O que é este blog?

Este blog trata basicamente de ideias, se possível inteligentes, para pessoas inteligentes. Ele também se ocupa de ideias aplicadas à política, em especial à política econômica. Ele constitui uma tentativa de manter um pensamento crítico e independente sobre livros, sobre questões culturais em geral, focando numa discussão bem informada sobre temas de relações internacionais e de política externa do Brasil. Para meus livros e ensaios ver o website: www.pralmeida.org. Para a maior parte de meus textos, ver minha página na plataforma Academia.edu, link: https://itamaraty.academia.edu/PauloRobertodeAlmeida

Mostrando postagens com marcador The Economist. Mostrar todas as postagens
Mostrando postagens com marcador The Economist. Mostrar todas as postagens

domingo, 23 de junho de 2019

A Guerra Fria Econômica entre os EUA e a China se aprofunda - The Economist

Huawei Has Been Cut off From American Technology

The ban will be excruciating at best, and fatal at worst

America is no fan of Huawei. Its officials have spent months warning that the Chinese giant’s smartphones and networking gear could be Trojan horses for Chinese spies (something Huawei has repeatedly denied). They have threatened to withhold intelligence from any ally that allows the firm in. On May 15th they raised the stakes. President Donald Trump barred American firms from using telecoms equipment made by firms posing a “risk to national security”. His order named no names. But its target was plain.
For all the drama, the import ban hardly matters. Huawei has long been barred from America, in practice if not on paper. More significant was the announcement by the Commerce Department, on the same day, that it was adding Huawei to a list of firms with which American companies cannot do business without official permission. That amounts to a prohibition on exports of American technology to Huawei.
It is a seismic decision, for no technology firm is an island. Supply chains are highly specialised and globally connected. Cutting them off — “weaponising interdependence”, in the jargon — can cause serious disruption. When ZTE, another Chinese technology company, received the same treatment in 2018 for violating American sanctions on Iran, it was brought to the brink of ruin. It survived only because Mr Trump intervened, claiming it was a favour to Xi Jinping, China’s president.
Huawei matters more than ZTE. It is China’s biggest high-tech company, and is seen as a national champion. Its name translates roughly as “Chinese achievement”. Revenues of $105bn put it in the same league as Microsoft. Only Samsung, a South Korean firm, sells more smartphones. Huawei holds many crucial patents on superfast 5G mobile networks, and is the largest manufacturer of telecoms equipment. Were it to go under, the shock waves would rattle all of tech world.
By May 20th the impact of the ban was becoming clear. Google said it had stopped supplying the proprietary components of its Android mobile operating system to Huawei. A string of American chipmakers, including Intel, Qualcomm and Micron, have also ceased sales. Later that day the Commerce Department softened its line slightly, saying that firms could continue to supply Huawei for 90 days, but for existing products — for instance, with software updates for Huawei phones already in use. New sales, on which Huawei’s future revenue depends, remain banned.
Interdependence, of course, cuts both ways (see chart). Shares in American technology firms fell after the announcement, because Huawei is a big customer. Qorvo, which employs 8,600 people and makes wireless communication chips, derives 15% of its revenue from Huawei. Micron is in the memory business, of which Huawei is a big consumer. A report from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a think-tank, also released on May 20th, guessed export controls could cost American firms up to $56bn in lost sales over five years.
Unlike Intel, Qualcomm or ZTE, Huawei is privately owned, so lacks listed shares whose price swing would hint at the extent of its distress — though the price of its listed bonds has dropped to 94 cents on the dollar. In public, the firm is staying calm. Ren Zhengfei, Huawei’s founder, said it would be “fine” without access to American technology. Huawei has spoken of activating a “Plan B” designed to keep it in business despite American sanctions. It has been stockpiling crucial components for months, and has made a conscious push to become less reliant on American technology over the past few years. Its phones in particular make extensive use of chips designed by HiSilicon, its in-house chipdesign unit.
Yet few analysts are as sanguine as Mr Ren. Three business areas in particular look vulnerable. Without Google’s co-operation, new Huawei phones will lack the latest versions of Android, and popular apps such as Gmail or Maps. That may not matter in China, where Google’s apps are forbidden. But it could be crippling in Europe, Huawei’s second-biggest market. Its telecoms business needs beefy server chips from Intel. The supply of software to manage those networks could dry up too. Huawei is developing replacements for all three, but they are far from ready.
Two questions will determine whether or not Huawei can weather the storm, says Dieter Ernst, a chip expert and China-watcher at the East-West Centre, a think-tank in Honolulu. The first concerns America’s motives. The timing of the ban, a few days after broader trade talks between China and America had broken down, was suggestive. On one reading, it is a tactical move designed to wring concessions from China. If so, it might prove short-lived, and Huawei’s stockpiles may tide it over.
Paul Triolo of Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultancy, is doubtful. Rather than a negotiating tactic, he sees the ban as “the logical end-game of the US campaign to take down Huawei”. A long-lasting ban would force the firm to look for alternative chips and software that Chinese suppliers would struggle to provide.
The second question concerns the reach of American power. The tangled nature of chip-industry supply chains, says Mr Ernst, means that many non-American companies make use of American parts or intellectual property. They may therefore consider themselves covered, wholly or partially, by the ban. Take Arm, a Britain-based firm whose technology powers chips in virtually every phone in the world, including those made by HiSilicon. Arm says that it will comply with the Commerce Department’s rules. That suggests that Arm will not grant Huawei new licences. It is unclear if Arm will offer support for existing licences, however. As Arm’s technology advances, Huawei risks being left behind.
Other non-American companies are as important. One industry insider with contacts in Taiwan says that American officials are pressing Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), a big and cutting-edge chipmaker, to drop Huawei, which is its third-biggest customer. That would be a crushing blow, for Chinese chip factories are not up to the task of manufacturing HiSilicon’s sophisticated designs. TSMC’s only peer is Samsung — and South Korea is another of America’s allies. TSMC said on May 23rd that it would continue supplying Huawei for now.
Even if the optimists are right, and the ban is lifted in exchange for trade concessions, a return to business as usual seems unlikely. America has twice demonstrated a willingness to throttle big Chinese companies. Trust in American technology firms has been eroded, says Mr Triolo. China has already committed billions of dollars to efforts to boost its domestic capabilities in chipmaking and technology. For its rulers, America’s bans highlight the urgency of that policy. Catching up will not be easy, believes Mr Ernst, for chips and software are the most complicated products that humans make. But, he says, if you talk to people in China’s tech industry they all say the same thing: “We no longer have any other option.”

