The five historical-structural problems of the Brazilian State

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By JOSÉ CELSO CARDOSO JR.*

The superficiality and insufficiency of the dominant liberal diagnoses about the national state

One of the reasons why it is fruitless to try to identify virtues or successes in the recurrent proposals for administrative reforms of a liberal nature is that they all start from mistaken diagnoses about the nature and ways of functioning of contemporary States. In summary, such proposals are in line with a liberal-conservative economic view of the world and therefore suggest measures that essentially aim at reducing the weight and roles of the public sector in its relations with society and the market.

Its emphasis falls, almost exclusively, on the fiscal dimension of the problem, as if more efficiency (the mantra of doing more with less available resources) would make it possible to automatically obtain more efficiency and effectiveness of state action. The expansion or improvement of the aggregate institutional performance of the public sector becomes, therefore, an unrealizable promise of a mere cut in expenses and personnel, an undisguised objective of PEC 32/2020 and its counterparts.

Therefore, if such proposals were in fact focused on a reform capable of improving the institutional performance of the public machine, they should be looking at where the historical-structural problems of management and civil service in the Brazilian State are located. According to our interpretation, they are located in historical traits rooted in bureaucratism, authoritarianism, fiscalism, privatism and corporatism, aspects that, due to the limits and objectives of this text, will only be briefly explained below, but which are nevertheless important to support the criticism of the superficiality and insufficiency of the dominant liberal diagnoses about the national State, as well as to justify, further, our own alternative proposal for the central theme of this text.

Although difficult to measure, the five historical-structural problems of the Brazilian State and its public administration refer to deep qualitative dimensions of the country's political and institutional culture, which will not even be affected by the measures suggested by the proposal for constitutional reform now happily frozen in the National Congress. Otherwise, let's see.

 

Bureaucratism: to friends, everything; to enemies, the law!

Bureaucratism takes us back to the Brazilian historical tradition of Iberian origin, through which economic and social relations between autonomous parties (individuals, families, companies) are gradually converted into formal regulations and codes of conduct subject to sanctions of various types and levels by the established power.

This long process of normatization, positivization of laws or bureaucratization that spreads over practically all dimensions of collective life, in a society dominated by capitalist logic, also takes over the State itself, both internally and in its relations with the market and society. of which it is a part.

But contrary to what would be expected in a society that gradually seeks to republicanize and democratize intra-state relations and between segments of the State, the market and society, such codes of conduct and imposed legislation do not apply equally to all parties involved.

There is an excess of formalisms, legalisms, bureaucratic controls and many intermediary steps that are established between most companies and the population in their relations with each other and with public agents, at the same time as varying levels of informalism and privileged access to decision-makers of all types and social places.

Behind such hierarchies and power asymmetries are hidden patrimonial, privatist, oligarchic, authoritarian and selective practices, in short, small and large acts of public-private corruption that filter access and favors to public policies, making it difficult or keeping in the spotlight the inclusion of huge segments of the population and companies to goods and services of a public nature.

There is a lot of formal hierarchy and little effective command, in the wake of what emerges the hypertrophy of the culture of formal and informal controls over planning, implementation, management and social participation in public policies. Therefore, all the potential and power of a State supposedly designed to organize itself and act according to republican principles are minimized, these based on maximum equity and transparency of decision-making processes, aimed at the general interest and the common good, and democratic procedures, these responsible for expanding and diversifying social participation, political representation and collective deliberation on key issues in society that cross decision-making processes.

 

Authoritarianism: Do you know who you are talking to?

The ingrained authoritarianism as a distinctive trait and dominant form of relationship between State, market and society agents, as well as among themselves, goes back in the Brazilian case to the Portuguese absolutist monarchical State that gave us origin and direction.

The idea of ​​a centralized power of an absolutist nature or pretense never ceased to be present in Brazil, even after the formal separation between State and Church, which came along with the formal separation between executive, judicial and legislative powers after the establishment of the Republic in 1889. This aspect is reinforced by the fact that the Republic itself was implemented here by a pact between elites, having been enacted by a military power with the support of the emerging capitalist bourgeoisie and the acquiescence of the former imperial nobility. There was no dramatic institutional rupture in Brazil, or event of amplitude and social adherence that could found a new political order or opposed to the slave order that was always at the base of our historical formation.

