The capital between civilization and barbarism

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By ALEXANDRE DE FREITAS BARBOSA*

Two viruses with destructive potential: the biological virus and the virus of class impudence

The text below contains strong doses of irony, not recommended for unwary spirits. This is not subtle irony, as the moment is cruel and demands seriousness. We reached the sad mark of 300 deaths, configuring a Brazilian-style genocide. This will be recorded in our history books.

First of all, I would like to congratulate the authors of the “Open Letter to Society Regarding Measures to Combat the Pandemic”. It is a text written in the right measure, with sound technical arguments and a sense of urgency that matches the moment in which we live. I'm being honest. I sign under all paragraphs. Exquisite. I repeat: no irony.

And I say again without irony: it is important that it was written by the cream of big capital and the economists who generally defend its interests. In the first version of the document, around 85% of the subscribers that I was able to identify fell into this category. Then the subscribers multiplied and the profile diversified a little. It was no wonder: the text is powerful and touches the heart of the drama we live.

Why was it important that the document be signed by elite people, with a long record of services (very well remunerated, it is important to say) rendered to capital? To cause a stir in Brasilia. For the naked truth is that there is no polarization. They wield real power and have influence with those in charge. Nothing the left says breaks the media blockade and the plutocratic control of the three powers.

In fact, according to what the great press reports, the capital accused the movement armed by capital. I confess I was happy. I am nothing more than an old-school nationalist reformist. I have always thought that there is no point in going against the bourgeoisie, which is very different from supporting it. It is up to us on the left to act in its cracks, mobilizing other class interests, especially those who live off their work income. A little dialectics never hurt anyone.

I almost threw firecrackers when I read the text. It was two years of preaching “reforms” and fiscal adjustments at any cost. They normalized the captain, even providing him with explicit support, in the name of a “liberal agenda” undertaken by their market militiamen. Did the staff notice?

The text denounces the huge inequality caused by the pandemic. Defends resources for science, education and health. It mentions the need for “public policies based on data, reliable information and scientific evidence”. It does not expressly refer to those responsible for our daily tragedy, but anyone who reads it carefully perceives the tone of denunciation. Subtly, he names the oxen, alligators and donkeys.

I did not find the word “State” in the text, nor any references to “nation” or “society”. But that's a thing of the past. From “social”, there is “distancing”, more and more urgent, we all agree. Our dear Brazil appears as a “country” several times, whatever that means beyond the geographic meaning. There is the defense of the “public thing”, which is, at least, republican. Unfortunately, the acronym SUS is not mentioned. Forgive my semantic concern, but language gives us access to the unconscious and, sometimes, to ideology.

I confess that I was taken aback when they decreed the importance of a “social responsibility” program. Would it be as important as the Fiscal Responsibility Law? I wrote several texts about this when I was a young union advisor. Did they switch sides? And I jumped out of my seat when I read “measures of a national nature”, only to discover that the adjective had a geographical connotation, as it was followed by “regional or state”. But I was satisfied when I read about the lack of a foreign policy “dehydrated with ideology and automatic alignments”.

The text is impeccable in the item vaccines, with data and simulations. Enough to be informative in terms of reuse of masks. There is so much misinformation on a daily basis that I will adopt some recommendations. No irony. There is even the possibility of producing quality masks at low prices and distributing them free of charge to the most “vulnerable” population. I imagine that this topic may have had the empirical contribution of a prestigious Brazilian economist, who signed the letter, who in the Valor Econômico on the 16th of March reported on his unusual pilgrimage to import a top-of-the-line mask.

I found it strange the absence of defense of the spending ceiling and “reforms”, which for a long time guided the articles of the subscribers of the important manifesto. The texts were virtually the same, changing only the verbs and their conjugation. Apparently, the discussion of the spending ceiling and the 3 D's (unbinding, unindexing and releasing) of the minister colleague is for later. Or you don't even need it, because vaccines have a great cost-benefit ratio and an “efficient” social protection system won't cost much.

I especially liked the excerpt: “the economic recovery, in turn, is slow and depends on the recovery of confidence and greater predictability of the health situation in the country. Therefore, it is unreasonable to expect recovery of economic activity in an uncontrolled epidemic.” I don't know if the authors of the text suggest that the recovery of confidence in the economy depends on only health, vaccines and social measures so well pointed out.

 

From what I understand, you can save lives and grow back. But after the pandemic, is everything as before at the Abrantes barracks? It wasn't clear if after we saved lives, we made room for the economy to take off for good. Or if you go back to Threepenny Opera.

I dared disagree with an excerpt: “with the acceleration of cases, the population responds by becoming more averse to health risk, increasing voluntary isolation”, based on an international publication. As I understand it, the average hides class differences. But “class” ceased to exist some time ago: the “population” is divided at most between the poor and the “non-poor”.

I also missed a mention of the labor reform, if it would not have contributed to the increase in unemployment and inequality and to the low levels of consumption. If I remember correctly, the 85% that I find in the field of orthodox economists or tycoons defended labor reform as a condition for economic growth and job creation. But then the pandemic came and complicated the scenario. Apparently, the labor reform is a fait accompli, it was approved in Congress and that's it. As well as the spending cap.

As far as I was informed, the so-called heterodox economists were not asked to sign the document for semantic reasons, even though one or the other joined later. I confess that I considered doing so, considering that I am almost entirely in agreement with the text and we cannot waste any more time with watermarks. But I gave up because I disagree with everything that wasn't said. Yes, silence is sometimes worth a thousand words. And in the Abrantes barracks, there are consensuses that still unify the capital before, during and after the captain.

It was then that it hit me how full of coincidences the story is. We have more than two years of the captain's government and a year of the pandemic. And, look, the document was released exactly two weeks after the Supreme Minister's decision that makes former President Lula eligible! Enough time to write a civilized, coherent text with unbeatable technical arguments. I was even left with the impression that the speech of the worker statesman, without being a pedigree economist, but making use of his economese mixed with popular jargon, highlighted the economists of capital.

It is important to act quickly. With this “polarization thing”, Lula comes back, even more so after that speech, and the “country” is left with “no option”. After all, the captain is the worker's “child”: the first was elected while the other was imprisoned, which indicates a perfect correlation. Yes, they are nail and flesh. One cannot condone “barbarism”, especially if it has votes (most of the population is “vulnerable”) and we only have the power. We need to side with “civilization”. It is sad to see so many people die – including among the “non-poor” – and Brazil to become an international pariah.

It was then that I thought to myself that in this strange “country”, sometimes civilization and barbarism go hand in hand. Wouldn't it be the case to consider that the bearded frog – code name for “barbarism” – can “civilize” capital? This has partially occurred in the recent past, when capital has ridden the wave and clapped its hands. Then they embraced the stormy sea, mutinous on the ship's deck, while the "country" was adrift. After the invasion and the booty, capital dresses in good manners.

Nothing like a “barbarian” to put order in the house where gluttonous diners in wild orgies have a party that spreads two viruses with destructive potential: the biological virus and the virus of class impudence, the latter rooted in our history.

*Alexandre de Freitas Barbosa Professor of Economic History and Brazilian Economy at the Institute of Brazilian Studies at the University of São Paulo (IEB/USP).

 

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