quarta-feira, 19 de junho de 2019

Facebook is creating Libra, a global digital currency - The Economist

Facebook wants to create a worldwide digital currency

Libra could be massively disruptive—including to the social network itself

A GLOBAL DIGITAL currency would make sending money across the world as easy as texting. It would do away with fees, delays and other barriers to the flow of cash. It would give those in less developed countries access to the financial system and a way to protect hard-earned wages against runaway inflation. It could trigger a wave of innovation in finance, much like the internet did in online services.
That, in a nutshell, is what on June 18th Facebook promised to launch within a year. Libra, as the social network’s new currency is to be known in honour of an ancient Roman unit of mass (and the word for “pound” in many romance languages), professes to be all about “empower[ing] billions of people”.
The potential is indeed enormous. If each of Facebook’s 2.4bn users converted a slice of their savings into libras, it could immediately become one of the world’s most circulated currencies. It could also, if widely adopted, vest unprecedented power in the hands of its issuer. In a tacit acknowledgment that its mishandling of user data, condoning the spread of misinformation and other sins have devalued its stock with policymakers, users and potential partners—though not investors—Facebook wants to outsource the running of Libra to a consortium of trustworthies recruited from the world of finance, technology and NGOs. The consequences for the global financial system could be far-reaching. So could the impact on Facebook’s business.
If the project lives up to the mock-ups, buying, selling, holding, sending and receiving libras will be a doddle. It can be done in Facebook’s Messenger app or WhatsApp, another messaging-service-cum-social-network it owns—and, later next year, in a standalone app. All at a tap of a smartphone.
So far, so familiar. Messenger already offers payments to Americans. WhatsApp is testing a similar function in India. But these services do not cross borders, and require users to have a bank account. Fintech firms like TransferWise, which offer international transfers to the banked, take a 4-5% cut to wire $200—a third less than Western Union but not nothing. Libra will be global and cheap, and require no bank accounts: more bitcoin than Venmo.
Except that, unlike bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies, libras will change hands in seconds, not minutes, for next to nothing, not a few dollars. The system should handle 1,000 transactions a second at its launch, and more later, compared with no more than seven a second for bitcoin. The virtual coins will be bought with real money, which will top up the reserve backing the currency. This should prevent wild price swings from bitcoin-like speculation.
If it works, Libra could be a money-spinner for Facebook, albeit not directly. Notional transaction fees would not generate much revenue. But libras should allow Facebook to charge more for online ads, by making purchases of advertised products quicker and simpler. It could furnish a new source of data to target adverts, making up for user information Facebook will forgo with the “pivot to privacy”, which Mark Zuckerberg, its boss, proclaimed in March with respect to messaging. Libra would let his company catch up with WeChat, a Chinese super-app which offers payments and other financial services, and whose foreign ambitions are on hold as the Sino-American trade war rages on.
Technically and financially, Facebook could probably pull off such an ambitious undertaking on its own. Not politically. Its culture is more measured than it was in its early years, when it aspired to “move fast and break things”—but only a bit. Chary consumers may choose not to entrust their money to a social network which has, until recently, leaked their personal data left and right. Unless users appear on board, merchants may be reluctant to embrace the currency, however hassle-free.
Enter the Libra consortium. The association, to be based in reassuringly staid Geneva, will take over from Facebook before the first libra has been spent and manage the hard-currency reserves. Facebook has enlisted 28 prospective founding members out of an envisaged 100, each with equal voting rights and operating a node in a decentralised system which issues coins. They include financial firms (Visa and Stripe, among others), online services (Spotify, Uber), cryptocurrency wallets (Anchorage, Coinbase), venture capitalists (Andreessen Horowitz, Union Square Ventures) and charities (Kiva, Mercy Corps)—though, for the time being, no banks. Not a libertarian alternative to the existing financial system, in other words, but a complement.
To add credibility to its promise, broken in the past, to keep social and financial data strictly separate, Facebook has created a subsidiary, Calibra, to run Libra services within its apps. It is unlikely to face hurdles to uptake from Apple or Google. It is impossible to imagine them expelling Messenger and WhatsApp—and later other providers Facebook is inviting to the open-source project—from their app stores, as they have done with other cryptocurrency offerings, many of which have turned out to be scams.
To get Libra going, the consortium will pay merchants to offer discounts to customers who pay in the new currency, financed by a $10m one-off fee each member pays for a seat at the table. Eventually, Facebook would like anybody, not just the consortium, to be able to generate the currency, move it and offer services on top of its “blockchain” (crypto-speak for the database that keeps track of who owns what). At that point, Libra would truly turn into Bitcoin, minus the kinks and the libertarianism.

