Posts Tagged ‘Brazil’

Hillary Clinton and Dilma Rousseff

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

This week’s special issue of FT Weekend Magazine contains interviews and profiles of 19 “women of the year“, from Theresa May (Britain’s prime minister) to Simone Biles (“arguably the greatest female gymnast of all time”). Those I found most interesting were two 68-year old politicians for whom 2016 was a year of failure rather than triumph: Hillary Clinton, who failed in an attempt to become the first female president of the United States, and Dilma Rousseff, who lost her job as the first female president of Brazil at the end of a long impeachment trial.

Here are portions of the FT columns written for each woman. (more…)

impeaching the President of Brazil

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

The traumatic nine-month impeachment trial of President Dilma Rousseff is now entering its final phase. For nearly a year, Brazil has lacked strong political leadership while the country goes through its deepest recession on record. The needed change of leadership would proceed much faster if the head of government were Prime Minister rather than President.

“I am fanatically parliamentarian” said Brazil’s foreign minister José Serra, in a recent interview with the FT. “Because in parliamentarianism, changing the government is a solution, while in presidentialism, it is a trauma.”

Joe Leahy, “Angry impeachment scenes spur calls for changes to Brazil’s political system“, Financial Times (metered paywall), 29 August 2016.

I agree with Mr Serra. It is extremely difficult to impeach a President. In contrast, it is easy to get rid of an unpopular Prime Minister. The Prime Minister may be forced, by members of his (or her) own party, to step down as leader of the party in power (thus, also, as Prime Minister). Impeachment is not necessary. The disgraced Prime Minister continues to serve, but as a lowly backbench-er, without a cabinet position. Alternatively, a general election might be called if the Prime Minister fails to win a vote of confidence from the entire house of parliament.

José Serra (born 1942) has a PhD in economics from Cornell University (United States) and a long political career with the Social Democracy Party. In 2002 he ran for President and lost to the leftist PT founder Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the 2nd round of voting.

Source: Wikipedia.


end the war on drugs to win the war on terror

Sunday, January 3rd, 2016

There are many reasons to legalise drugs. British journalist Misha Glenny writes about one that is often overlooked: ending the war on drugs can help governments pursue the war on terror by depriving criminals of a major source of revenue. Legalising recreational drugs also produces fiscal benefits: governments can tax legal drugs and avoid the cost of arresting and incarcerating users of illegal drugs.

The terms may no longer be politically correct but western governments continue to wage both a war on terror and a war on drugs. They now need to recognise what is staring them in the face : that the prosecution of the latter makes it impossible to win the former. ….

The billions spent by America and its allies on war in Afghanistan since 2001 have not destroyed the Taliban. On the contrary, funds from heroin sales have made the group stronger than ever. ….

The movement of cocaine and marijuana through west Africa and the Maghreb has provided various organisations linked to al-Qaeda and Isis with a cash boost. Western governments cannot stop drugs reaching their cities, and their passage benefits some of the worst people in the world.

But the problems do not end there. Homegrown terrorists in Britain and France are often radicalised in prison, after first being jailed for drugs offences or other petty crime. ….

Canada’s new government is set to legalise marijuana for recreational use and Britain should do the same. The crises we face today are so serious that it is not only bad politics to resist drug law reform — it is downright immoral.

Misha Glenny, “To win the war on terror, forget the war on drugs“, Financial Times, 4 January 2016 (metered paywall).


the strait-jacket of a presidential system

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

Brazil’s economy is in a mess, and so is its political system. According the Financial Times, “wholesale political renewal” is needed, beginning with the removal of the president herself, Ms Dilma Rousseff.

Sadly, there is little chance of that until scheduled elections in 2018. Unpopularity is insufficient reason to remove Ms Rousseff: if it was, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the former president who laid the grounds of Brazil’s now-squandered economic stability, would not have lasted his second term. Brazil’s presidential system also means Ms Rousseff cannot dissolve Congress and call fresh elections.

Known for her hard-headed stubbornness, Ms Rousseff has anyway insisted she will not resign. Nor is there any evidence that she personally profited from the Petrobras scam. True, she might yet be impeached on other grounds, such as false government accounting. But that would only see one mediocre politician replaced by another. In line would be Michel Temer, the vice-president, Eduardo Cunha, head of Congress, or Renan Calheiros, head of the Senate. The last two face corruption charges.

Brazil’s terrible fall from economic grace“, Financial Times editorial, 14 September 2015.

Ms Dilma is unpopular even with members of her own party. With a parliamentary system, there would likely be a vote of no confidence, triggering a general election. With the American-style presidential system, it is very difficult to remove a head of government, who is also head of state, until the end of his or her term of office.

institutional and economic reforms in Brazil and Mexico

Friday, August 21st, 2015

FT columnist John Paul Rathbone uses Brazil and Mexico as case studies to argue that economic reforms cannot bear fruit in a climate of corruption, insecurity and lawlessness.

