President Dilma: Let Brazil set an example for a new ecological economy

Open Letter to the Brazilian President
25 January 2011
Article

President Dilma Roussef has the mandate and responsibility to forge a new development path: one based on participatory planning, a social market and environmental sustainability.

Dear President Dilma,

According to Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff, you have become president with a charisma different from that of Lula's, in your case the “charisma of actions - correct, well planned, and rigorously realized”. I would like to add, that this charisma should come not just from the mind but from the heart.  For Brazil has been living under the excessive dominance of reason, the mathematical calculations of profits and accumulated money. There is a grave lack of heart: people’s needs and the destruction of nature are simply not measured or effectively confronted.

True democratic governance only happens when reason and heart are in harmony.

As the first woman-President in Brazilian history, I call your attention to the challenge of challenges: the responsibility you have to your nation. What is at stake are the lives of the majority of Brazilians who are still poor, and have no access to dignified human life conditions nor the realisation of their basic human rights.

As President of the Republic, you were given the power and, therefore, the responsibility to care for the life of the Brazilian nation. This implies protecting and defending Brazil, its territory and its multiple forms of wealth, and valuing Brazilian people’s lives above your own.

In this task, you cannot ignore the context of insecurity, recession, jobless growth, rising social tensions, the somber prospect of an even worse revival of the global financial crisis, and high public and private indebtedness in the very rich countries, which are the main buyers of products from the Southern hemisphere. Moreover this is a moment in human history when biospheres and ecosystems are being destroyed at an exponential rate by the agents of global warming, who act under the assumption that the Nature’s commons are unlimited, as if it is possible to make consumption, production and waste grow indefinitely.

The main challenges, in my view, that you face are:

  1. promoting effective democratic development, based on the creative integration of economic policy with the social, political and ecological dimensions of public policy;
  2. developing democratic governance, based on a deep sense of responsibility and solidarity. This must include a plan for the transition from an economy based on profit as an end, towards an economy serving people and their needs for a dignified life and happiness. For when this is fulfilled, there will be no need for social programs to compensate for the damages of an egocentric, autocratic economy, because state policy and the economic system will be aimed at generating wellbeing and happiness to each and every person and collective.

Development, understood as liberating the potential attributes and resources of individuals and communities, is not limited to only measuring economic growth, nor is it subordinate to the ideology that commodifies everything including nature. It involves the efforts of every person, and cooperation as the chief mode of relation between individuals, enterprises and peoples. Economic and technical development will, then, stop being ends in themselves and will become means to the higher end – endogenous, equitable, autonomous and sustainable social and human development.

This is a realistic dream, if you and the coalition of parties that won the 2010 elections decide to invest your political will in changing the correlation of forces that make up the political economy of Brazil. You believe, like me, that without the active involvement of the working people, especially women, this transformation will not be achieved. In a true democracy the vote is not a blank check. You will have at your disposal a variety of means to inform, consult, educate and mobilise the working population to become the protagonists of the economy and their development.

Here are some specific challenges that our Nation must address:

Income and wealth distribution

Despite recent improvements, Brazil continues to be one of the most unequal countries in the world – even though it has plenty of resources for everyone.The disparity between the real minimum wage - despite its real increase under Lula - and per capita GDP is shocking. Your government swore to continue the Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) started by ex-President Lula. This program is geared towards large scale infrastructure and serves a concept of ‘development’ limited to measuring growth of commodity and low value-added semi-industrial exports.  I call on you to create a Poverty Eradication Program (PEP) integrating those who have benefited from poverty alleviation programs such as the ‘Bolsa Família’ into the social sector of the economy – the Solidarity Economy.(1)

The main policies needed to reduce social inequality are:  

  • effective agrarian and agricultural reform, that will distribute land, work tools, seeds, technical assistance and education to the millions of landless rural workers and their families – a promise Lula did not fulfill;
  • replace the unfair tax system through progressive tax reform that make the rich pay more and which enhances the purchasing power of the working majority;
  • a fair pension reform, that guarantees the constitutional right of a dignified life for the third age;
  • a minimum income policy: since the 1990s, Senator Eduardo Suplicy has defended a Citizens’ Minimum Income program that would grant all citizens the right to an equitable, unconditional minimum income, in order to cover their basic needs. The Law no. 10.835 that institutes the citizen’s basic income was approved in 2004, but still needs to be regulated through a complementary law.(2) 

Decreasing Public Debt

The policy of internal over-indebtedness combined with high interest rates is unsustainable. It is the main drain on state budget expenditures. In 2009, 36% of total expenditure went to the handful of creditors who own Brazil's internal debt (excluding refinancing). No wonder there are not enough funds to pay the social and environmental debts to the true creditors, the people and our ecosystems. The internal debt prevents the government from promoting food security, qualitative health, emancipatory education and agrarian reform, physical and psychological security of citizens, and other basic rights.

Meanwhile, 130,000 Brazilians with financial assets above US$ 600,000 have a total of nearly US$ 200 billion in bonds, most of them internal debt bonds, earning interest of more than 10% a year. You can change this, Dilma, by carrying out an audit of the public debt, a constitutional tool which can facilitate political renegotiation of those debts on solid legal grounds. The creation of  Participatory Budget Councils from local to federal level, can democratise strategic economic, technological and fiscal decisions.

Ecological Economy

Ecological balance is incompatible with an unlimited and non-planned economic growth. The “free market”, which in reality is a market controlled by global corporations, offers five centuries of evidence corroborating this fact. Only an economy that combines participatory development planning with the dynamics of a social market, in which all seek the benefit of all, can guide consumption and production towards environmental sustainability. Technical innovation is important, but insufficient.

  • We need to combine poverty eradication with the fair distribution of purchasing power. We must reduce luxury and superfluous consumption, move towards zero waste, and enact development policies aimed at fulfilling wellbeing.
  • We must radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in particular in deforestation, in the transportation system, and in the energy matrix.
  • We need non-polluting, efficient, diversified public transportation, that overcomes our dependence on fossil fuels; reduction, not increase in the number of cars in circulation; solar, wind and sea energy for lighting, irrigation and heating water; an agricultural policy that reduces the production of ethanol and invests instead in food production for domestic consumption at lower prices.
  • Agrochemicals must be replaced by organic and other innovative methods of plague control; taking back land for diverse uses from GMO crops and other monocultures like soy, sugar cane and cattle.
  • Invest seriously in technical innovations relevant to Brazil's diverse regional ecosystems, and combine them with equitable redistribution of production and consumption.

Jobs and work

Jobless growth is the way corporate globalisation works. It is urgent to adopt new mechanisms to share income generated by society, through policies like the Basic Income Policy, remuneration to women for housework, as well as the provision of incentives to the variety of work and income innovations created by the Solidarity Economy movement and by practices of local self-managed development.

Complementary currencies are of special importance, for they create purchasing power where it is scarce or null, promote consumption of goods produced locally and also enhance the self-esteem of communities that control their own currency.

Sovereign, democratic and sustainable integration of Latin America and the Caribbean

Brazil has an important role in uniting with the sister-countries of the region to:

  • promote the South Bank as a continental development bank, capitalised by the member-countries’ international reserves, gearing investments and financing towards regional socioeconomic and human development projects;
  • adopt and strengthen the monetary unit Sucre, which already mediates commercial transactions in the region, making the dollar redundant.
 

Notes

1) Bolsa Família’ is a Federal government program that allocates a small amount of reais monthly to very poor families who commit to keeping their children in school. The solidarity economy comprises self-managed and collectively owned cooperatives, associations, solidarity networks and social markets. It is gradually expanding and is organized in forums in all states of the country.