Hard currency
With a project with so many moving parts, much can go wrong. Although Facebook says it has a working prototype, the technology is untested; sceptics doubt that a 100-node system, let alone a bigger one, could process thousands of transactions per second. Hackers are doubtless champing at the bit.
Then there are consortium dynamics. Facebook will have to prove to the other 99 Libra members that it is truly prepared to give up control. At the same time, because important decisions need a two-thirds majority, someone has to knock heads together. The history of information technology is littered with initiatives which collapsed under the weight of internal conflict.
The biggest barrier may be political. Facebook has apparently consulted many regulators. Initially they should be able to keep tabs on Libra. The providers of digital wallets will have to comply with national rules, like those against money-laundering. Calibra, whose integration into Messenger and WhatsApp will initially make it the dominant wallet, is bound to stoke competition concerns. These may recede as the currency grows bigger and more decentralised, only to be replaced by worries about financial stability.
Libra’s success, then, is far from assured. But it could prove useful even if it flops, for it offers a blueprint for how Facebook itself could one day be governed. The Libra Association’s main task is to oversee the blockchain, ensuring, for instance, that Calibra does not enjoy privileged access to it. An equivalent Facebook Association, some observers have ventured, could be composed of representatives of users, advertisers, data-protection authorities and so on. Their job could be to oversee the “social graph”, another database, which lists all of Facebook’s users and the links between them—and to guarantee that Facebook users can post to another social network and vice versa.
Calls for a Facebook constitution along these lines have grown louder as the social network’s influence on world affairs, from election-meddling in America to genocide in Myanmar, has become apparent. Mr Zuckerberg is no stranger to such thinking. In 2009 Facebook let users vote on big changes in its privacy policies but abandoned the experiment with global democracy a few years later. Last year Mr Zuckerberg announced that Facebook wanted to set up a “content review board” of independent experts—a kind of “Supreme Court”, in his words, which would make “the final judgment call on what should be acceptable speech”.
Asked whether Libra could serve as a model for Facebook, David Marcus, who is in charge of the project, replies that it marks “a coming of age, the moment we recognise that there are some things that we shouldn’t control—and a radical departure from the traditional way of operating things”. Perhaps. But checks and balances would almost certainly make Facebook less profitable. It would be ironic if a new digital currency marked the beginning of the end of Facebook’s money-minting days.

quinta-feira, 23 de maio de 2019

A nova direita europeia quer criar uma academia do conservadorismo mundial na Italia - The Economist

A nova direita europeia é uma mistura da velha direita – sim, existem remanescentes de antigos partidos fascistas e até saudosistas do hitlerismo, pois sempre os há – com novos reacionários, aqueles que "reacionam" contra os imigrantes, sobretudo os islâmicos, achando que estes vão "conspurcar" as sagradas tradições do cristianismo europeu, aquele mesmo que, em tempos recuados, promovia pogroms, perseguições e até massacres indiscriminados contra judeus, considerados os "assassinos de Cristo". Ainda não mudaram tanto assim as consciências, ou as "ignorâncias", em certos meios...
Paulo Roberto de Almeida

Steve Bannon’s monastic academy denies monkey business

Donald Trump’s ex-strategist dismisses allegations of a forged letter as “dust kicked up by the left”

