(Re)build democracy

Blanca Alaníz, Quadrados series, digital photography and photomontage based on the work Baindeirinhas by Iván Serpa, Brasilia, 2016.
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By RODRIGO DE FARIA*

The history of national-urban-regional planning is full of experiences that reinforce the importance of state planning in the (re)construction of economic development

Between the 20's of the 20th century and the current 1920's of the 2020st century, a lot has happened in the world, especially tragedies and crises. The dawn of the 19s came amidst the rubble of World War I. The dawn of the 20s is taking place amidst the rubble of the COVID-19 pandemic plaguing the world. Capriciously separated by a century, time seems to (re)signify the 1918s as an important turning point and, therefore, it may even be possible to (re)think the idea of ​​the short 1920th century proposed by Eric Hobsbawm. In this sense, it is a case of building a secular historical cut between World War I and the COVID-19 Pandemic, while preserving the idea that this period was and continues to be characterized by devastation: wars, dictatorships, poverty, etc. And when we incorporate the medical-sanitary dimension into this process, that is, the disease as devastation, it is also necessary to consider the Spanish flu pandemic between XNUMX and XNUMX, closing this historical cut proposed here for the XNUMXth century for the period between the two pandemics. In this sense, the XNUMXth century would not be so short, even if the current COVID-XNUMX pandemic reinforces the human tragedies of the period.

A minimally attentive look at the social-economic-political dimensions of this tumultuous and tragic period will easily capture the structural nucleus and central agent of these devastations: neoliberalism and its unique thinking in defense of the annihilation of the State, of the unlimited exploitation of natural reserves, in the financial support to Nazi-fascist totalitarianism in Europe and dictatorships in Latin America, in the exploitation of labor and workers, in the precariousness of life in the poor and degraded outskirts of cities.

For people identified with this thought, including Minister Paulo Guedes, the corporate press, intellectuals, businessmen, politicians and part of society, everything would be resolved with the destruction of the State until reaching the dreamed and desired “Minimal State”. The only “policy” that the current Minister of Economy has to offer is called privatization. His tenure at the Ministry seems like a broken record repeating the same word: privatization. Nothing but privatization, privatization, privatization. It is like a mantra of devastation that resounds like opium to the wishes of the “Faria Lima Boys”. At the same time, it is also easily observable how the neoliberals do not really want the “Minimum State”, what they want is a State just for them, acting according to their financial interests, from the destruction of social and labor rights, passing through the huge tax breaks graciously distributed to business agents. In other words, the “Minimal State” is of interest as a key idea when it comes to building public policies in health, housing, transport, environment, education, culture, economic production, infrastructure, among others.

It is not surprising to realize that these public investment policies aim, at the end of their process, at improving the living conditions of the population, as they are policies that can forge important national development for an entire country, not just for the economic and political elites. In this regard, the neoliberal vision presents itself through a double process, in which, on the one hand, these policies are understood as expenditures that must be curtailed by rigid fiscal adjustment; on the other hand, the destruction of social and labor rights is presented as the only alternative to guarantee economic growth, employment and income. However, only the neoliberal perversity to believe, without the slightest embarrassment, that the uberization of work and the exploitation of the worker are the path to the resumption of economic growth.

The only historical result of this double process in the long century between World War I and the COVID-19 Pandemic is the consolidation of a structural dichotomy: on the one hand, the continuous process of impoverishment of workers, on the other, the continuous process of enrichment of workers. businessmen and financiers. Unlike what they love to strut from inside their armored cars and closed condominiums, the only thing that has grown is the socio-spatial inequality visible in virtually all municipalities, whether small, medium or metropolitan. This inequality can be formulated in a single expression: precariousness. Everything is precarious, transport, health, education, housing, employment, leisure, that is, nothing escapes precariousness. As in the poetry of Augusto de Campos, LIXO-LUXO are part of the same process, something like a perverse feedback that makes the abyss between rich and poor produced by the neoliberal fallacy unbridgeable.

This fallacy has an even more cruel aspect, which is, at the very least, intellectual dishonesty, but which cannot be read separately from the very project of destruction that neoliberalism has at its core. Neoliberals know very well that the final result of their power project (including economic) is the precariousness of the absolute majority of the planetary population. What's more, they know that the State – active in the construction of socioeconomic public policies of a redistributive nature – has the institutional capacity and financial resources to reverse the picture of destruction and impoverishment. If the State did not have the capacity for investment, it would not inject billions in exemptions for big capital, but this is an expense that only widens the gap between the gains of that same capital and the losses of work, since the social and economic costs of these exemptions are shared by the entire society, while profits are never redistributed.

The history of national-urban-regional planning is full of experiences that reinforce the importance of state planning in the (re)construction of economic development, especially in times of structural crisis. A basic example of these experiences was produced by the US government as a way to reverse the devastation produced by the 1929 crisis and its wake of bankruptcies, unemployment, misery, housing shortages. This experience took place within the scope of the New Deal, to be formulated as a strategy for economic recovery with actions, in macroeconomic terms, to encourage investments and regenerate purchasing power.

