The Serpent's Nest and Eggs

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By SERGIO GONZAGA DE OLIVEIRA*

The poor living conditions of the population form a substrate where, not infrequently, the snake creates and recreates its eggs.

The expression “serpent's egg” is not new. As far as we know, it first appeared in Julius Caesar from Shakespeare. The play, probably written in 1599, recounts the moment when the incipient and restricted democracy of Rome was about to succumb to the imperial power of Julius Caesar. A group of senators, unhappy with the growing concentration of power in the hands of an ambitious military commander, planned his death in an attack. In a passage from Shakespeare's text, Brutus, one of the main conspirators, compares Julius Caesar to “a serpent's egg which, by its nature, once hatched will become harmful; which is why it must be killed while still in its shell.” Brutus refers to the harm that the consolidation of Caesar's absolute power would do to Roman democracy. In Shakespeare the reference to the serpent's egg takes place in a context of power relations within the ruling elite of Rome.

Almost four centuries later, in 1977, Ingmar Bergman uses Shakespeare's expression as the title of a dense and expressive film about the initial stages of the expansion of Nazism in Germany, in the twenties of the last century. Unlike Shakespeare, in Bergman the economic and social context experienced by the characters plays a relevant role. In the first minutes of the film, an announcer in voice-over says: “A pack of cigarettes costs 4 billion marks and almost everyone has lost faith in the future and in the present”.

With the armistice of 1918, which ended the hostilities of the First World War, the main victorious powers imposed on Germany the Treaty of Versailles signed in June 1919. The established war reparations were so leonine that many economists and politicians of the time considered that it would be its fulfillment impossible.

At the end of the war, instability in Berlin was such that political parties could not meet in the capital to organize post-war German life. As a result, the Constituent Assembly was installed in the small town of Weimar, about 300 km from Berlin, and the Constitution was enacted in August 1919. In the following decade, the high payments imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, political disputes and the consequences of war made life hell for the German people. Hyperinflation, political instability, hunger, misery and hopelessness were part of everyday life.

Bergman portrays this calamity well when in the middle of the plot a police inspector says: “The exchange rate for a dollar is 5 billion marks; the French occupied the Ruhr; we have already paid a billion in gold to the British … in Munich Herr Hitler is preparing a coup d'état with hungry and mad soldiers in uniform; we have a government that doesn't know which way to go; everyone is afraid and so am I”.

As if that were not enough, the economic crisis of 1929, which originated in the USA, hit Germany suddenly. The so-called Weimar Republic, plagued by growing difficulties, does not have the minimum conditions for governability. In this context a radical nationalism led by the Nazi party of Adolf Hitler, an obscure former army sergeant, is seen by the hopeless German people as the only way out of their agony.

Until 1928, the Nazis were still a minority in the German Parliament. They occupied only 12 chairs. With the Great Depression in 1930, they became the second largest party in the country, with 107 seats. In 1932, they were already the most popular political formation in Germany, with 230 seats in the Parliament. In the wake of this rise, President Hindenburg, in January 1933, named Hitler Prime Minister. In the following years Hitler develops a macabre climb to assume absolute power and lead Germany to one of the greatest disasters in recent human history. The rise of Nazism in Germany is not a simple historical phenomenon, but the facts seem to indicate that the economic and social degradation, well characterized by Bergman, must have had an important contribution to this tragedy.

In the same decade, in Italy, a similar process establishes an authoritarian regime where political parties and unions are outlawed. In a wake of instability, war destruction and resentment towards the Treaty of Versailles, Mussolini's fascists seize power.

Almost 100 years later, snake eggs are being hatched again in increasingly favorable environments for hatching. In recent decades, some political, social and economic phenomena have been adding fuel to this fire. Globalization, the disastrous neoliberal response, the precariousness of labor relations and the loss of power of unions have been promoting, since the 80s, a significant increase in the concentration of income in the main developed countries (1) (2).

In Brazil it is no different. In the last 40 years, per capita income growth has not exceeded 0,7% per year. An almost nothing. Taking the per capita household income published in 2020 by the IBGE in the Summary of Social Indicators (3) as a reference, it appears that half of the population lives on less than the minimum wage. It can be said that the majority live in poverty or around it. It is hard to believe that the 400 reais of Emergency Aid or even the 1.212 reais of a minimum wage are enough to guarantee adequate citizenship conditions for a person and his family. To get an idea of ​​this nonsense, just remember that the minimum wage needed to support a family, calculated by DIEESE in March 2022, is BRL 6.394,16.

Economic science, to a large extent, already knows the ways to remove the majority of the population from misery and indigence. This roadmap includes a national reconstruction project with inclusive and sustainable development. The concept of development establishes that economic growth must be accompanied by an effective distribution of income, preservation of the environment and development of several other social, cultural and political aspects that enhance the life and well-being of human communities. In general, the concept of development is associated with improving the quality of life in any of these aspects.

