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Brazzil - Economy - August 2004

Manipulating the Number of the Jobless in Brazil

How many unemployed people do we have in Brazil? And those
who wish to work but cannot get a job? 12 million people,
13 million, 14 million, perhaps more? How about the 60 million
Brazilians who live under the poverty line, surviving on half
minimum wage? Most of them don't even have an informal job.

Carlos Chagas


Picture It's not just a case of ill will. All we need is to accept the facts. When the subject is unemployment what we get is impudence's smokescreen. It's not only the government that does that. The media does the same. So seemingly do business associations and the unions. Take yesterday's example. Everyone seems to be celebrating São Paulo's falling unemployment rates: it was slightly over 20 percent; it then fell to 19.7 percent. Now it's down to 19.1 percent.

Everyone claps hands, but omits the main figure. How many unemployed persons are there in São Paulo? They are 19.1 percent. But 19.1 percent of what? Of the state's current working force? 19.1 percent of the state's population? 19.1 percent of all those officially hired or of all those looking for a job in the greater São Paulo? It this is the case, there is no reason for celebration, but for deep sorrow alone.

What about the whole of Brazil? How many unemployed people do we have? Those who wish to work but cannot get a job? Twelve million people, 13 million, 14 million, perhaps more? Are they counting the 60 million Brazilians who live under the poverty line, barely surviving on half an obscenely piecemeal minimum wage? All of them are obviously unemployed and most don't even have an informal job.

To us it seems that there is a farce going on when the government tells that unemployment in going down. A farce in which the most important national institutions participate. Ironically speaking, these numbers manipulators have all secured jobs. Numbers manipulators had better take care. One day they will get caught.

Princess Isabel and Robin Hood on Reverse

Low blows in politics constitute one of the most fascinating aspects of electoral campaigns. Especially when put on by candidates who are important, recognized and with a long history. Now is the turn of Paulo Maluf who is running for mayor of São Paulo. Yesterday, Mr. Maluf compared himself to Princess Isabel—she signed the law that abolished slavery in Brazil, in 1888— promising to set São Paulo's 11 million slaves free. Those who pay trash, electricity or other taxes.

Let us get this straight. This image painted by Mr. Maluf does not favor him. Of course, it indirectly affects São Paulo's current mayor Martha Suplicy. Mrs. Suplicy, bucking for yet another term as mayor, has so far driven an efficient tax collection bargain. Who will be Count D'Eu, Princess Isabel husband? Yet, where did D. Pedro II go? Perhaps to Africa.

There is a certain candidate who can be compared to legendary Robin Hood who would steal from the rich to give to the poor. There wil also bee the Hood-Robin candidates, those ready to steal from the poor to give to the rich.

All things considered, they all concur to make the bigger democratic scene, but, with all due respect, one should not forget that São Paulo, while remaining as the country's biggest economic and cultural center, does much more than just lead the unsportsmanlike show.

In São Paulo City elections in 1958, people turned out to vote for the most popular candidate—a rhino named "Cacareco," who polled more votes than an average town councilman would ever dream of polling in a single count. The rhino won by a landslide.

In the 50's, Jânio Quadros would brandish a bamboo cane with a dead rat impaled on one of its ends while he delivered speeches on a speaker's platform. With it, Mr. Quadros meant to affront his political contender, Ademar de Barros.

In turn, Mr. de Barros would affront Mr. Quadros back simply by copycatting him or brandishing a similar bamboo cane but with a dead skunk impaled on it.

If these demonstrations of power struggle between political contenders will not help voters decide on whom to vote for at first, then they might at least help voters decide on whom not to vote for.

Missing Itamar

Up goes the number of people that miss Itamar. What with many of his habits and sheer unpredictability, former president Itamar would in effect drive a bargain as hard and as consistently as complaints of irregularities would materialize.

We talk about complaints—not about ample evidence, the former often appearing unfair to some but fairly pursued by others. Itamar would suspend or even fire his aide, while instructing him to go get a lawyer and then get his job back if found not guilty.

At one instance he fired his finance minister two weeks after he had appointed him and dismissed his chief of staff. Itamar would not flinch be with big shots or small fries.

Nowadays no one gets fired; no one ever gets suspended, but he or she may get audited out of his or her job under the weight of crystal-clear evidence. Waldomiro Diniz, however, proved an exception, yet he got dismissed at his own request anyway.

The last bomb, after the vampires (a scandal involving the purchase of blood in Brazil's Health Ministry) and an entire fauna of individuals suspected of corruption, just went off in Banco Central (Central Bank).

Prosecutors have conducted a probe, the outcome of which may bring grave charges (of tax evasion) against both the bank president, Henrique Meirelles, and the bank's monetary policy director, Luís Henrique Candiota. But one shouldn't hasten to consider these charges as true. Not on a first approach. Unless otherwise proved, a thief will get away with it.

Prosecutors indeed found who they could press charges against. Calling the culprits to account generated massive paperwork, of which both culprits, while still working for the bank, produced a few writs of defense.

The Lula government runs a major risk of going haywire, all in concurrence with the rate these corruption cases mushroom at. The wall up against which the creation of efficient probe or investigation commissions have always run will finally come down. Case in point. One finds hard, for instance, to forget how the investigation commission for the PC Farias (friend and campaign treasurer for impeached president Fernando Collor de Mello) case came about.

Carlos Chagas writes for the Rio's daily Tribuna da Imprensa and is a representative of the Brazilian Press Association, in Brasília. He welcomes your comments at carloschagas@hotmail.com.
Translated from the Portuguese by Arlindo Silva.

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