Donald Trump’s ex-strategist dismisses allegations of a forged letter as “dust kicked up by the left”
A PLAN BY Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, to launch an alt-right academy in an Italian monastery now risks being scotched by the authorities. Evidence has emerged that a key document used to secure tenancy of the property was forged.
Mr Bannon is paying the €100,000-a-year ($111,000) rent on a former Carthusian monastery, the Certosa di Trisulti, in the mountains east of Rome. The property belongs to the state. But in February 2018 Italy’s arts and heritage ministry granted a 19-year lease to a Catholic non-profit organisation then based in Rome, the Dignitatis Humanae Institute (DHI), of which Mr Bannon is a trustee. Two official bodies are investigating the concession: the Attorney General’s department and the regional auditors’ court in Lazio, the region around Rome in which the monastery is situated. An official says the ministry is not ruling out revoking the lease.
Mr Bannon has described the Academy for the Judaeo-Christian West that the institute plans to open at its monastery in the autumn as a “gladiator school for cultural warriors”. Benjamin Harnwell, the director of the DHI, says that his institute will offer a master’s course that includes teaching in philosophy, theology, history and economics. Mr Bannon will be personally responsible for additional tuition in the practical aspects of political leadership.
The DHI took over the monastery following a competitive tender. Accompanying the institute’s bid was a business plan and a letter endorsing it, apparently provided by the Gibraltar branch of a Danish financial institution, Jyske Bank. But on May 7th La Repubblica, an Italian daily, reported a statement by Jyske Bank declaring the letter to be fraudulent. The managing director of Jyske Bank in Gibraltar, Lars Jensen, confirms the statement. “It is a fraudulent letter, put together by I don’t know who,” he told The Economist this week. The signature purported to be that of “a lady who hasn’t been in the bank for years. Her role was that of an assistant and in that letter she’s a director or something like that. So it is obviously fraudulent,” he said.
Mr Harnwell admits that news of the bank’s statement “hit me sideways”. But Mr Bannon told The Economist that “Everything actually is totally legitimate…all of this stuff is just dust being kicked up by the left.” The business plan, however, was crucial to the success of DHI’s bid, which the ministry assessed using a points system. To qualify for the tender, the Institute needed at least 60 points. It secured 72.6. But of those, 17.8 were awarded for its business plan. So if that plan is ruled invalid because the “letter of certification” from its bank is found to have been forged, the authorities could revoke the lease.
The controversy over the DHI’s business plan is only the latest of several blows to the institute in recent months. Since December, the DHI’s chairman, Luca Volontè, a former Christian Democrat politician, has been on trial in Milan, charged with taking a €2.4m bribe from private and public sources in Azerbaijan. Mr Volontè was allegedly paid for helping to block criticism of human-rights abuses in Azerbaijan while a member of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe. Mr Volontè denies any wrongdoing. 
Mr Harnwell founded the DHI in 2008 and won support from a variety of prominent Catholics. They included conservatives such as Austin Ruse, president of the Centre for Family and Human Rights in America, and liberals like Lord Alton, a British peer and former Liberal Democrat politician. But Mr Harnwell admits that, as Mr Bannon has taken an increasingly visible role, several of his liberal members and officials, including Lord Alton, have quit. The latest to go was a high-ranking Vatican prelate, Cardinal Peter Turkson.
As Mr Harnwell readily agrees, the Institute’s stewardship of the Certosa, or Charterhouse, of Trisulti has brought with it daunting responsibilities. Founded in the early 13th century amid woodlands in a part of Italy renowned for its hermits and mystics, abbeys and convents, the complex covers 86,000 square metres—the size of 12 football pitches. It houses a watermill, a herbal pharmacy, an elaborately frescoed church and a topiary maze.
But many of its roofs are in urgent need of repair, and there is water infiltration in several places. The DHI committed itself in its bid to spend an additional €1.9m on restoration. Mr Bannon says that more than the row over the lease, the bigger concern “is making sure I can pull together all the resources needed to restore the monastery to what it should be”.
The local authority has presented a further challenge by demanding €86,000 a year in property tax and for waste collection. Mr Bannon remains unfazed by all this. “I couldn’t be more excited,” he says. More excitement is probably to come.

terça-feira, 14 de maio de 2019

A Economist se engana quanto aos militares brasileiros - artigo sobre a AL

No seu editorial que precede este artigo de fundo (ver aqui), a Economist mostra desconfiança em relação ao um regime de direita (Bolsonaro) e um outro de esquerda (AMLO, no México), e sobre o Brasil escreve o editorialista o seguinte:

Mr Bolsonaro, who has spoken of his nostalgia for military rule, has eight generals in his cabinet of 22; AMLO is weakening competing centres of power, such as elected state governors. 

O editorialista se engana quanto às ameaças à democracia no Brasil. Elas não veem dos militares e sim dos aloprados – olavistas fanáticas e bolsonaristas aloprados – que conformam uma das bandas podres do governo (existem outras).
Mas, concordo em que populismo e polarização são duas ameaças à democracia na região.
Vão continuar sendo, por muito tempo ainda, seja de esquerda, seja de direita.
Paulo Roberto de Almeida


Populism and polarisation threaten Latin America

After dictatorships gave way to democracy trouble is brewing again

IT WAS ONE of the greatest waves of democratisation ever. In 1977 all but three of the 20 countries in Latin America were dictatorships of one kind or another. By 1990 only Mexico’s civilian one-party state and communist Cuba survived. Several things lay behind the rise of democracy in the region. One was the waning of the cold war. Another was the economic failure of most of the dictators. And democracy was contagious. One country after another in Latin America put down democratic roots as power changed hands between right and left through free elections.
The outlook is suddenly much darker. Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, like Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, is an originally elected autocrat ruling as a dictator. He clings to power with the support of Cuba at the cost of wrecking his country and destabilising its neighbours. At least 3.7m Venezuelans have fled economic collapse and repression; organised crime and Colombian guerrillas flourish there. The repressive family despotism into which Nicaragua has degenerated under Mr Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, is almost as nasty.
These autocratic extremes would be less worrying were not elections across the region showing that there are clear signs of disenchantment with democracy elsewhere. Election rules are sometimes flouted and independent institutions undermined. Many voters are turning to populists with little commitment to restraints on power. Parties of the moderate centre are weakening or collapsing.