While Mexico is far ahead of Brazil in the World Bank’s ease of doing business survey (at 39th position, ahead of Chile and Israel, versus 120th for Brazil), the opposite is true on the rule of law. Mexico, for example, ranks 103rd on Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, worse than China, while Brazil at 69th position is level-pegged with Italy and Greece.

Mexico’s institutional rot seems to extend from top to bottom. The president has suffered a series of conflict of interest scandals involving his wife and finance minister. Journalists who report on disappearances and drug-fuelled violence, such as the presumed murder of 43 students last year, are themselves killed. This week, more than 500 intellectuals slammed Mexico’s “censorship by bullet”. While in Brazil criminals are being jailed, in Mexico drug lords can escape from high-security prisons through tunnels built into their cells’ showers. The government response to outcries after each shameful incident? Muted embarrassment and a business-as-usual attitude emphasising economic reform over the rule-of-law problems that are Mexico’s biggest concern.

What Mexico’s presidential palace does not seem to realise is that insecurity and lawlessness also have financial implications.

John Paul Rathbone, “Brazil cleans up its act, so should Mexico“, Financial Times, 21 August 2015 (metered paywall).

Reforming Pensions in Developing Countries (new publication)

Monday, September 8th, 2014

UNRISD (the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development) has just released a new publication on pension reform in developing and transitional countries. The 368-page volume contains nine chapters of case studies written by various scholars, plus an introduction and conclusion authored by Katja Hujo. So far I have read only the introduction and conclusion, plus chapter 9 (a superb case study of Bolivia).

The book contains a wealth of information, and I will blog on some of the case studies as I read them. First, though, I would like to complain that the book pays little attention to universal  pensions, concentrating on social assistance (means-tested) pensions and on contributory pensions.

I would like to remind TdJ readers of the definition of “universal pension” – at least the definition that I use!

Age and residence/citizenship are the only tests for this pension. It is not necessary to actually retire from work to receive the pension. Benefits might be taxable as income, but only at normal rates, without surcharges to recover them.

Larry Willmore, “Types of Social Pensions“, 22 April 2012.

The UNRISD publication uses a broad definition of “universal”, which includes pension-tested schemes. (See p. 18 of the introduction.) If a social pension is given only to those without a contributory pension (or too small a pension), by definition it excludes part of the elderly population, so is not universal.

The most comprehensive treatment of universal pensions (without using the term!) is in the first sentence of last paragraph of p. 18:

Most countries have social pensions that target the elderly poor, but some countries have implemented non-contributory pension programmes covering all citizens and residents in the country – as in Bolivia, Nepal, Mauritius, New Zealand and Brazil (rural sector).

A number of examples of universal pensions in developing countries could (and should) have been added to this list: most notably rural Mexico, Mexico City, Namibia and Botswana, but also Guyana, Samoa, Brunei and Kosovo. Regrettably, there is no case study of Mauritius, a country with a long and successful history of universal pensions (from 1958). More regrettably, there is almost no mention of Mauritius in the rest of the book, and the sentence above is the only mention of New Zealand. Neither Mauritius nor New Zealand are listed in the book’s extensive index.

The paragraph at the bottom of p. 18 concludes with arguments for and against universal schemes:

As with other social transfers and services, opinions diverge on the pros and cons of targeted versus universal social provisioning. As Chapters 9 [on Bolivia] and 10 [on Argentina and Chile] explore in more detail, there are strong arguments in favour of universal schemes in countries with widespread poverty, weak administrative systems and where there is a need to strengthen social cohesion, a sense of citizenship and social solidarity. On the other hand, international financial institutions (IFIs) tend to favour the introduction of means-tested targeted transfers because they hold that these schemes are less costly and more effective in terms of poverty reduction.

Support for a universal pension is at best tepid. Strong arguments exist for universal pensions even in countries like New Zealand and Mauritius, which do not have widespread poverty nor weak administrative systems. It is a pity that the case for universal pensions was not articulated better.

Neither Argentina nor Chile have universal pensions, so I am eager to learn in what way these case studies are relevant for policymakers contemplating introduction of universal pensions. Katja Hujo (editor) is co-author, with Mariana Rulli, of chapter 10.

Below is the full reference for this publication, and the link to a site where you can download it. All quotes above are from the introduction, which can be downloaded as a free “sample chapter”. The complete book (hardcover, 368 pages) is available from Palgrave for the high price of 115 US$ plus shipping.

Katja Hujo (editor), Reforming Pensions in Developing and Transition Countries (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

Reforming Pensions in Developing and Transition Countries

The study of pensions in Bolivia (Chapter 9) is the best I have seen. It was written by Peter Lloyd-Sherlock (University of East Anglia) and Kepa Artaraz (University of Brighton). I will blog on it shortly.

