Posts Tagged ‘Lula’

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Special mention

Wasserman_img  Simanca

Brazil’s Luiz Inácio da Silva—Lula—is the one of the most successful politicians of our time. The fate of Lula’s Brazil is much less certain.

Perry Anderson has published a useful essay about Lula’s Brazil, including Lula’s rise to power, the historical context of of the Left in Latin America, the scandals and gains of his administration, and the uncertain future of Brazil after Lula.

One of the points Anderson makes is that Lula, famous for remarking that “Não tem nada mais barato do que cuidar dos pobres” [It’s cheap and easy to look after the poor], succeeded in reducing poverty in Brazil without hurting the wealthy minority. It should also be noted that, although Lula was the head of the Workers’ Party, real wages for workers actually declined during his administration (as explained by Matías Vernengo [pdf]).

Anderson concludes his analysis of the future of Lula’s Brazil by using a historical analogy with the end of slavery:

Its upshot remains, for the moment, undecidable. There is no doubt that an emancipation has occurred. But might Brazilian history supply an unsettling analogy? In the late 19th century, slavery was abolished in Brazil virtually without bloodshed, in contrast to the slaughter with which its end, not even originally intended, was accompanied in the United States. But it was not only the cost in life that was low. The cost in property was also low, for emancipation came late, when the slave population was dwindling, and the slave economy in advanced stages of decline. It wasn’t a purely elite affair; popular abolitionism took many imaginative initiatives in its quietus. But when it came, slave-owners were not all ruined, and slaves gained legal freedom alone. Socially, the after-effects were modest: principally, increased white immigration from Europe.

Could there be, mutatis mutandis, some resemblance with the Bolsa Família, crédito consignado, minimum wage? Lula liked to say: ‘It’s cheap and easy to look after the poor.’ Uplifting, or disturbing? In its moral ambiguity might lie one kind of epitaph on his rule. Compared with his predecessors, he had the imagination, born of social identification, to see that the Brazilian state could afford to be more generous to the least well-off, in ways that have made a substantial difference to their lives. But these concessions have come at no cost to the rich or comfortably-off, who in any absolute reckoning have done even better – far better – during these years. Does that really matter, it can be asked: isn’t this just the definition of the most desirable of all economic outcomes, a Pareto optimum? Were the pace of growth to falter, however, the descendants of slaves might live out an aftermath not so different from that of emancipation. From the time of its adoption, just after slavery was gone, the Comtean motto inscribed on the banner of the nation – Ordem e Progresso – has long been a hope fluttering in the wind. Progress without conflict; distribution without redistribution. How common are they, historically?

Yet perhaps this time it will not be the same. The last decade has not seen any mobilisation of the popular classes in Brazil. The fear of disorder and acceptance of hierarchy, which still set them apart within Latin America, are legacies of slavery. But though material betterment is not social empowerment, one can lead to the other. The sheer electoral weight of the poor, juxtaposed against the sheer scale of economic inequality, not to speak of political injustice, makes Brazil a democracy unlike any society in the North, even those where class tensions were once highest, or the labour movement strongest. The contradiction between the two magnitudes has only just begun to work itself out. Should passive improvement ever become active intervention, the story would have another ending.

Perhaps the best way of summarizing Lula’s Brazil is with a slight modification of the words on the national flag: Order (above all) and Progress (for some of the poor).