Immoderate urges

An election marked by fraud in Honduras saw Juan Orlando Hernández, the conservative president, win a constitutionally dubious second term in 2017. In Guatemala, which will hold elections in June, the president recently ordered out a UN investigative body into organised crime and corruption which had helped to jail two of his predecessors. Evo Morales, a leftist who has been Bolivia’s president since 2006, will seek a fourth term in October—also on dodgy constitutional grounds. In the same month, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a populist former president of Argentina who abused institutions in partisan fashion and faces corruption charges, stands a chance of being returned to office.
And then there are Latin America’s two giants, Brazil and Mexico. Both have elected presidents who share a populist disregard for the norms, checks and balances, and toleration of critics that are necessary for lasting democracy.
The threat is more obvious in Brazil. Jair Bolsonaro, an army captain turned far-right politician, took over on January 1st. A seven-term congressman, Mr Bolsonaro is a political insider in Brazil but one nostalgic for military rule. Eight generals sit in his 22-strong cabinet and scores more officers occupy second- and third-tier posts. “Democracy and freedom only exist when the armed forces want them to,” he said in a speech in March at a military ceremony. This will be news to Costa Rica. Its decision to abolish its army in 1948 is widely regarded as having helped it stay free. He even ordered the armed forces to commemorate a military coup in 1964, which he calls a revolution. Evidence is emerging that appears to show ties between Mr Bolsonaro’s family and paramilitary militias that operate in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a veteran populist of the left known as AMLO, has struck a more moderate tone in his first five months in office. Mexicans overwhelmingly approve of his promises to sweep away corruption and crime, as well as his modest way of life (he sits in economy on commercial flights around the country). But there are warning signs.
AMLO is not a fan of independent centres of power. He has named his own “co-ordinators” to supervise elected state governors, cut the salaries of judges and civil servants, named ill-qualified allies to regulatory bodies, and stopped giving public funds to NGOs. He has also shown deference to the armed forces, placing them in charge of a new National Guard, a paramilitary police force, despite the objection of the Senate. A proposed bill to pack the Supreme Court would end its independence. In March the tax agency threatened the owner of Reforma, a critical newspaper, with a tax investigation over the seemingly trivial matter of owing 12,000 pesos (around $630) from 2015.
These steps, though some are small-scale, all come from the populist handbook of disqualifying and intimidating opponents, building a political clientele and what Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt of Harvard University have called “capturing the referees” of democracy. The measures also hint at a return to what Enrique Krauze, a historian, calls Mexico’s “imperial presidency” of past one-party rule.
Not all of the region is under threat. Chile and Uruguay, among others, still enjoy stable democracy, and most governments remain committed to that goal. The region’s people are not so sure. In 2018 Latinobarómetro, a multi-country poll, found that only 48% of respondents saw themselves as convinced democrats, down from 61% in 2010. Just 24% pronounced themselves satisfied with democracy in their country, down from 44% in 2010 (see chart 1). How did democracy fall into such disrepute? How great is the threat to it? And how can democrats fight back?
The warning signs were clear. Take Eldorado, a sprawling suburb of São Paulo. In Brazil’s boom of 2005-13 it had hopes of becoming solidly middle class. A year ago, as the country’s election campaign got under way, people in Eldorado were fed up with rising crime, unemployment and a sense of official neglect. “When we go out we don’t know whether we will return alive,” lamented Cleber Souza, the president of Sítio Joaninha, a former favela. In what had been a stronghold of the left-wing Workers’ Party (PT), several people said they would consider voting for Mr Bolsonaro. “He’s a cry for justice from the society,” said Anderson Carignano, the owner of a large DIY shop. “People want a return to order.”
Behind the discontent lies a toxic cocktail of crime, corruption, poor public services and economic stagnation. With only 8% of the world’s population, Latin America suffers a third of its murders. In many countries, the rule of law remains weak.
In the 1980s, many of the new democratic governments inherited economies bankrupted by debt-financed statist protectionism. The adoption of market reforms known as the “Washington consensus” provided a modest boost to growth. The democratic governments gradually expanded social provision. After the turn of the century many economies benefited from a surge in exports of minerals, oil and foodstuffs thanks to the vast demand from China. Poverty fell dramatically, while income inequality declined steadily.

Carnival’s over

The end of the commodity boom has brought a sharp correction. Taken as a whole, the region’s economies expanded at an average annual rate of 4.1% between 2003 and 2012; since 2013 that figure has shrunk to only 1%, taking income per head with it (see chart 2). Some countries, mainly on the Pacific seaboard, have done better. Others have done much worse. Brazil is barely recovering from a deep recession in 2015-16; Argentina is stuck in a long-term pattern of economic stop-go. Mexico has grown by only 2% annually for decades.
The underlying causes include low productivity, rigid regulation, a lack of incentives for small companies to expand or become more efficient, and corrupt political structures benefiting from the status quo. For a time an expanding labour force saw the region grow despite the problems. That demographic bonus is now mostly spent. In many countries the working-age population will start shrinking in the 2020s. As economies have faltered poverty has edged up and the decline in income inequality has slowed. This has exacerbated an existing crisis of political representation.
Against this bleak landscape, the worldwide ills of democracy have taken an acute form in Latin America. “There’s a kind of repudiation of the whole political class,” says Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a sociologist and former Brazilian president. Political structures “don’t correspond any more to the moment societies are living in,” he adds. That is partly a result of the digital-communications revolution in which social media have bypassed intermediaries. Political traditions also play a role.
Latin America has a long history of caudillos and populists, sometimes embodied in the same person, such as Argentina’s Juan Perón. The strongman tradition stemmed from long and bloody wars of independence two centuries ago, and from the difficulties of governing large territories, often with challenging terrains and ethnically diverse populations. Many countries were rich in natural resources. Latin American societies, partly because of the legacies of colonialism and slavery, were long scarred by extreme income inequality. That combination of natural wealth and inequality bred resentments that populists exploited.
But there is another political tradition in the region, one of middle-class democratic reformism, honed in the long struggle to turn the constitutionalism present at the birth of Latin American republics into a lasting reality. In various guises, this political current was in the ascendant in many countries for much of the past 40 years. Now the integrity and competence of the politicians that embodied it have been called into question.
Voters abandoned such dominant parties as Brazil’s PT and Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party because “they were hypocritical in talking of the public interest while being inward-looking, self-serving and corrupt,” says Laurence Whitehead of Oxford University.
Corruption usually diminishes as countries get richer. Yet Latin American politics seem, for a mainly middle-income region, unusually grubby. The region’s states are marked by heavy-handed regulatory overkill mixed, in practice, with wide discretionary power for officials. The commodity boom meant more resources flowing into state coffers, and thus more money for politicians to steal.
The investigation known as Lava Jato (car wash), originating in Brazil into bribery by Odebrecht and other construction companies across Latin America, has exposed the scale of the corruption to the public, leading to a widespread perception that the region’s entire political class is corrupt. In fact the investigations are a sign of overdue change. The traditional impunity of the powerful in Latin America has been challenged by independent judiciaries and investigative journalism, both a product of democracy. Brazil has seen scores of politicians convicted on charges of corruption. In Peru four former presidents have been under investigation. One of them, Alan García, committed suicide last month as police arrived at his house in Lima to jail him for alleged corruption.