Cuban doctors in Brazil

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

So acute is the shortage of doctors in remote parts of Brazil, the centre-left government of President Dilma Rousseff has seized on the issue to shore up her popularity ….

By March next year [2014] there will be 6,600 doctors working in thousands of municipalities, the majority of them Cuban. The policy is one of the few concrete responses of Ms Rousseff’s centre-left government to mass protests that shook Brazil in June as demonstrators attacked a perceived failure of the political classes to provide quality transport, health and education. ….

Brazil’s National Doctors Federation (Fenam) … [alleges the government] is allowing foreign professionals to enter Brazil without sitting the country’s stringent medical exams.

Fenam also argues that Cubans are slave labour, claiming they only receive about 10 per cent of the R$10,000 ($4,250) monthly salary they are paid under the programme, with the remainder going to the government in Havana. ….

“This is the biggest labour fraud we have ever seen in Brazil,” says Geraldo Ferreira, Fenam president . …. “The problem in these small cities is that they don’t have hospitals,” he says.

Joe Leahy, “Cuban doctors fill the gap in Brazilian interior“, Financial Times, 28 December 2013.

pro-poor policies and middle-class revolt

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

A thoughtful post from Stephen Kidd on the unintended consequences of targeted, pro-poor social expenditure.

From Turkey to Brazil, the middle class are out on the streets protesting. ….

My own view is that “pro-poor policies” must bear much of the blame. In recent years, most international agencies and developing countries have – in some way or other – signed up to “pro-poor policies.” In practice, this has been interpreted as targeting resources at the poor, a form of Tea Party international development. By targeting the poor, budgets have been reduced and taxes have been kept low. ….

Including the rich and middle class in the social security system is relatively easy, as seen in the success and popularity of Brazil’s inclusive old age pension. However, health and education services face a Catch 22 situation: the rich won’t use public health and education services because they are poor quality; but the quality of services won’t increase unless they are used by the middle class and rich.

It is this conundrum that needs to be the focus of social policy in developing countries. Instead of prioritizing greater access of the poor to poor quality services, social policy needs to be oriented towards encouraging and persuading the middle class and rich to use public services. One way to achieve this is by progressive governments significantly increasing their investments in these services, which means higher taxes. It’s a challenge but not impossible. In fact, this is exactly what happened in many developed countries as public services evolved. In the UK, for example, the National Health Service was created following the Second World War as the result of a real commitment from government to tax and spend. A good quality service was created that served the rich, middle class and poor. Since that time, spending on health has been “protected.” All British political parties now fear to even suggest cutting the National Health Service.

Stephen Kidd, “Pro-poor policies and the rise of an alienated middle class in developing countries“, Just Kidding, 8 July 2013.


Stephen Kidd is blogging!

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

British anthropologist Stephen Kidd’s new blog is worth visiting. Here are extracts from two of his first three posts, with links to the full blogs. (more…)

gains from trade

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

Exceptionally, some uplifting financial news from the back pages of last weekend’s newspaper.

The greatest gains from trade are possible when products traded are valued highly by purchasers, but regarded as useless (or worse) by sellers. This is the logic behind a recent agreement that the UK and China reached for trade in pig’s ears, tails, feet and other offal. The British expect to receive fifty million pounds a year by exporting parts of the pig that are shunned by squeamish consumers at home. The Chinese gain an increased supply (hence lower prices) of pig meat.

[W]hile in China there may not be enough pig’s ears to go around, in Britain such offal is regarded as inedible. “In Europe, it’s really only the Portuguese who eat pig’s ears,” says Peter Hardwick, the international manager of the British Pig Executive and one of those involved in negotiating the deal. “And the value of most pig offal is negligible. With some of it we even have to pay for disposal. So from an economic and environmental point of view, it makes sense to ship those parts of the carcass to China, where they are treated as food and can be sold at a very high margin.” ….

[A]ccording to Peter Hardwick, “the balance of trade between our two countries is tilted so heavily in China’s favour that there is a huge amount of spare capacity in shipping containers going back in that direction.” In other words, the sea containers that bring our iPhones, kitchen appliances and clothing from China might as well go back full of frozen pig’s ears, rather than empty.

Indeed, the Sino-British agreement has a perfect, Jack Sprat logic to it. The good folk of Britain can go on eating their chops and tenderloins, while the Chinese hoover up the ears, feet and tails they leave behind, laughing, no doubt, at the ignorance of those who discard such treasures.

Fuschia Dunlop, “An offally pig adventure“, Financial Times, 28 July 2012.

Having consumed large quantities of pig tails, ears and feet in feijoada (black bean stew) during the five years that I lived in Brazil, I can verify that pig offal is delicious. The British do not know what they are missing!

Fuschia Dunlop, who speaks fluent Mandarin, won the 2012 James Beard Award for Food Culture and Travel. Her books include Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking (2003), Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook (2007),  Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper (2009) and Every Grain of Rice (2012).