On Two Legs

Brazil is the country that can undertake a lucid program
encompassing the two legs of progress:

high technology and social justice.
By
Cristovam Buarque

The future will walk on two legs—social justice and high tech—upon a terrain of stable democracy. In the last few
years, great advances have been made in the paving of the terrain, but the future still walks lamely upon one leg only, the
technological advance. From the social-justice point of view, the results have already proven to be disastrous.

The governments seeking authoritarian, State-imposed social justice were unable to solidify democracy or to create
a satisfactory dynamic for the technological advance. Those seeking to deceive the people through populism remained
technologically backward and created political and monetary instability. Both alternatives gave way to the modern
capitalistic developmental model of high technology with unemployment, poverty and social exclusion.

Perhaps the most symbolic pole of this modern capitalism is the Seattle Microsoft complex of around 150 buildings.
In the lobby of its convention center stands a large piece of what used to be the Berlin Wall. It is not difficult to imagine
the dual significance of that historical chunk of cement.

First of all, it signifies socialism’s incorporation into the world of global capitalism. More than any other enterprise,
Microsoft symbolizes the overpowering force of the West, exposing Eastern European socialism’s inefficiency of production.
Second, more than other enterprises, Microsoft plays a fundamental part in the technology that is constructing another wall, a
gold curtain that separates the world’s rich and its poor.

In a conversation, Steve Ballmer, the Microsoft CEO, said that his ten-year-old son was playing chess by computer
from Seattle, with no idea as to where his opponent lived. Then he asked and discovered that the other player was a young
man of sixteen living in Italy. Ballmer told this story to show how the world is totally integrated for those who use computers,
no matter where they live or what their age.

Upon hearing this, I asked how he imagined that Microsoft, besides integrating the wealthy world’s young people,
could help incorporate into the world of his son and his son’s Italian friend all the hundreds of millions of children excluded
from modernity by poverty and child labor. Did he, I asked, see a political role for himself and Bill Gates in mobilizing the
resources of world wealth to tear down the gold curtain that separates the included from the excluded, after the fall of the Berlin
Wall, which separated capitalism from socialism?

His reply was frank: he recalled that Microsoft has a reputation for arrogance, for having an answer for everything,
but said he did not know what proposal to offer. He was being modest two times over: by claiming not to know the answer,
as well as by neglecting to mention the social programs financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which
concentrates chiefly upon vaccinating children all over the world.

Nor is tearing down the gold curtain necessarily a role that Ballmer and Gates or their Microsoft should assume. This is one of the roles of governments, especially in a country like Brazil. Since all their children are already
included within information-age modernity, the governments of the rich countries need not think about ending social exclusion.
The very poor countries do not have the means to accomplish this. Brazil is a country that has both the problem and the
resources, as well as the knowledge necessary for tearing down the gold curtain. In this case, we can teach something to Microsoft, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.

Seen as a single entity, Brazil is the country that can undertake a lucid program encompassing the two legs of
progress: high technology and social justice. If the next government has a well-planned program allocating the resources for these
two areas with responsibility and efficiency, all the rest will follow in natural progression. The two challenges of the 21st
century are the abolition of essential needs and the creation of a technological development infrastructure. Thus, all Brazilians
will be guaranteed access to basic services and the country will not distance itself from the centers of the world, thereby
eliminating the present risk of definite isolation from modernity, both social and technological.

At Microsoft I had the opportunity to learn to do what is called "e.government," the government that makes use of
electronic technological advances to improve its efficiency. But I sensed a lack of proposals to construct a socially just world:
managerial efficiency was discussed as if the entire world had already reached the socioeconomic standards of the rich. Despite
what we in Brazil have already accomplished with our Internal Revenue (Receita Federal), with the Superior Electoral Tribunal
(TSE) voting system, and with the Department of Transportation (Detrans), we still must learn how to acquire the efficiency of
electronic government, e.government, from Microsoft. But it is we who have to invent a j.government and teach them how to make
it serve the entire world.

Forming the two legs of the future, the technological and the ethical, high tech and social justice, an (e+j)
government, efficient and just. Brazil has the means to move forward on those two legs; we only need to put an end to our inferiority
complex vis-à-vis the rich of the world and our lack of sensitivity vis-à-vis the poor of Brazil.

Cristovam Buarque —
cristovambuarque@uol.com.br —the former governor of the Federal District of Brasília and
ex-rector of the University of Brasília, is a professor at the Center for Sustainable Development, University of Brasília, and
the author of the book Admirável Mundo
Atual (Brave Real World).

Translated by Linda Jerome (LinJerome@cs.com)

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