Brazil likes to see itself in the international mirror; if in the past it was travelers’ narratives that attracted attention, now it is the media. The similarities between The Economist’s new dossier and the New York Times editorial published when Brazil enacted its new Constitution are striking. The editorial pointed to the challenge of “how to put the Constitution into operation in a country with rampant corruption, unchecked inflation and vast social inequalities”.
Replace inflation with fiscal imbalance (which is the cause of the former) and maintain corruption and inequality, and the conclusion is that for more than three decades we have been dealing with the same problems.
The current crisis is, for the magazine, the product of three flaws: the absence and/or delay of reforms and “short-termism” (and “here the blame is fundamentally on the PT, party in power from 2002 to 2016”); the brutal reversal of the fight against corruption; and the collective frustration facing a system anchored in patronage and that guarantees the “political class” resources and immunity in relation to their excesses.
The challenge now, according to the magazine, is to get rid of an authoritarian president and the collective frustration that led to his rise, facing the country’s chronic low growth and inequality, which will require dramatic reforms. She warns that the way out may be for the past, not the future, citing statements by Lula such as: “US attorneys collaborated with Lava Jato because they were interested in our Petrobras” and “our mistakes were not ethical, but economic” .
I highlight a thought-provoking passage in the dossier: “The very resilience that has protected Brazilian institutions from the predation of a populist also makes them resistant to beneficial change.”
Yes, Brazil has an institutional structure with veto points that generate protection but also immobility. Hyperfragmented multipartyism, bicameralism, robust federalism and a Legislative that are increasingly protagonists increase problems of formation of majorities. The extensive constitutionalization, in turn, requires supermajority quorums. Superior courts are another crucial veto point; It is up to the STF to arbitrate extensive conflicts in the system — its hyperprotagonism is enhanced by the Executive’s illiberal rampants and its role as a criminal court, in a context of vast corruption (which also occurs with the institutions of control).
Thus, veto points mitigate potential abuses, but compromise the capacity for virtuous institutional change to avoid stagnation and permanent and dangerous collective frustration. The risk is even greater when institutional actors turn to their corporate interests.
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