Point 5 posted by the Intelligent Blond (See her thoughts in Portuguese in my April 18 blog) deals with electoral control through the Bolsa Familia or welfare program that actually started under Fernando Henrique Cardoso but has become a banner for Dilma, Lula and the PT. Loira alleges that the program was extended significantly under the influence of Jose Dirceu (former Chief of Staff to Lula) as a “bridal” used to control the votes of Bolsa Familia recipients.
I find this statement interesting. So much so that in the 70’s I wrote a treatise on this very topic. Basically, I examined a SENAI (a mixed government – industrialist sponsored training program created in Getulio Vargas’ dictatorship) with the hypothesis that training SENAI was a means of controlling and co-opting the working class, especially the higher skilled so they would not contest military rule in the 70’s. What I found was that the workers voted quite conscientiously in their best interest and favored the opposition MDB party at the time. Granted the Bolsa Familia recipients are less informed than the SENAI grads but still they know enough to see that the PT in name, at least, is more favorable to their interests (secure food supply, educational access and modest health treatment) than say the Brazilian right. The PSDB knows this but has lost the political initiative to the PT. It is a good thing that people are voting and it is anti-democratic to say that people don’t know how to vote. There are problems but it is a process and better than the alternatives of repression and no elections.
In her point 6, smart blonde talks about ENEM, the qualification exam for the universities in Brazil, and about quotas for minorities. She goes so far as to say that these programs have their upside but she is upset by the proliferation of private colleges and schools of dubious quality staffed by professors who have been sufficiently trained. Yes, this is a big problem and it is a problem of the market-driven educational system. My critique is that education and the Ministry of Education have been completely adrift, torn by the demands of the traditional middle class for free university education and the need to improve basic or primary education. Essentially, the administrations of the last 15 years or so have not been able to fight the entrenched bureaucratic university structure nor have they effectively used the resources supposedly set aside for basic instruction. On international exam comparisons, Brazilians lag at all levels. This is not to say that there are not elite and able instructors in the public universities. There are many. But the structure does not help them. And the “democratization” of primary education has driven the best teachers out to the private sector. Education should not be so politicized between the PT and the opposition.
Point 7 rehashes the old saw that Lula just got lucky with Chinese demand for commodities. Of course, there is something to this argument but the way it should be made is by looking at Lula’s industrial policy (or lack thereof) plus the short-sighted, cosseted nature of Brazil’s so called captains of industry. Saying that Lula dropped his pants too easily for the Chinese really gets us nowhere.
Number 8 extends the argument about the Chinese and adds the Koreans stating that they pressured Brazil to open up and take manufactured goods which resulted in Brazil losing competitiveness, except perhaps in the areas of semi finished industrial products such as pulp, resins or pig iron. Brazil’s trade barriers have always sought to protect the “similar” national product. The unintended and negative effect is that Brazilian industry has focused pretty much on making shoddy goods for an undemanding and unsophisticated national market. With its tax burden, bureaucracy and lack of investment, Brazil has always been a weak competitor. Even in the 90’s when Brazil’s auto makers were the top exporters, the cars were lower end models of Fiat, Ford and VW. Brazil has never been able to make an advanced luxury vehicle even in the so-called globalized auto assembly business. Mercedes, Audi and even GM have not been able to produce a top of the line product in Brazil.
Points 9 and 10 can be addressed together. Smart blonde notes that in spite of corruption, Lula was easily reelected in 2006 because people could for the first time buy a car, a computer, a plane ticket and have meat on the table. I ask what is wrong with that? The obvious answer is that the model is not sustainable and we have reached the limit of consumption-driven growth. Since the good old days of the commodities boom, Brazil has slipped back to 1 to 3 per annual GNP growth. Not good for a developing country with aspirations.
Loira’s number 11 is a bit of a mishmash but continues the economic argument stating that the auto industry and the construction boom were driven by consumers and easy credit. But then she goes on to say that the industrial work force has been forced to junk yard or transfer their labor to construction. Here, I think she fails to understand the different skill sets involved in different industries and also underestimates some of the success of micro-entrepreneurs. If industry is laying off skill labor, some of these individuals have become mechanics, tool builders, and owners of small firms that provide real products, perhaps nothing great or exceptional but good enough for the Brazilian market. Think of the guy making signs or rain gutters.
Loira’s next points pick up on President Dilma and are more political in nature and I will discuss those in future comments.