“Brazil, a land of the future” is the book by the Viennese-born writer Stefan Zweig during his stay in Brazil after exiling because of the World War II. The writer studied Brazil’s history, described its regions and population and concluded that the country had unique social and economic conditions to reach a “new future” and could have a different path compared to European nations and the United States. A new direction for both economic and social development would be possible in Brazil, with an exclusive social consensus in the world.
Many Brazilians grew up knowing this expression and believing in it. The generation that was born during 1970’s and 1980’s faced difficult moments, economic, professional and personal uncertainties. The situation began to improve in the 1990’s and it seems that we have forgotten previous difficulties from the 2000’s on, a time of positive expectations. However, Zweig’s “new future” has not come yet.
These paragraphs aim to introduce new questions that bother many researchers in Brazil, including myself. How can we get to the “future” if we do not know what we want from it? How can we build this goal if we are not sure which tools we should use and what is the role (rights and duties) of each social agent in this activity?
Our development as Nation has been characterized by the centrality of the state in adopting policies of development and planning with the objective to increase production efficiency and the social well-being. In order to do that, a list of tools of public and economic policies was used, besides social, health, public security and education policies.
In economic terms, there is a trade-off, a choice between the efficiency of policies to solve problems and the social equity. This occurs because a public action to solve economic, social, sectorial or environmental problems generates costs that society pays. Therefore, no public action is free.
From the 1940’s until 1980’s, the “Developmental State” implemented a set of policies that promoted the industrial development in Brazil and met interests of certain economic players, from urban workers to big national and international companies. Financing for companies through BNDES (National Bank for Economic and Social Development; Brazilian Development Bank) and tax incentives to purchase vehicles are some measures that were adopted and favored the middle class.
The role change in the 1990’s and tax problems changed this scenario and the good times established in the 2000’s, reducing potential conflicts between agents and not allowing questions about social policies adopted in this period. A new middle class had emerged, with a growing purchase power, demanding services, products, housing and education.
The recession over the last years highlighted the weakness of policies adopted. The new middle class was fired and, consequently, its purchase power reduced, highlighting differences about the future of public policies and the lack of a common ground for the future of Brazil. These differences were strengthened with discussions about the social security and labor reforms, affirmative social policies. Opposite positions about the solution to these problems halted advances; therefore, uncertainties persist.
The truckers’ strike in late May exposed our problems to the world. Brazil had not faced a severe supply crisis with heavy impacts in many years. The adopted measures are not enough to solve the problems and dissatisfaction prevails. Besides truckers, entrepreneurs from several segments and the population have been affected with price changes and the reduction of tax incentive.
We need to find a way to balance the efficiency of policies with the search for social equity; however, a clear diagnoses of the problem and its causes need to be performed. Unfortunately, without a State reform, this does not seem to be possible.
We need to surpass the tradition of political debates without a clear and trustful database, which allows a real view of the causes of the problem. In my opinion, this is why we always have the feeling that the problems are never solved. It is because of the inability to learn from the past that we continue to commit the same mistakes.
Overall, we need to develop social and political cohesion that allows us to have a social contract that permits a common goal for Brazil. Therefore, the main question is not “what Brazil expects for the future”, but “how can Brazil reach this future”.