Waylaid Dialectic

April 8, 2011

Sem Medo de Ser Feliz

Filed under: Governance,Social Justice — terence @ 11:06 am
Tags: , ,

It’s a looonnnggg essay but Perry Anderson’s examination of the presidential career of Lula da Silva is a must read if you are at all interested in Brazilian Politics, or the fate of the left in Latin America.

Like a lot of people on the left I was: jubilant when Lula won; despondent from about a year into his rule when he ended up being both economically orthodox and politically compromised; re-enthused when his social programmes started to kick in; and cheered by his eventual ongoing political triumph.

Looking back now I think it would have been next to impossible for Lula to have governed as a radical. He was president of Brazil but most definitely not the sole source of power. Foreign investors had the economy’s fate in their hands, local capital was in an easy position to play spoiler (as it so often had for PT municipal governments), and the PT were nowhere near a majority force in the house or senate. Above and beyond that, I’m now not sure whether there was anything to be gained by deviating too far from economic orthodoxy. Plenty of previous Brazilian presidents had done so in the past and only ended up with inflation as a reward.

And so, Lula did what he could. Innovative social programmes mainly and sound economic governance. And he got lucky, the global economy ended up very kind to the Brazilian economy. The combined effect being that the pie got bigger and the poor’s slice of the pie also grew substantially. The PT’s political fortunes went well too. Given the dilemmas he faced, this definitely counts as a win.

And yet, it also falls far short of a transformation. Or if it is to be a transformation, it will be a long slow and qualified one, much like the post war achievements of Social Democracy in Western Europe.

Final verdict: the pragmatist in me is awed by what Lula was able to achieve, even as the idealist in me still feels slightly let down.

August 6, 2010

Links – nerd war!

Friday links and we start with a nerd war – at Duncan Green’s blog Martin Ravallion and Sabina Alkire debate the merits of the new multi-dimensional poverty index. The digested debate: Ravallion’s key point is that the index, like the Human Development and Human Poverty Index before it, is conceptually flawed because it tries to ‘manually’ aggregate different features of poverty into a single number and, in doing so, hinges on value-judgments about how to weight respective elements of human development. Alkire’s key points: World Bank poverty measures miss much of what matters in life – state provision of public goods and services for example. And, when disaggregated, her index provides key information about the constituent components of poverty, potentially allowing targeted programmes. They’re both right. And lucky for us it’s not an either/or – we can draw on both measures of poverty. Which I will in the future – the MPI is a good new initiative.

Sticking with nerd-wars (by the way, I’m not using nerd pejoratively here – I’m one of them) enjoy this – an excellent debate between a Utilitarian and a proponent of Natural Law philosophy (hint you can download an MP3 podcast of the talk from the MP3 button under the TV ‘screen’). I can see the appeal of Natural Law – particularly in the belief that various aspects of human flourishing (love, friendship, health) should be valued for what they are, rather than for what they contribute to aggregate happiness or welfare (the Utilitarian position); but if you really accept that these things are incommensurate (as the Natural Law proponent does), and if you really believe their value is not instrumental to something else, how do you mediate in situations where trade-offs need to be made. I remain a Utilitarian (albeit a conflicted one).

Which may explain why, when I do let my hair down, I tend to dance like this guy (h/t Duncan Green). But hey, as the video shows, that doesn’t mean us nerd-dancers can’t be leaders. Although apparently it all hinges on the first follower…

On to aid, the Economist and ODI both have interesting features on Brazil’s nascent aid programme. As with all donors, there’s an element of international diplomacy which at least part motivates their giving, so any Brazilians out there might want to read Laura Freschi’s excellent post at Aidwatch summing up recent studies on whether giving aid helps win hearts and minds in aid recipient countries. It’s worth noting that the studies Freschi reports on are mostly special cases (US aid to Pakistan for example, and aid in Afghanistan – in both cases positive impacts may well be offset by negative perceptions of military actions, I think).

Meanwhile, on the home front George Monbiot riles against the lunacy of those who oppose speed cameras. Hear, hear.

And finally, Paul Krugman offers a handy explanation of the perils of deflation.

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