit into any of these cases, our only way out is to fight for a national development project and for technological advancement, accompanied by national sovereignty.

*Bruno Machado is an engineer.

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