Off-centre

Ironically, populists have been relatively untouched by scandal, either because they control the judiciary and the media or because a halo of the saviour of the people surrounds them. It is often centrist parties that pay the political price. That is partly because they have struggled to practise good government. The reformist zeal of the early years of the democratic wave has fallen victim to two recent tendencies in politics: fragmentation and polarisation.
Brazil’s new Congress contains 30 parties, up from five in 1982. The 130 seats in Peru’s single-chamber parliament are divided among 11 groupings. In Colombia’s parliament, once dominated by Liberals and Conservatives, there are now 16 parties. Even Chile’s stable system is starting to splinter. One reason is Latin America’s unique—and awkward—combination of directly elected presidencies and legislatures chosen by proportional representation. Party switching carries a low cost.
In some countries politics has become a way of making money, or a brazen means to promote private business interests. In Peru, for example, such interests often buy their way into parties, undermining party solidity and the representative character of the country’s democracy, according to Alberto Vergara, a political scientist at Lima’s Pacifico University.
Another factor is that the old left-right divide is no longer the only cleavage. Evangelical conservatives are pushing back against liberal secularism on issues such as abortion and gay rights. In Costa Rica, which had a two-party system until the turn of the century, an evangelical Christian gospel singer of little previous political experience made it to a run-off presidential election last year (though he lost). As a consequence of fragmentation, governments often lack the majorities required to push through unpopular but necessary reforms.
Recent elections have seen a swing to the right in South America and to the left in Mexico and Central America. In both cases that has involved the alternation of power that is normal in democracies. But the switch has been accompanied by extreme political polarisation. That has been both cause and consequence of the collapse of the moderate reformist centre. And it risks making politics more unstable.
Yet there are some grounds for optimism. Latin American democracy is more resilient than outward appearances might suggest. Opinion polls suggest that only around a fifth to a quarter of Latin Americans might welcome authoritarian government. In some countries checks and balances provide safeguards. In Brazil, for example, Mr Bolsonaro’s government is a ramshackle assortment of generals, economic liberals and social conservatives. “Bolsonaro isn’t a party, he isn’t anything, he’s a momentary mood,” thinks Mr Cardoso, who trusts in the countervailing strength of the legislature, a free media and social organisations. “You have to be forever vigilant but I don’t think the institutions here are going to embark on an authoritarian line.”
In Mexico, where opposition to AMLO is weak and checks and balances on executive power are only incipient, there may be greater cause for concern. But the president’s popularity may decline as the economy weakens. And the centre is not dead everywhere.
Amid the dust from the collapse of old party systems, there are glimpses of democratic renewal, led by a new generation of activists. There’s “an ecosystem of new politics in Brazil,” explains Eduardo Mufarej, an investment banker who has set up Renova, a privately funded foundation to train young democratic leaders in politics, ethics and policy. In the 2018 elections, 120 of Renova’s graduates ran (for 22 different parties). Ten were elected to the federal Congress and seven to state legislatures. They are trying to convince the public that not all politicians are self-serving.
One was Tabata Amaral, a 25-year-old activist for better public education elected as a federal deputy for São Paulo. She mobilised 5,000 volunteers through social media; her campaign cost 1.25m reais ($320,000), raised through individual donations. To cut costs, she has teamed up with two other Renova graduates (in different parties) to share congressional staff. Her first brush with the old order was to find that the apartment assigned to her in Brasília by the Congress was illegally occupied by the son of a long-standing legislator, who refused to move.
Julio Guzmán tried to run for president in Peru in 2016. He was thwarted when the electoral authority barred his candidacy on a technicality. He has spent the time since travelling round the country building a new centrist party. He insists that he is engaged in “a different way of doing politics” in which all members are scrutinised and donations will be made public. His Morado party is aimed at “the new Peruvian, who looks to the future, is entrepreneurial and from the emerging middle classes”.

Poles apart

Polarisation in Colombia’s election last year led to a run-off between Iván Duque, the conservative victor, and Gustavo Petro, a leftist who until recently was a fan of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. But there, too, is a demand for a new politics, thinks Claudia López, the vice-presidential candidate of the centrist Green Party (which narrowly failed to make the run-off). The task, she says, is to restore the trust of citizens in politicians. That partly involves competing in the emotional terrain occupied by populists. But it also means a different approach. “Nobody is interested in being a member of a hierarchical political organisation anymore,” she says. “Those of us in parties have to adapt to citizen causes or we’re dead.”
These are green shoots in a forest of dead wood. But they are a sign of the dynamism of Latin American societies—democracy’s greatest asset. Latin America remains the third most-democratic region in the world according to the Democracy Index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The past four decades have created a culture of citizen rights and political participation. But democracy’s defences in Latin America are relatively frail, as Venezuela shows. All the evidence is that citizens want a new political order, in which politicians are more concerned with public services, security and the rule of law rather than lining their pockets. And they want it now.

