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Brazil Has Become a Land of Private Affluence and Public Penury

A big hole in Brazilian street Years ago, retired Brazilians who were poor began to count upon a rural pension guaranteeing them a minimum wage, but they did not receive either healthcare or jobs for their children. The Plan Real economic reform improved personal affluence, thanks to the economic growth with monetary stability, but, due to the worsened public safety, people still cannot go out into the streets.

With the Bolsa Escola and the Bolsa Família, millions left zero income behind but their children’s schools did not improve. Never were so many automobiles sold and never was so much time lost in traffic jams. In the past few days, millions of Brazilians tried to take their first plane trip, but they were unable to receive service at the airports.

The augmentation in income and easy credit permitted the increase in buying power, but there was no comparative increase in the wellbeing that comes from combining income with availability of quality public services.

The result is a population in which the personal income of each individual has improved but the quality of life for the whole has not. While the present is improving, the future is neglected.

Never have so many Brazilians managed to gain university admission, thanks to the Bolsa ProUni, but the courses have declined in quality, due chiefly to the shameful, tragic lag in elementary/secondary education.

The problem of each individual admitted to a university has been solved, but no comparable leap has been made to guarantee that everyone will complete a quality secondary education. Since the bolsa is for each student, like an income transfer to the individual, quality elementary/secondary education is a public service offered to society.

In politics, everyone can vote but they do so thinking only of themselves and of the present; the corruption and the privileges continue. Each voter votes, but the people do not control those they elect.

These are examples of how Brazil improved each person’s income affluence but maintained the penury in public services for the population as a whole. We are a country that improves each individual’s income but does not improve public services.

The television news in the last days of 2010 displayed this sad Brazilian contradiction. Part of the broadcast spoke of the record commercial sales; another, about the deaths by stray bullets, abandoned children, degraded schools, precarious hospitals, traffic deaths, interminable road jams, canceled flights. The first part stems from personal affluence, thanks to the salaries, revenues and loans; the second stems from the penury in public services.

The economy and growth are not sustained merely by personal income and buying power. Also needed are strong infrastructure investments, strong proactive construction of an efficient system of science and technology generation, a revolution in elementary/secondary education, an efficient healthcare service for all, safe streets.

Even when its people are happy, a country can have a sad historical destiny if the happiness arrives in merely individualized form, without attending to the whole population. Brazil has a population that is much happier than it was some years ago, and this is a very good thing, while at the same time it is worrisome that the happiness with the individual present hides the tragedy in the collective future.

An example of this private affluence with public penury lies in the culture of the country, which gives priority to the solution for each individual without looking out for the population as a whole and for the future.

It offers immediate consumer alternatives for individuals without considering long-term definitive solutions for the country. This is how we Brazilians think; this is the source of our low rate of savings, our disdain for and vandalism against public property, our short-term decisions in our personal lives and, when we vote, in our political lives. This is why people choose buying new clothing over improving their child’s school.

This culture can make many Brazilians happy at the present time but it is not sufficient to make a Happy Brazil 2111.

Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District. You can visit his website at www.cristovam.org.br/portal2/, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SEN_CRISTOVAM in Portuguese and http://twitter.com/cbbrazilianview in English and write to him at cristovam@senado.gov.br.

New translations of his works of fiction The Subterranean Gods and Astricia are now available on Amazon.com.

Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome (LinJerome@cs.com).

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