These actions were articulated to a set of institutions that should integrate the economic recovery, among them, the Public Work Administration (in the production of buildings and public works), Natioanal Planning Board (with territorial plans and partial plans), Commitee Urbanism (reversal of the degradation of urban development). It was in this context that the Tenesse Valley Authority was managed in 1933, a federal body for territorial planning in the Tennesse River basin based on energy production to program a new production cycle that should result in a socioeconomic rebalancing between countryside and city in a vast region of the country. North American.

In Brazil, as well as in several countries in Latin America and Europe, the State has assumed a central role in national efforts to promote development since the 1920s. In 1937, the National Economic Council was created to carry out studies and issue opinions on projects of the Brazilian government in the field of politics, industrial, agrarian, transport, commercial, educational, etc. In 1942, with the Coordination of Economic Mobilization, it was intended to guide primary-secondary production and defend the national economy. The Special Plan for Public Works and Equipment of the National Defense (1939-1943) and the Plan for Works and Equipment (1943-1946) are important examples, in this context between the 1930s and 1940s, of action by the national public power, both plans focused on carrying out public works, investment in transport infrastructure and industrial production.

It was at that time, more precisely in the early 1940s, that two important events in the fields of economics and urbanism took place: the 1943st Brazilian Congress of Urbanism in 1943 and the XNUMXst Brazilian Congress of Economics in XNUMX. This one in Economics is particularly interesting , because that was when the political and intellectual confrontation took place between Roberto Simonsen, in his defense of the State's role in planning the economy, and Eugênio Gudin, with an intransigent position in relation to the privatization of the economy and the opening to international capital.

The themes discussed in both congresses, although specific to the agents involved in the debates at the time, cannot be analyzed historically in isolation, as they are a clear indication of how economic problems are directly related to urban-regional problems. And this for an obvious reason, that is, economic investment in any production chain presupposes territorial transformation at different scales (local, regional, national), thus redesigning urban and regional dynamics, reverberating directly in migratory movements, in the expansion and consolidation of transport and logistics infrastructure engineering systems. At the time when the urban planners were discussing territorial and regional planning, financing of public works, production of rural and urban housing, among other topics, they were dealing with the economic dimension that the production of the territory implies. Finally, the fields of economics and urbanism/urban-regional planning are (or should be) umbilically associated, and the conduct of public policies is the privileged place to think and formulate proposals that promote national development in an integrated way with urban-development. regional.

Until the beginning of the 1980s, many other institutions of economic planning and/or urban-regional planning were created in Brazil, from the São Francisco Valley Commission, the National Economy Reapparation and Promotion Program, the Goals Program, the SUDENE, the Triennial Plan, among others. All these instances, or even the ideas contained in them, formulated between 1950 and 1964, reinforce the role of public power in national development. The political rupture produced by the civil-military coup in 1964 did not diminish this movement, in fact, since the first economic plan, the Government Economic Action Program (PAEG), when addressing housing problems and, in particular, when creating the Service Federal Housing and Urbanism (SERFHAU) and the National Housing Bank (BNH), reinforced the relationship between economy and urbanism/planning by the Brazilian state. It is evident, however, that he did so according to political and ideological assumptions consistent with a military dictatorship.

Already in the 1970s, the National Commission for Urban Policies (CNPU) and the National Program for Medium-sized Cities, this certainly the last sphere of government action in the field of planning before redemocratization, also indicated the importance of the role of the state in economy, urbanization and therefore development. This cycle between 1930 and 1980 would be impacted in the 1990s, when a neoliberal vision (re)placed its power project in the political game (this does not mean that in previous moments it was not present, especially if we consider the neoliberal political project implemented by the Chilean dictatorship in the 1970s) in such a way that this relationship between economy and urbanism/urban-regional planning reached a planetary dimension, but as a project of destruction.

The country's subordination to the IMF and the so-called “Washington Consensus” of 1989 (characterized by fiscal discipline / rationalization of public spending / financial liberalization / privatizations / foreign investment) are the economic face of this unique neoliberal thought. The redefinition of the role of cities in the international economic flow based on productive decentralization and centralization of control over capital, competition between cities, urban marketing and strategic planning are the urban facet to articulate, with the economy, the project of power neoliberal financialization of the world. The result of this is exactly the production of an even deeper abyss between wealth and poverty, radicalizing socio-spatial inequalities. More than ever, the poetic vision between LUXURY and WASTE shows, as faces of the same project, the destruction that the neoliberal project represents by deepening the precariousness of an absolute majority of the population.

In the Brazilian case, the study of the National Integration and Development Axes within the scope of the Brazil in Action Program promoted by the FHC government is an example of action that was forged based on this unique neoliberal thinking, articulating strategic national points with the international economic network without , effectively, if it could articulate the national development (of these points) with the urban-regional development in Brazil itself. Based on a monetary policy (which, in fact, played an important role in stabilizing the currency and controlling inflation) and not an economic policy of national development that was based on the relationship between economy and urban development, the two FHC governments served as a basis for the consolidation of neoliberal single thought.