This article appeared in the Briefing section of the print edition under the headline "The 40-year itch"

segunda-feira, 13 de maio de 2019

A sempre delicada "democracia" latino-americana - Editorial The Economist

Under the Volcano é um romance famoso ambientado no México, mas ele tem pouco a ver com o populismo ou a incapacidade política de nossas elites, que são elas que alimentam o vulcão que um dia vai consumir o patrimônio desse bando de sanguessugas.
Paulo Roberto de Almeida


John Bolton and the Monroe Doctrine

Democracy is at risk in Latin America. The danger goes well beyond Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela

DONALD TRUMP’S administration is not famed for its adherence to highfalutin’ political principle, so John Bolton, the United States national security adviser, struck an unusual note when he claimed in a speech in Miami last month that the “Monroe doctrine is alive and well”. The reference to the 19th-century principle under which the United States arrogated to itself the right to police Latin America was taken as a warning to Russia and China not to meddle in what used to be called “America’s backyard”. Mr Bolton gave new life to the doctrine by announcing fresh economic sanctions against Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, which he likes to call the “troika of tyranny”.
But the tone of his speech was optimistic as well as threatening. Once the troika was brought down, Mr Bolton explained, there was a prospect of “the first free hemisphere in human history” extending from “the snowcapped Canadian Rockies to the glistening Strait of Magellan”.

The problem with Mr Bolton’s soaring rhetoric is not just that the Strait of Magellan roils more than it glistens. It is also that both his analysis and his prescription are wrong. The weaknesses in Latin American democracy stretch far wider than the trio Mr Bolton fingered, and the United States will not help strengthen it by bullying its southern neighbours.
In the 1980s Latin America turned from a land of dictators and juntas into the world’s third great region of democracy, along with Europe and North America. Since then democracy has put down roots. Most Latin Americans today enjoy more rights and freedoms than ever before.
Yet many Latin Americans have become discontented with their democracies (see article). The region’s economy is stagnant. Poverty is more widespread than it need be because of extreme inequality. Governments are not providing their citizens with security in the face of rising violent crime. Corruption is widespread. Voters’ discontent, voiced on social media, has helped promote leaders with an unhealthy tendency to undermine democratic institutions.
Latin America’s fall from grace is most obvious in Venezuela and Nicaragua, which are sliding into dictatorship; in communist Cuba, which stands behind those two regimes, hopes of reform have been dashed. But across the continent, the threats to democracy are growing.
Many Latin American voters have abandoned moderates in favour of populists. Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO) share an ambivalence to the dispersal of power and the toleration of opponents that are the essence of democracy. Mr Bolsonaro, who has spoken of his nostalgia for military rule, has eight generals in his cabinet of 22; AMLO is weakening competing centres of power, such as elected state governors. The “northern triangle” of Central America, meanwhile, is dominated by weak and corrupt governments. In Honduras a conservative president and American ally, Juan Orlando Hernández, governs thanks to an election marred by fraud. Guatemala’s president ordered out a UN body investigating corruption that had helped jail two of his predecessors.
Voters elect populists such as Mr Bolsonaro and AMLO—and may elect Cristina Kirchner, who is on track to make a comeback in Argentina’s election in October—not to replace democracy with dictatorship, but because they want their politicians to do a better job. Yet in the 21st century, it is not tanks on the streets that crush democracy. Rather, elected autocrats boil the frog, capturing courts, cowing the media and weakening the parts of civil society that hold them to account. By the time citizens squeal, it is too late. That is what happened in Venezuela under Hugo Chávez, and what is happening now in Turkey (see article).
The main task of averting the danger falls to Latin Americans. They need to rid politics of corruption and cronyism. Politicians need to keep their distance from the armed forces and their hands off the institutions that scrutinise the government. Above all, politicians need to reconnect with ordinary citizens. There are a few hopeful signs. New parties and NGOs are training young activists in how to be effective reformers.
The United States needs to help rather than hinder the task of strengthening democracy. Talk of the Monroe doctrine may make some Latin Americans see their northern neighbour more as a bully than as an ally. Instead of threatening to supplement sanctions on Venezuela with military action, it should work harder at combining sanctions with negotiations, especially with the armed forces. And Donald Trump should restore the $500m aid programme for the northern triangle that he abruptly cancelled this year, for there were signs that it was helping to cut both violent crime and immigration.
Although Latin America usually gets little attention in American foreign policy, few other parts of the world have a bigger bearing—through immigration, drugs, trade and culture—on daily life in the United States. A democratic and prosperous Latin America matters on both sides of the Rio Grande. Mr Trump needs to think harder about how to help that happen.

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline "Under the volcano"

sexta-feira, 29 de março de 2019

The Economist: o mandato de Bolsonaro pode ser curto... (Mon Dieu!)


