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Brazzil - Economy - August 2003
 

In Brazil, Beggar's Wage Is Privilege

Brazil's President Lula asks, "Why should a university professor
retire at age 53." And not a single wretched journalist in this
cowardly press of ours dares to object: but Mister President, you
retired at age 51." You can't build wealth in a country by
taking money from the poor and giving it to the destitute.

Janer Cristaldo

 

In a successful media strategy, this administration is throwing public opinion against government employees. Just the other day, both Estadão and Jornal da Tarde (leading dailies from São Paulo) published data showing that federal employees are making almost seven times the wages of the average Brazilian worker. The numbers were 2,700 reais (US$ 900) per month against an average of 380 reais (US$ 127) per month. "The Union Is the Best-paying Boss Around," was the Estadão (Estado de S. Paulo) headline.

In early July, the Swedish Federation of Unions LO (Landsorganisationen) aired a national scandal in the Aftonbladet. The salaries of the makteliten, who are the elite in power in Sweden, were 5.7 times that of an industrial worker. I don't mean to compare the governmental bureaucracy of this poor country in the tropics with the elite of that mighty social-democracy of the North, but I have to say we're not doing that bad.

There's a nuance, though. If the average salary of a Brazilian worker is 380 reais a month, the minimum wage of a Swedish workman is 1,300 euros. In today's official exchange rate—which does not reflect the real value of the currency—this means something in the neighborhood of 4,300 reais (US$ 1430). If we compare minimum wages, the Brazilian one is 240 reais (US$ 80). That is, 18 times less. And we still have those who think that the PT (Workers' Party) is building a social-democracy.

If the Swedish elites make 5.7 times a minimum wage of 1,300 Euros, the privileged Brazilian government bureaucracy makes seven times an average of 114 Euros. One has to have a third-worldly vision of economics to argue that public service in Brazil is a privilege.

The Brazilian government thinks even smaller. Its parameter of privilege is not even the average worker's wage, but something even lower. According to the last governmental proposal, 2,400 reais would be the ceiling for all retirement checks for future workers. That means 720 euros or 800 dollars. If you make more than this pittance, which amounts to double the minimum revenue of a French beggar, you live in spiteful privilege.

According to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, privileged segments of the governmental bureaucracy can't accept Social Security reform. "In a country of 40 million hungry and a minimum wage of R$ 240.00, there are those who think you can't retire on R$ 17,000 (US$ 5,700), on R$ 19,000 (US$ 6,300), on R$ 20,000 (US$ 6,700) or on R$ 30,000 (US$ 10,000)."

Henrique Meirelles, appointed by Lula as president of the Central Bank, surely must be one of these people. His retirement check from BankBoston is 750 thousand dollars a year. Translated into Third World currency, it amounts to a very nice 2.25 million reais. On a monthly basis, we're talking about R$ 187,500 (US$ 62,500). To be added with the generous salary he makes as president of the Central Bank, mind you. "It's a right of every worker to have his or her retirement, and the Ethics Committee of the government already knew about this in detail", states Meirelles. That is true. What both Meirelles and Lula seem to ignore, however, is that, in any decent country, retirees wishing to go back to public work have to decide between the two: either their retirement check or their new wages.

—No one in the administration has ever asked me to relinquish the money _ Meirelles said. How could they? This would mean that Lula, Zé Dirceu and the whole gang would also have to relinquish their retirement checks, too.

As if it were not enough to excuse the millionaire retirement of his employee, Lula insists in wielding the 30 thousand reais' pensions (157.5 thousand reais below Meirelles' retirement check). But he intends to get a piece of every check in excess of 2,400 reais. For those already retired, his parameter is more modest: 1,058 reais (US$ 353). Retirees making more than this unspeakable privilege—less than the wage of a cleaning lady in São Paulo—will have to pay, according to the government's new bill, 11 percent in Social Security contributions. Until their last breath, even if laboring on a hospital bed, retirees will be contributing to their savings so they can enjoy their life beyond the grave.

French author Pierre Daninos used to make a distinction between the American and French mentalities. The reaction of the Americans when they see somebody driving an impressive car is, "What a wonderful thing! Let's build a society in which every citizen can have a car like that". The French, however, react differently: "The bastard! Let's build a society where everyone walks, just like I do."

One shouldn't be surprised, therefore, with the French Finance Minister, Francis Mer, stating that Brazil is on the right path to start growing its economy again. The same statement was made by President Jacques Chirac. Four hundred dollars is what a tramp makes in Paris, on the low. Europeans love to see the proletariat in power, provided that they are far away from Europe.

—If a sugar cane cutter has to work for 60 years, why should a university professor retire at age 53?—asks the President, who retired at 51. Coming from Lula, it's difficult to say if the question is a result of bad faith or crass ignorance. Professors have 11 percent of their salary withheld during their whole life in order to retire. A sugar cane cutter makes contributions for eight or fifteen years on the amount of a minimum wage. At age 60, the State grants him a second-rate courtesy... extending somebody else's hat. And not a single wretched journalist in this cowardly press of ours dares to object: but Mister President, you retired at age 51...

You can't build wealth in a country by taking money from the poor and giving it to the destitute. There are only two ways to reach equality. You have to either equalize in prosperity, which has always been the target of the discredited liberal thought, but it takes a while—three or four generations—or embark on the project this government is taking on: to equalize in destitution. The latter is not only easier but also faster. You can do it in a single administration. The PT has already defined its direction, and it doesn't want to wait.

This article appeared originally at www.diegocasagrande.com.br

 

Janer Cristaldo—he holds a PhD from University of Paris, Sorbonne—is an author, translator, lawyer, philosopher and journalist and lives in São Paulo. His e-mail address is janercr@terra.com.br

Tereza Braga is a freelance Portuguese translator and interpreter based in Dallas. She is an accredited member of the American Translators Association. Contact: terezab@sbcglobal.net

 









 
 
 







 



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