With the elaboration of the National Policy for Regional Development in the Lula Government, associated with the resumption of an important and structural debate on urban problems with the creation of the Ministry of Cities, the Brazilian state (re)positioned itself in relation to its role in economic development . Not that the ideas and proposals of these actions are not subject to criticism, especially if we move forward to an analysis already in the Dilma Rousseff government on the meanings of the Minha Casa Minha Vida program. Even so, it is impossible not to note that the country has advanced from the monetary policy of the PSDB governments to an economic policy in the PT governments (even if the economic management conducted by Antônio Palocci in the Ministry of Economy also has traces of approximation with the neoliberalism that he had adopted during his second term as mayor of Ribeirão Preto). And this happened, to a large extent, through government policy decisions that led to the development not only of the strategic and modern points of the Brazilian economy, but of the entire national territory, particularly through programs to increase the income of the Brazilian population and associated actions. to the municipal master plans already under the Statute of the Cities as hope to revert the speculative production of the cities.

With the 2016 parliamentary-legal-media coup, Brazil was (re)led to the paths of monetary policy under the guidance of the neoliberal single thought, whose project was to deconstruct the guarantees and rights of workers in force in the 1988 Constitution, in addition to start the destruction of the Brazilian state itself, but, in particular, of its capacity to act in national development. What begins as a post-coup project in 2016 consolidates itself as a government action such as the approval of Constitutional Amendment 95, the one whose best nickname will always be “PEC da Morte”.

Finally, the political project that won the elections in 2018 continues to expand and deepen the destruction of the Brazilian state, which means further radicalizing the chasm between rich and poor. Since the beginning of the current (dis)government, Brazil's economic conduct can no longer be interpreted as a monetarist policy, because for that to happen, a well-formulated conceptual and intellectual framework must be in place, which must be recognized, however much it may be disagree with this monetarism. What we have in Brazil today is a financier policy forged on the assumptions of the agents of capital speculation in the international system of stock exchanges. There is no trace of economic policy, even less, any trace of articulation between economy and urban-regional development.

The current Minister of Economy explains daily his profound lack of knowledge about what economic development means. His myopic and simplistic view of the socioeconomic reality of an impoverished country is explained in the belief that everything would be resolved with the destruction of the state, privatizing everything according to the interests of the “market”. It even seems that the formation of the “Chicago Boys” lacked a lesson on economic development in the US after the 1929 crisis.

In the current decade of 2020, after the century historically forged here between 1914/1918 and 2019, that is, between World War I and the COVID-19 Pandemic, what we see is a country absolutely devastated by a power project based on on the one hand, by medical-sanitary negligence and, on the other, by an obtuse vision of economic development. Evidently, the COVID-19 Pandemic is not a product of this (mis)government, but with it it is possible to confirm the inability and lack of interest of that same (dis)government in (re)orienting its actions in the face of unforeseen events and thus acting to minimally preserve the living conditions of the Brazilian population.

In relation to the obtuse vision of the agents of financial speculation who took over the economic conduction of the current (mis)government, this can no longer be read simply as inability, but as a project. And the project is to destroy the state from within, undermining its institutions and radicalizing the impeding control of the use of available financial resources, which, in the end, only suffocates economic development itself. Paradox? It is not a paradox, it is part of the project of destruction forged by the unique neoliberal thought, currently driven by a financialist vision of economic relations. It is in this sense that the management of the economic sector in the current national (dis)government acts so that economic development does not occur or is preserved in the face of historical challenges such as the current health crisis.

Were they professional liberals with some historical understanding and intellectual honesty about national development in times of crisis, they would be the first to defend the role of the state with actions to preserve the country's productive capacity, preserve microenterprises spatially distributed throughout the national territory, preserve and expand the infrastructure of transport engineering systems, preserving the income and health security of the poor and marginalized population living on the outskirts of Brazilian municipalities. However, as they do not understand or are unaware of the meaning of economic development and its implications in the territory, therefore, in urban-regional development, they are not able to respond to the challenges of their historical time, characterized by yet another serious pandemic, such as the flu Spanish between 1918 and 1920.

But let's not be naive, it's not just a matter of ignorance, but fundamentally a conception of the world, and it is at this point, as a conception, that it becomes explicit what this world is and how it is being forged by the unique neoliberal thinking in force in the Esplanada dos Ministries. It is also necessary to be clear that neoliberalism is not interested in preserving anything, but only in destroying it: jobs, companies, health, education, culture, the environment, none of that matters, the only thing that matters is the fluctuation of the dollar and stock market indices of values. Destruction is the neoliberal project.

Against this devastation, the only possible alternative is to introduce another project, based on (re)construction. It is necessary to rebuild solidarity, social and labor rights, in addition to many other rights never forged with dignity, especially the right to the city. And, in the Brazilian case, not only all these (re)constructions, including the State and its institutions, but fundamentally the (re)construction of democracy, which since 2016 has been undergoing a marked process of corrosion. For the neoliberal project of destruction, democracy is an obstacle to its financial interests. That is why the (re)construction of democracy is the first step for Brazil to resume the path of economic development linked to urban and regional development and promote the fair and solidary redistribution of national wealth produced in the country.

*Rodrigo Faria is a professor at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of Brasília (FAU-UnB).

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