Um trecho da matéria: 
"Dois dos quatro presidentes eleitos anteriormente no Brasil sofreram impeachment porque, como afirmou Fernando Henrique Cardoso, “não foram mais capazes de governar”."
 Pode-se acrescentar que dois dos que não foram objeto de impeachment, foram parar na cadeia, um deles trancafiado por muitos anos, por chefe de quadrilha e ladrão maior do Brasil em toda a história do país.
Como diria um grande compositor, amigo do presidente condenado: 
"A coisa aqui tá preta..." (sem qualquer racismo, claro...).
Paulo Roberto de Almeida

The Economist: Jair Bolsonaro, o presidente aprendiz do Brasil
A menos que ele pare de provocar e aprenda a governar, o seu mandato no Palácio do Planalto pode ser curto
The Economist, O Estado de S.Paulo
28 de março de 2019 | 20h56
Uma das principais razões pelas quais Jair Bolsonaro venceu a eleição presidencial no ano passado foi o fato de prometer movimentar de novo a economia depois de quatro anos de recessão. Ao nomear Paulo Guedes, um defensor do livre mercado, como seu superministro da Economia, ele conquistou o apoio do mundo empresarial e financeiro. Muitos imaginavam que a chegada de Bolsonaro à Presidência por si só traria nova vida para a economia. Mas, depois de três meses, ela continua moribunda como sempre. Os investidores começam a perceber que Guedes tem uma árdua tarefa de conseguir aprovar no Congresso a reforma da Previdência, crucial para a saúde fiscal do Brasil. E o próprio Bolsonaro não vem colaborando.
Bolsonaro
Jair Bolsonaro, presidente da República Foto: FÁBIO MOTTA/ESTADÃO
déficit fiscal de 7% do Produto Interno Bruto (PIB) tem um enorme peso sobre a economia, significando que os juros para os tomadores de empréstimo privados serão mais altos do que seriam do contrário. As pensões respondem por um terço do total das despesas públicas e são uma das razões pelas quais o Estado gasta pouco na infraestrutura fragilizada. O projeto de reforma do governo enviado ao Congresso no mês passado estabelece uma idade mínima para a aposentadoria, eleva as contribuições e preenche lacunas, com uma previsão de economias de R$ 1,2 trilhão durante dez anos. O déficit da Previdência foi de R$ 241 bilhões no ano passado. A reforma da Previdência, por si só, não fará com que o Brasil retome um crescimento econômico robusto. Serão necessárias reformas fiscais e outras medidas para aumentar a competitividade. Mas ela se tornou um objeto sagrado.
Bolsonaro está numa situação privilegiada porque, depois de dois anos de debate público e político, a reforma da Previdência hoje é menos impopular do que antes. Mas não é necessariamente uma proposta que conquista votos. E Bolsonaro não faz campanha para isso. “Toda a discussão sobre a reforma da Previdência é algo que os brasileiros gostariam de não ter”, afirma Monica de Bolle, economista brasileira do Peterson Institute for Internacional Economics.
A aprovação, assim, exige liderança do topo. Que está ausente. Em sua campanha, Bolsonaro denunciou a “velha política” corrupta do “toma lá, dá cá” no Congresso. Mas ele não possui uma estratégia alternativa para controlar o Legislativo. Entrou desnecessariamente em confronto com alguns aliados, incluindo Rodrigo Maia, o poderoso presidente da Câmara. O padrasto da mulher de Maia, Wellington Moreira Franco, um ex-ministro, foi preso em 21 de março junto com o ex-presidente Michel Temer, por suspeitas de suborno, o que ambos negam. O que levou a comentários feitos pelos filhos de Bolsonaro, que são assessores próximos do presidente, e que Maia considerou como um ataque pessoal. Sua resposta foi que ele não marcaria votações sobre a reforma da Previdência para um governo que chamou de “deserto de ideias”. As autoridades esta semana tentaram apaziguar Maia. Mas a reforma da Previdência deve sofrer atrasos e diluição.
O grande problema é que Bolsonaro ainda tem de mostrar que entende a sua nova função. Ele dissipou capital político, por exemplo, exortando as Forças Armadas a comemorarem o aniversário em 31 de março do golpe militar de 1964. Seu governo é de uma “confusão monumental”, afirmou Claudio Couto, da Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV). À parte a sua equipe econômica, seu governo é uma coleção de generais aposentados, políticos de médio escalão, protestantes evangélicos, um filósofo antes obscuro chamado Olavo de Carvalho. “Ninguém sabe para onde ele vai, qual o curso que está tomando”, disse o ex-presidente Fernando Henrique Cardoso. “Ele avança, depois recua, o tempo todo.”
Se o governo tem um elemento-chave, trata-se do general Hamilton Mourão, o vice-presidente, que tem tentado impor alguma disciplina política. Mas, com frequência, entra em atrito com a família Bolsonaro. Olavo de Carvalho o chamou de “idiota” e afirmou que, se as coisas continuarem como estão por mais seis meses, “tudo estará acabado”.
Embora de modo diferente, outros começam a pensar o mesmo. E ainda por cima, estão surgindo evidências de que a família Bolsonaro está ligada a membros de um grupo criminoso de ex-policiais do Rio de Janeiro acusado do assassinato da ativista Marielle Franco, o que eles negam.
Dois dos quatro presidentes eleitos anteriormente no Brasil sofreram impeachment porque, como afirmou Fernando Henrique Cardoso, “não foram mais capazes de governar”. Por mais que odeiem Bolsonaro, os democratas não devem desejar que ele não chegue ao fim do seu mandato. Ainda é o início. Mas sua Presidência já enfrenta um teste crucial. “Temos duas alternativas”, disse seu porta-voz esta semana. “Aprovar a reforma da Previdência ou afundarmos num poço sem fundo.” Se o seu chefe pelo menos fosse assim claro. 
Tradução: Terezinha Martino