Minister Milton Ribeiro's speech

Image: Silvia Faustino Saes


The current Minister of Education is in the right place and it bothers him because his speech is more illustrative of what the ruling classes want

In an interview for TV Brasil, the Minister of Education said that the “university should, in fact, be for the few”.[I] In addition, he argued that the “stars”, that is, the stars should be the federal institutes to train technicians. The speech is largely consistent with the project he defends. If speech causes discomfort, it is not out of place. The fight should be against the ongoing political project. The press, which is startled by Milton Ribeiro's interview, fully defends the content.

In the same way with Bolsonaro, the mainstream press is amazed at the form, but is the guarantor of the economic content. Milton Ribeiro is in the right place and it bothers him because talking about him is more illustrative of what the ruling classes want. Let's do it by steps.

The context

(1) What is the role of a Minister?

They are political agents directly subordinated to the president with the role of directly assisting him. The president heads the Executive whose direct administration is made up of ministries and state secretariats that must develop guidance, coordination and supervision of the bodies and entities linked to the respective portfolio. According to article 87 of the Federal Constitution, they must “perform the acts pertinent to the attributions that are granted or delegated by the President of the Republic.” In other words, it is up to ministers to give a strategic direction consistent with the president's political project.

(2) And what is this political project? What would be the attributions granted or delegated?

The project fits into the neoliberal ideals and unfolds in the following educational commitments. On slide 41 of the Government Plan[ii] (yes, the Government Plan was done on a slide), Bolsonaro's team summarizes their priorities in education: (a) the resources spent (words contained in the plan) were considered high and performance improvement should occur without additional spending (citing literally: "It is possible to do much more with current resources! It is our commitment", sentence written in capital letters); (b) Combating “indoctrination and early sexualization” (yes, it is in the plan); (c) “[…] the initial priority should be basic education and secondary/technical education”.

It was in the plan, therefore, that there would be no expansion of resources. Although it was not written that there would be a reduction, it would be possible to infer in light of the spending ceiling that we would have, in the best case scenario, difficulty in funding given the possible increase in enrolled students and the inflationary process.

In terms of spending on Higher Education, considered high by the government, the information is also distorted. Brazil is one of the countries with the fewest people with complete higher education and the lowest rate of doctors per inhabitant. In 2019, only 21% of people between 25 and 34 years old had Higher Education and 0,2% of people between 25 and 64 years old had a PhD. The average of the OECD – the organization that Bolsonaro negotiated with Trump the nomination of Brazil – is 44% of people with Higher Education in the 25 to 34 age range and, among the 35 countries analyzed, Brazil was among the three worst in the proportion of doctors .[iii] Regarding values, the percentage of GDP invested in education (as a whole) is only higher than some developed countries because the proportion of young people is much higher in Brazil. However, spending per student in Brazil is lower than the OECD average across all age groups.[iv]:

Elementary Education (early years): US$3,8 in Brazil against US$8,6 on the OECD average;

Elementary Education (final years): US$ 4,1 thousand in Brazil against US$ 10,2 thousand in the OECD average;

Secondary and Technical Education: US$ 4,1 in Brazil against US$ 10 in the OECD average;

Higher Education: US$ 14,2 thousand in Brazil against US$ 16,1 in the OECD average;

That is, it is not that Brazil spends a lot on Higher Education. The country invests less, but it is still below the average of OECD countries, to which Brazil is seeking entry. The fact is that investment in Basic Education is ridiculously low. The withdrawal of higher education to relocate in Basic Education is not a solution for the country. But it is a solution to the content of the country project that Milton Ribeiro was appointed to implement and that Bolsonaro, despite some formal opposition, was elected with the support of part of the elite to appoint aligned ministers. The connivance of the mainstream press is simple: speeches like Milton Ribeiro's are criticized, but the economic measures that are the flagship of the project are defended, with the right to juggle the rhetoric of addressing the so-called "Guedes' economic team" as something apart from Bolsonarism and the military. As if the ideological core were the defender of customary guidelines and the economic core did not have any ideology and acted in a technical way with an impossible neutrality.

