Growth for What?      Portuguese text:  Crescimento para que
by Fernando Henrique Cardoso
published in O Estado de S.Paulo and in O Globo on December 5, 2004

I will begin with a quote:  "The evidence is overwhelming that inequality in our nation is increasing. Median family incomes have risen by 18 percent since 1979 while the income of the top 1 percent of families has risen by 200 percent. Families in the top 1 percent now earn more than all families in the bottom 40 percent combined.  More ominous still, the transmission of inequality from generation to generation may be increasing as well. A child born in the bottom 10 percent of all families by incomes has only a one-third chance of rising above the bottom 20 percent."

To which country does this text refer?  Incredible as it may seem, it is the United States of America.  What radical writer has penned these remarks?  No one other than Lawrence Summers, former Minister of the Treasury of the Clinton administration and current President of Harvard University.  Concerned abut the growing inequality, our author emphasizes the importance of education as an instrument for correcting social asymmetries, in a speech published in The Miami Herald on the 6th of December of this year.

In view of the growing inequality, the famous economist does not wax enthusiastic about the growing national wealth in the most powerful country in the world.  It is not, obviously, that the growth of the GNP is unemportant.  But Summers knows that the question of inequality and of the creation of equalizing institutions, such as access to education, is the central preoccupation of all democrats.  Observations such as these help to locate our own problems, at a moment in which it appears that we are attempting to make the growth of GNP the measure of all things, sufficient indicator of the happiness and well-being of the people.

Perhaps this point, when the Lula government, in a few more weeks, will complete half its mandate, is the time to ask:  is it not time for a more realistic evaluation of what has been done, and of the great deal which remains to be done (and which perhaps could still be done).  The continuity in financial the export policies (control of inflation and a fluctuating dollar) explains the growth observed in recent months.  But are we really beginning a new stage of development?  Or, prisoners of the developmentalist ideologies of the seventies and wrapped up in managerial inefficiency, will we fail to take advantage of the opportunities which the force of our economy and a favorable international situation offer us?

The current government has the merit of having avoided a predicted disaster, albeit with the sacrifice of old beliefs on the alter of macroeconomic rationality (and only there).  The country is collecting the fruits of this partial sacrifice.  But how are we doing in establishing the public policies and the institutional advances necessary to create a more promising future for the country?

These policies are doing badly.  In education, it is enough to read the article published in this same column by Paulo Renato Souza to get the measure of the how poorly we are doing.  In health, the `popular pharmacies" are a poor substitute for consistent policies of family doctors and community health agencies.  In agrarian reform, we see high officials making indiscriminate accusations against productive agences, while inefficiency is weakening the problems of agrarian settlement, credit and infrastructure development.

The Zero Hunger program, the government's principal propaganda initiative in the social area, has produced Zero Results in its announced intention to `abolish hunger.'  Based on a number of odd and confused ideas that confuse poverty with hunger, and malnutrition with inactivity, as the President himself admitted in a recently launched documentary film, the Zero Hunger program has already guaranteed its place in the history of governmental programs in this country, as an example of conceptual poverty and operational incompetence.  To save face, the government hurriedly combined all of the income transfer programs, including the School Scholarship (Bolsa Escola) program.  In this centralization process, which was as hurried as it was disastrous, it ended up abandoning the essential objective of tying benefits to a behavioral change on the part of the recipient (in the case of Bolsa Escola, the obligation to send the children to school).  What had been a program to support the citizens in preparing for the future became an aid program that does little to attenuate the poverty of the present.  One could add to this list of backsliding the failure to understand the p roper role of regulatory agencies, necessary to attract investment and infrastructure and to benefit consumers.

I do not want to fail to recognize the advances that have been made.   But they have lost direction and the possibility of changing, for the better, when necessary, that which has already been done.  The partial exceptioin has been the macroeconomic area.  In the other areas, what has predominated is the seductiveness of marketing, cosmetic changes, and the obsession to break with everything that had been done and replace competent employees with well-intentioned militants (when they are).

The most serious of all is the failure of a large part of the Workers Party and of many of its allies to support what the government has done that is good.  This is reflected in the paralysis of the congressional agenda:  what has happened to the Bankruptcy Law, the rules to improve real estate credit, or the regulation of social security?  As long as the reforms are not in place, thousands of our public employees will be covered by the old social security plan and its deficits will continue growing.

In this situation, the president is redoubling his efforts to find more allies, without even explaining the purpose of the alliance.  One does not have to be a wizard to predict what the result of this will be.  Not that it is easy, as I well know.  For this reason, has it not come time to reverse this mindless, insensitive set of policies, and who know, to speak frankly to the country about the best path to take so that the growth of the GNP will result in a development that will strengthen citizenship and increase the equality of opportunity.

Possible, but not likely.  The best hypothesis is that the new coalition building will result in an electoral alliance aimed at the 2006 elections, closing ranks with the opposition parties that, in principle, would be most likely to advance innovative proposals leading to social development in the country.

translated by Ted Goertzel