For this reason, an intense historical process of republicanization has never been consolidated in the country, understood here as that through which a country and its nation seek to approach a form of political organization of the State that aims (and foresees) the distribution and balance of power between its citizens and organizations. Nor did a dense process of democratization take place here, understood as a form of political organization of society through which diverse opinions, wills and interests can be aggregated, manifested and represented, and conflicts can be disciplined, regulated and periodically resolved.

Authoritarianism, therefore, amalgamated itself as a distinctive feature of the Brazilian manorial political culture, having been relativized in moments of republicanization and democratization of the State, such as during the second Vargas government, the JK government, the constituent moment that preceded and culminated with the CF-1988 and, under open contradictions until 2016, lived its best days. But it was also reinforced in moments of explicit authoritarianism, experienced by Brazilian politics during the Vargas dictatorship, the military dictatorship and during the governments of Michel Temer and Jair Bolsonaro. In short, Brazilian political and institutional history can be summarized as an unbalanced sequence of democratic spasms, combined with authoritarian dominance for most of the time.

 

Fiscalism and Austericide

Austerity policies treat public finances and the public budget as being similar to domestic finances and the family budget, so that both the public sector and families should operate according to the precept of the budget always balanced or in surplus.

For this reason, in the liberal view, social security and administrative reforms would be fundamental, since by pointing to a reduction in public spending, they would convey to the market and relevant economic agents a sense of solvency and confidence in public debt management. Austerity measures would therefore be the instrument and solution to restore business confidence and, with that, establish foundations for economic growth.

This relationship between government austerity and investor confidence is a constant mantra in current discourse, which has led governments to implement reforms and contractionary policies – accompanied by recession, stagnation or even deflation – across the globe. Considering that the public budget works like the domestic budget is a simplistic approach, as well as a mistake, as it does not consider that the government, unlike families and companies, can, for example, increase or reduce its revenues through changes in taxes.

Moreover, it does not take into account that a part of public expenditure returns to the government in the form of taxes, and that these same expenditures, due to their volume and quality, can act favorably on economic activity in order to expand the tax collection base itself. Families and companies, finally, unlike the government, do not issue money or government bonds, nor do they control the interest rate on their debts, as the Central Bank does.

In this way, the equation between the public sector and domestic finance is, therefore, fallacious, and its objective is to limit the role and importance of fiscal policy for growth or the mitigation of the effects of economic cycles, especially in times of downturn or economic recession. It is important to note: spending restrictions in Brazil, a country that issues its own currency and whose government is an international creditor, are self-imposed by legislation that can always be amended.

The government's money, therefore, has not and will not run out, but Brazilian fiscal rules, which are excessively rigid, prevent it from being spent at a time when the economy, after several years of crisis, has still not managed to recover the income level of 2014. But fortunately, opinions contrary to austericide as the dominant idea and practice in the world are already growing. Foreign economists of great international influence (such as Ben Bernanke), and even some Brazilians with a liberal background (such as André Lara Resende) have been claiming that this belief in austerity as an end in itself is based on theoretically and empirically mistaken assumptions.

Available evidence and statistics show that countries that followed the austerity prescription grew less and/or came out of economic crisis situations later. On the contrary, countries that adopt economic policies that virtuously combine public spending (current expenditures and investments) with correct incentives, legal security and a positive economic outlook, manage to mobilize private investments in a complementary manner towards higher and more sustainable economic growth.

In the Brazilian case, despite the fact that business confidence indices have grown since the overthrow of Dilma Rousseff, the approval of EC 95/2016 regarding the spending ceiling, the labor and social security reforms and the election of Bolsonaro to the Presidency, the real activity indices economic and industrial production have remained stagnant or declining since 2016, well before the pandemic crisis (sanitary, economic and social) that broke out in 2020.

For this reason, nothing guarantees that liberal-conservative administrative reforms, all centered on reducing rights and reducing deliveries of goods and services to the population, on wage squeezes and direct dismissals of civil servants (and indirect dismissals of workers whose incomes depend on their expenses) improve this picture. On the contrary, they should aggravate it, or at best establish stagnation with social regression and income concentration as the new Brazilian normal.