Nor is the treatment given to the research funding system, including CAPES and CNPQ, surprising. on the same planeii, on slide 48, is textually: “The current model of research and development in Brazil is completely exhausted”. Phrase that is complemented with the rhetoric that research should not depend exclusively on public resources. The generalist rhetoric that the model is exhausted is not supported by reality. The model depends mainly, but not exclusively, on public resources and this is not exhausted, since the main countries in scientific research depend mainly, like Brazil, on public resources[v]. Examples:

United States: 60% of the resources that finance research are public and 73% of Higher Education students are in public universities;

Europe: 77% of public resources that fund research are public.

Therefore, the reasonable way out would be to attract more private resources, which tend to focus on a few areas and primarily on applied science and not reduce the public, as has been happening. To give you an idea, Brazil dropped between 2014 and 2018, going from 1,27 to 1,26% of GDP invested in science, while the world average is 1,79%. The impact is even more brutal if we remember the shrinkage in GDP between 2015 and 2016. Furthermore, in this period investment in research grew 19,2%, more than the 14,8% GDP growth in the world. In the same 2018, the country had 888 researchers per million inhabitants against 1.368 per million in the world average. In that year, Argentina had 1.162 researchers per million inhabitants. In short, according to the main indicators, the country was not “spending a lot” on science and did not have “excess researchers”.[vi].

where is the coherence

Faced with data that deny the government's discourse, how is it possible to affirm Milton Ribeiro's coherence?

In text published on the website the earth is round and AutopoiesisVirtu Blog[vii], written in partnership with Leonardo Sacramento, we point out the affinities between neoliberalism and its denial of History and contextualized scientific knowledge. And this government is elected and governs with broad fidelity to these principles, whether in the privatization proposals in consortium with the Centrão, which go beyond what neoliberals in other countries have done (such as the case of Eletrobrás[viii] and the Post Office[ix]), in infralegal privatizations (sale of oil fields, state-owned subsidiaries and others), or in the so-called structural reforms (such as the Social Security Reform; the maintenance of the Expenditures text; the proposal for an Administrative Reform; and the deepening of precariousness of work through MP 1045, which intensifies the withdrawal of rights carried out by the Labor Reform). I mean, the execution of this shrinkage of the State follows what was foreseen in the government plan between slides 51 and 67ii. There is also consistency there.

This neoliberal matrix is ​​what has consensus in the big mass media companies and in the economic elite. The strategy to face the disastrous Bolsonaro government is to dissuade the gaze of the population. They use authoritarian rhetoric, health messes and proposals with an electoral focus as if this proves that Bolsonaro “is not neoliberal or not enough” (whatever that means). The strategy is beaten, but always resurrected. Macri, after the failure, is no longer the liberal dream of the MBL, as he was in the elections and at the beginning of his term. Bolsonaro ditto. However, Bolsonaro's authoritarian outbursts have nothing to do with whether or not he is neoliberal. Let us not forget that one of the main laboratories of neoliberalism was the Chilean dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet. Entitled to a personal public nod by Milton Friedman and the following observation by Rolf Luders, a Chilean economist supervised by Milton Friedman and a former minister under Pinochet: “[…] ultimately, Chile went through what its professors in Chicago already expected .”[X] That is, being authoritarian is not incompatible with neoliberalism. On the contrary, as shown by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine, available in book and documentary, the reduction of the social functions of the State tends to be accompanied by the expansion of repressive functions. In the Brazilian case, in addition to the police state in force for some time, the Bolsonaro government innovates only in the tactics of confrontation with other powers. Which, for one thing, keeps your base lit. On the other hand, it threatens with the intention of reducing the disposition of opposition actions as well as uses theatrical reactions in the press and in the “feared” (pardon the irony) notes of repudiation of the authorities to divert popular attention and occupy political authorities in order to accelerate the implementation of the measures. More coherent words from a minister: “The opportunity we have, that the press is giving us a little relief on other issues, is to pass the infralegal deregulation reforms [...] and go passing the cattle and changing all the rules and simplifying standards. From IPHAN, from the Ministry of Agriculture, from the Ministry of the Environment, from this ministry, from that ministry. Now it's time to join efforts to give simplification a heap”.[xi]

Like Weintraub, Salles fell under pressure from Congress and the press. Not because these groups made a substantial opposition to reverse the measures that the former ministers implemented, but because too much transparency about neoliberal measures always carries a risk of alerting the population and making it react.