However, it is difficult to imagine that a large part of the population can be lifted out of poverty without promoting economic growth. Thus, economic growth constitutes a substratum, a portion that makes many aspects of development possible, especially those that require a minimum level of income and wealth to be effectively carried out. Many areas of human activity, such as education and health, require huge expenses to guarantee a minimum level of citizenship for individuals in a community.

In a very simplified way, it can be said that economic growth occurs when certain variables interact and evolve positively over time: (i) investment (understood as the creation or expansion of production units), (ii) education ( in the sense of qualification and training of workers), (iii) science and technology (such as research and development applied to production) and (iv) productivity (measured by the increase in production per unit of work).

International experience shows that the four variables above can be induced to growth by institutional action by the State. The possibilities for State participation in induced economic growth are very broad and diversified. The State can interfere in economic activity to accelerate the accumulation of factors or to encourage science and technology in strategic sectors. It can increase productivity or even reduce the negative side effects resulting from the very logic of the system, such as income concentration and market concentration.

In education, the presence of the State goes beyond increasing the efficiency of the system. Education has a double insertion in the development process. Education is the main responsible for the formation of citizenship. It is mainly through citizenship education that individuals become aware of their role in society. Who acquire clear notions of their rights and duties before the law. More than that, they become active participants in the elaboration of laws, either through direct actions or in the choice of their representatives. From an economic point of view, education increases the efficiency and productivity of the economy; current production processes require more and more skills and training.

The description above, although limited, shows how important the State plays in induced economic growth, and it is inevitable that economic and social development will depend heavily on its performance. To this end, increasing the efficiency of the State itself can be an essential measure; it is about introducing reforms in existing institutions so that they fulfill their purposes with shorter deadlines, higher quality and lower costs. Some of the major problems arising from the umbilical relationship between economic growth and the State is that in underdeveloped and developing countries, public institutions are precarious.

Due to the insufficient qualification of the workforce and the low technological intensity of the methods and processes used, these institutions, in general, fall far short of the need. Breaking this vicious circle, where structurally inefficient institutions must plan and direct the increase of their own efficiency and, moreover, plan and direct the economic development process of the whole country, is not a simple task. However, it is not impossible, since many countries, formerly peripheral, managed in recent decades to reach the level of development of the precursor countries. Others are on the way like China, India and Vietnam.

State-induced and accelerated development requires long-term planning, coordination and execution of public policies. In Brazil, the dispersion and low representation of political parties, associated with the loss of power of the President of the Republic before the National Congress, seems to be the main source of the growing political instability verified in recent times. It must be remembered that economics, especially development economics, is heavily dependent on the political context and the institutions that surround it. For this reason, it is desirable to build political alliances based on more stable governance structures, with better-structured parties, which enable pro-development agreements with greater permanence over time. If this is true, political reform should be among the first steps on this long journey (4).

As Tarso Genro said in a recent article: “killing hunger, providing security and education to the people, to revive the civilizing dimensions … will be the historical insurance of the successful anti-fascist policy and the revaluation of true democracy by the exasperated people” (5).

In our country, the upcoming electoral clash is certainly one more step on a long journey to defeat the fascist groups that are always on the prowl. Fascism as a mass political movement is not an abstract phenomenon. It doesn't come out of nowhere. Fascist groups have always existed. They expand when they encounter deteriorating economic and social conditions. Fascists have always known how to take advantage of propaganda. Those of today have competently used social media to spread their obscure theories, false promises and hate politics. But let's not fool ourselves. It is not propaganda per se that brings them to power. Bergman in his film recalls the lesson of History: the poor living conditions of the population form a substrate where, not infrequently, the serpent creates and recreates its eggs.

*Sergio Gonzaga de Oliveira is an engineer from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and an economist from the University of Southern Santa Catarina (UNISUL).

 

Notes


(1) Piketty, Thomas. Capital in the XNUMXst Century. Intrinsic Publisher, Rio de Janeiro, 2011.

(2) Jordà, Òscar et al., The Rate of Return on Everything, 1870-2015, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, University of Oxford, August 2019.

(3) Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, Synthesis of Social Indicators: an analysis of the living conditions of the Brazilian population, Coordination of Population and Social Indicators, IBGE, Rio de Janeiro, 2020.

(4) Oliveira, Sergio Gonzaga, The Mother of All Reforms, available at https://aterraeredonda.com.br/a-mae-de-todas-as-reformas/

(5) Genro, Tarsus, Democracy as Form and Content, available at https://aterraeredonda.com.br/a-democracia-como-forma-e-conteudo/

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