 

Privatism: private vices, public harm!

A closer analysis of these devices proposed by PEC 32/2020 undoubtedly reveals that it is a piece that aims to establish almost absolute powers of the market over the State, money over politics, the private sphere and logic over the sphere and public logic. It is clear that this proposal of a constitutional (re)design for the worse, which intends to prioritize, in the formulation, implementation and management of public policies, the dominance of a short-term economic and microeconomic vision, over a long-term holistic and macrosocial vision, nothing promising can be expected for the country's future driving capabilities.

As is known, the role of the State in the economic domain is the subject of numerous debates in Brazil. Adherents of a regulatory, or minimal, state are used to clashing with defenders of an interventionist, or developmental, state. However, a historical analysis of the Brazilian administrative structure reveals that the 1988 Constitution received a model of a State structured under the military dictatorship (1964-1985), that is, the State reformed by the Government's Economic Action Plan (PAEG, 1964-1967). 1990), whose conceptions of business efficiency and the privilege of the private sector were already present some thirty years before the managerial reform of the XNUMXs.

The official discourse of the military regime was already one of economic orthodoxy. The very constitutions granted by the military, in 1967 and 1969, came, not by chance, to incorporate the so-called principle of subsidiarity, whose conception is to understand the State as complementary, subordinate to private initiative. Decree-Law 200/1967, a pioneer in requiring business management of administrative bodies, will survive the military dictatorship and will remain in force even under the 1988 Constitution, having been reinforced by the managerial administrative reform of the FHC government and, now, resurrected by the PEC 32/2020.

It so happens that, around the world, with the consolidation of developmental States, the constitutions of the XNUMXth century incorporated into their texts the existing conflict between social forces, seeking to cover a whole new series of rights and matters. Despite this, the relations between constitutional law and administrative law are still difficult. While constitutional law advanced, administrative law remained tied to the liberal principles of the XNUMXth century, understanding the State as an enemy. Therefore, the need to build a dynamic administrative law, at the service of the realization of fundamental rights and the constitution, is increasingly important.

On the contrary, the proposal to include an article 37-A in the 1988 Constitution goes far beyond bad legislative technique. The intention of PEC 32/2020 was to institute permission for the entities of the Federation (Union, States, Federal District and Municipalities) to sign “cooperation instruments with bodies and entities, public and private, for the execution of public services, including with the sharing of physical structure and the use of private human resources, with or without financial compensation”. In short, it is the general outsourcing of Public Administration. But now, the regime of public services is provided for in article 175 of the Constitution, which determines that they are activities that must be obligatorily and directly provided by the Public Power. If they are not provided by the State, they can only be provided by concession or permission and always preceded by a bidding process. When providing a public service, the State, or whoever acts on its behalf through a concession or permission, is obliged to accept the social interest as the metric and destination of its actions.

Another aberration of PEC 32/2020 is the attempt to include two new paragraphs in article 173 of the Constitution, which deals with the direct role of the State in the economic domain. The new – and worse – article 173, paragraph 6 provides that: “The State is forbidden to institute measures that generate market reserves that benefit private economic agents, public companies or government-controlled companies or that prevent the adoption of new models favorable to free competition, except in cases expressly provided for in this Constitution”. In other words, this is the definitive end of public support, as it would be possible for any private agent (domestic or foreign) to sue the Judiciary against the granting, for example, of special lines of credit, or financing of projects by the BNDES , as “market reserve” measures.

The implications of this process are pernicious for the dynamics of economic growth, as well as for the social reproduction conditions of the population. Since it is a political option for economic policy, this institutional arrangement that is being imposed on Brazil is subject to theoretical and empirical contestation, which is why it is important to lay bare its implications and point out credible alternatives to redesign the aforementioned institutionality with a view to the promotion of an economic and social performance more in line with the country's potential and aspirations for growth and social inclusion.

 

Corporatism: little flour, my mush first!

Corporatism is commonly defined in the specialized literature as a system of representation, processing and implementation of specific collective interests with the established public power. This is not the place to discuss its historical-institutional variants, that is, whether state corporatism (organized and supervised by the State), whether societal corporatism (animated and sustained by the pluralism of interests present in society), as well as the empirically observed combinations and derivations of both major models over time.