Milton Ribeiro, with more politeness, was also transparent. Well, it's not entirely a lie when he says: “I have a lot of engineers or lawyers driving Uber because they don't get the right placement. If I were a computer technician, I would get a job, because there is a huge demand”. What might be wrong is admitting that there is no project to increase the country's economic complexity and thus absorb this workforce. Ribeiro's transparency bothers the consortium that pretends to “not support by supporting” the government. But that was also in the government's plan. Slide 49ii speaks of comparative advantages. Which means that the country must emphasize what it is capable of producing at a lower opportunity cost than its competitors. In terms of Brazil, a website focused on agribusiness summarizes our comparative advantages: “Brazil continues to have very large comparative strategic advantages in relation to our emerging competitors: “(a) it does not have sensitive ethnic or religious problems; (b) has no boundary problems; (c) it is a consolidated constitutional democracy; (d) it has an agricultural and agribusiness sector considered one of the best in the world – it has land, sun and water in abundance to produce food, without natural cataclysms such as earthquakes, volcanoes, etc.; (e) has an internal market ready to consume as soon as people have resources; (f) speaks a single language”[xii].

Now, remember the agribusiness sector, one of the sectors that, in addition to occupying the top of capital accumulation alongside the rentiers, is better able to be represented in national politics. Therefore, the absence of any element that refers to a potential for industrialization, technological increment and strengthening of complex sectors that demand more scientific production cannot be read only as a sectorial message. But, a vision about what is feasible to invest in the country for these sectors. Therefore, the deregulation of labor laws that increasingly precarious our workforce occurred in the Labor Reform of 2017 and is being intensified by MP 1045 without this representing an embarrassment to the ruling classes. That Panasonic stops producing televisions is a strategic decision in the face of a “ready to consume” market, but with limited resources, including for subsistence. That Ford closes its factories and maintains the sale of luxury imports is completely consistent with a society in which inequality increases and the so-called middle class increasingly commits its resources to basic necessities (food, clothing, utility bills in energy, fuel, etc.). The scenario that consolidates is of approximation to neoliberal dystopia.

The course of our economy is one of intensified deindustrialization, which has been taking place for some 30 years, expansion of the tertiary sector, be it the unequal sector of services, which ranges from self-employed professionals to telemarketing attendants and domestic services, or commerce. Trade increasingly restricted to basic necessities and/or quality products at low prices. The reduction of economic complexity results in a reduction in the demand for higher education. In highly developed economies, workers with technical training are in high demand too, Ribeiro didn't lie about that! What he omitted is that these workers raise society's need for average training, since occupations that demand little or no qualification and, therefore, with low wages, they fail to attract interested parties and cease to be relevant in the composition of the national workforce. What Ribeiro omits is that, despite the number of graduates below the OECD average, higher education will suffer a retraction in order to expand technical training and keep people with little or no qualifications that they need and, therefore, accept to undergo to precarious work. It is not the floor that will be raised, but the ceiling that will be lowered so that people can carry out the Bolsonarist mantra in the elections: “People will have to choose jobs or rights”. Ribeiro, therefore, verbalizes what was already written and said in the form of catchphrases.

In short…

Coherence and transparency do not mean that Ribeiro acts for the best in the country. Ribeiro acts for the best of all worlds for the realization of certain interests of fractions of the ruling class. For the sake of a minority that accumulates the greater part of the capital. Along these lines, there is really no reason to maintain a logic of expanding access to higher education. That part of the middle class choose a technical course and that the massive majority of the poorest people stop dreaming big, that they and their children remain ready for precarious jobs and that, at most, if they study a lot and contradict the statistics, they conquer middle-level technical training instead of the dreamed access to university. The funnel will get narrower and narrower!

In no way, the problem is mid-level technical training. The problem that is being highlighted, precisely the limitation of the horizon of those who do not have enough capital, is a reflection of the project of reprimarization of the Brazilian economy. And, therefore, it is not a point outside the curve, it is part of a strategy that aims to insert the country in the globalized world based on comparative advantages, without a leap in development being part of the national project that could enable an improvement in the quality of life.

*Jefferson Nascimento é professor at the Federal Institute of São Paulo (IFSP). Book author Ellen Wood – rescuing class and the struggle for democracy (Appris).








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