For the purposes of this text, it suffices to say that corporatism has established itself, in the history of contemporary capitalism (basically after the 2nd World War), as a politically legitimate and relatively effective form of explaining actors and interests and channeling and resolving conflicts, both in the relationship between public and private sectors, and internally to the public sector. In the case of the public sector, due to the great diversity of areas of state action, bureaucracies and decision-making arenas, interests and institutional processes involved.

But in both cases, in addition to State decisions emanating from the traditional rules of representative democracy, corporatism (via formal and informal activities of LOBBY, advocacy etc.) also came to be considered a form – complementary and more direct, although less regulated – of manifestation, negotiation and intermediation of organized interests, corporately, aiming to influence and shape decision-making processes in government spheres.

So far, then, nothing much, just the way things actually are and work in contemporary capitalist societies. But the problem starts when, leaving the formal and abstract discussion about the above concepts and categories, we arrive at the ground of politics as it is. And it is dominated, in Brazil and elsewhere, by groups and corporations more powerful and privileged than others. This hierarchy and asymmetry of power and resources (economic and symbolic) distort the legality, legitimacy and concrete results obtained by the various organized groups in society (public and private) that have a corporate relationship with the State, which, therefore, welcomes , handles and implements its decisions and public policies differently, more in favor of some than other social groups.

In this sense, whenever the State acts only as a transmission channel for the strongest and most well-represented interests in its decision-making circuits, it collaborates to sanctify the economic and social inequalities present in society, and also to reinforce the asymmetry of resources and power. of voting and vetoing of the most influential actors. In the end, it is politics itself in formally democratic regimes that is losing transformative power, since through predatory corporatism, positions of power of already privileged groups are consummating and weakening the positions of actors with less resources and less powerful voice in society and with governments.

It can be said that the same phenomenon occurs in intrastate relations, where certain bureaucratic elites manage not only to impose and maintain their own class privileges, but also to distance their activities from truly national interests and needs. We already know that this is the rule of private corporations, but that such behavior is the keynote of overrepresented corporate bureaucracies within the public sector is a terrible sign of the substantive hollowing out of republicanism and democracy in our country.

 

By way of conclusion: what to do?

Considering, therefore, only the Brazilian case, our proposal consists of making use of three main ideas, from whose theoretical-historical rescue one could start to advance both in the criticism of the formats and contents currently dominant in the state sphere, as – going further – advancing also in reaffirming or proposing new principles, guidelines, strategies and action tactics (collective, continuous and cumulative) that allow us to lead the situation to a qualitatively higher level of understanding, organization and functioning of the national State for the new generations of Brazilian men and women, even in the XNUMXst century.

They are:

(i) Country project: national development is the flagship of the State's action, that is, the State does not exist for itself, but as a vehicle for the nation's development. In this sense, strengthening the dimensions of public strategic planning, participatory management and social control – these strategies of organization and operation of the State – is a necessary condition for us to make a leap in quality even in the XNUMXst century in Brazil.

(ii) Government capacity: the need for a reform of the State of a republican nature, which brings more transparency to decision-making processes, in dealing with public affairs in general, is an inescapable condition for redirecting government action towards the vital needs of the population.

(iii) Governance: last but not least, the revaluation of politics and democracy, as there is no way to make a change of this magnitude without the well-informed participation of the majority of the population. Democracy is not only a value in itself, but also a method of government, through which the will of the majority of the population is manifested, electorally and periodically. But beyond representative democracy in crisis, there are elements of participatory – and even deliberative – democracy that push for more and better spaces of existence and functioning.

The above proposal reaffirms the fact that in order to debate such challenges and fight for a modern State and quality public services in Brazil, it is necessary to be clear that in all successful international development experiences it is possible to verify the fundamental role of the state entity as a producer direct, inducer and regulator of economic activities so that they fulfill, in addition to their main microeconomic objectives, macroeconomic objectives of innovation and productive inclusion and of elevation and social homogenization of the living conditions of the population residing in the national territory.

As Brazil is a country of continental dimensions and with an estimated population, in 2022, of around 210 million inhabitants, it is undoubtedly a huge political and economic challenge to provide (quantitatively and qualitatively) adequate goods and services to the entire population residing in the country. Hence not only the need, but even the urgency, of government initiatives that are not restricted to the mere management (albeit efficient) of existing policies and programs of economic, social and urban infrastructure. It is, in fact, the need and urgency of initiatives that mobilize state capabilities and government instruments available to governments and at the service of national development.

From what has been said so far, it is clear that due to the scope, depth and speed of the ongoing national destruction since 2016, the reconstruction of the country will be the work of an entire generation or more of citizens, aware that a Refoundation Plan for Brazil, to in addition to its Independence Bicentennial (1822/2022), it would have to face the following crucial points, among many others, of course:

(1) “New Truth Commission”, or another more appropriate name that can be given, to investigate and judge crimes by the Bolsonaro government against its own people and institutions.

(2) Revocatory Referendum of the main legislative measures approved since 2016, as they were formulated and implemented in a context that is now known to be illegal, immoral and illegitimate, in addition to having an anti-popular, anti-national and anti-development character.

(3) (Re)activation of state capacities for government planning and strategic coordination (inter and intra sectoral, territorial and social) of national public policies and public-private investments. In this regard, it is necessary to reconcile long-term business sustainability with the public social function of state-owned companies, since short-term microeconomic efficiency cannot be above macroeconomic efficiency and social effectiveness in the medium and long terms.

(4) Nationalization, renationalization and/or creation of new strategic state-owned companies and/or mixed companies under public control, with a view to regaining decision-making power over fundamental policies for economic growth and national development.

(5) Progressive Tax/Fiscal Reform in collection and redistribution in public spending: revision of the Fiscal and Monetary Rules in effect (spending cap, golden rule, primary surplus and STN-BC ratio) for better and more effective budget governance, worth say: budgeting, allocation, monitoring, evaluation and prospecting of public expenditures.

(6) Innovation and Democratic-Participatory Public Management: digital government, dimensioning, planning and professionalization of the workforce, monitoring, evaluation and management of institutional performance and professional skills.

(7) Labor Relations in the Public Sector: regulation of the rights and conditions of collective bargaining and strikes in the national public sector, such that a true human resources policy for the Brazilian public sector takes into account in an articulated manner the stages of selection, training , allocation, remuneration, progression and retirement.

(8) Creation of CLS (Consolidation of Social Laws), Progressive Modernization of CLT (Consolidation of Labor Laws) and RJU (Single Legal Regime).

(9) (Re)institutionalization of the weight and institutional role of the State's (internal and external) Bureaucratic Controls and (Re)institutionalization of Social Participation as a method of government: measures to provide more and better transparency in intragovernmental decision-making processes and in relations between state and private entities, as well as on intermediate and final results of government acts and public policies in general.

(10) Regulation and economic deconcentration of media vehicles, more democratization and better social control over the means of communication (public and private) operating in the country.

(11) Refoundation of the representative party-political model and (re)institutionalization of democratic models of a participatory and deliberative nature for the public manifestation of collective interests, arbitration and conflict resolution in democratic arenas and processes, in addition to political legitimacy of agreed decisions.

(12) Refoundation of the Justice System, with public social control, transparency of decision-making processes and replacement of lifetime mandates by fixed mandates, albeit long and stable ones.

(13) Combating privileges, injustices and corruption: be clear that corruption does not specifically concern the State and the political dimension of power, but the spurious relationships that are established between private/privatist interests and the State/public sphere. Therefore, the fight against corruption must be conceived in a subordinate way to the deepening of the democratic and republican character of the Brazilian State.

Such refounding must anchor the State on new foundations, based on the permanent deepening of popular sovereignty, the day-to-day defense of the general will of the population, the relentless fight against inequalities of all kinds and the incessant search for the formation of a free and plural public opinion, without neglecting to maintain and deepen the rights of citizenship conquered in 1988.

Time is short! Get to work!

*José Celso Cardoso Jr., doctor in economics from Unicamp, is a federal public servant at Ipea and current president of Afipea-Sindical.

 

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