quarta-feira, novembro 30, 2011

Ajuda ao DCE da UnB

Recebi de um colega liberal e reproduzo aqui. Eles merecem todo apoio possível.

"Amigos liberais,

Escrevo para pedir ajuda ao Diretório Central dos Estudantes
da UNB.

Como devem saber, a nova gestão "Aliança pela Liberdade"
empossada há poucas semanas é claramente anti-esquerda
e sim liberal. O grupo tem membros do IL-Brasília e, de
certa forma, decorreu de idéias do saudoso Nelson Lehmann.

O novo DCE está em dificuldades. Está sendo intimidado pela
esquerda radical. Precisam de toda ajuda possível.

No dia 10.12.2011 (sábado), referido DCE fará uma reunião
para pessoalmente receber qualquer apoiador que deseje
aparecer. Será às 16hrs no auditório 4 no Instituto de Biologia
(IB), que fica ao lado da saída sul do Instituto Central de Ciências,
ICC (minhocão). Mais informações estão no site institucional.

Qualquer ajuda é bem-vinda, mesmo a simples solidariedade,
apoio moral e articulação. Não importa a ideologia, mas sim
que os apoiadores do novo DCE se conheçam, estejam
juntos e saibam que não estão sozinhos.

Peço que repercutam a presente mensagem. Peço que vão
ao evento. Peço que levem amigos. A hora é agora.

Um abraço e até lá

Henrique de Mello Franco"

Blame It on Berlin

Editorial do WSJ

The euro bailout caucus wants the Germans to write a blank check.

Which century is this anyway? We ask because elite opinion is once again blaming Germany for ruining the rest of Europe, if not the entire world economy. All that's missing are references to the Kaiser or Herr Schicklgruber, but we hope the Germans don't fall for this global guilt trip.

Berlin's alleged sin is its reluctance to write a blank check to save the euro—either by underwriting a new euro-zone fiscal union, or granting permission for the European Central Bank to buy trillions in sovereign debt. The chant comes in unison from the debtor nations themselves, the bailout caucus in Brussels, an Obama White House concerned about its re-election, and liberal pundits worried that their welfare-state economic model is under assault. Like the "rich" in America who must pay their "fair share," the Germans are supposed to pay up to save a united Europe.

***
The reality is that the Germans—along with the Dutch and the Finns—are the rare Europeans who understand that saving the euro requires more than a blank check. It requires a new political commitment to better economic policy. Chancellor Angela Merkel and her cabinet are as euro-centric as the French, but they realize that money alone won't solve Europe's more fundamental debt and growth problem.

It's certainly true that the Germans have benefited from the euro, which is one reason they want to preserve it. Their exports have flourished, often to other European countries, thanks to a stable currency and free-trade zone. But one reason for their relative economic success is that Germany is a rare European country that used the early years of the euro to reform its labor markets and improve fiscal policies. While the Greeks and Italians used their years of near-German borrowing rates to live beyond their means, the Bavarians became more competitive.

Until the crisis hit Italy, the rest of Europe still didn't think it had a problem. Politicians said the markets were acting in predatory fashion, rather than sensibly recalibrating the risk of sovereign default. Even now, 18 months into this euro mess, only the recent jump in sovereign bond yields has caused Italy and France to realize they have to shape up.

Europe's original sin in this crisis was not letting Greece default, remaining in the euro but shrinking its debt load as it reformed its economy. The example would have sent a useful message of discipline to countries and creditors alike. The fear at the time was that a default would spread the contagion of higher bond rates, but those rates have soared despite the bailouts of Greece and Portugal.

By now the policy choices are more painful. One option is to let the euro zone break up, one country at a time or all at once, but the costs of dissolution would be very high. At best it would mean a deep recession, as debts and contracts were recalculated in national currencies, and savers and investors fled to the safest havens. This is something no one but doctrinaire devaluationists should want.

The second option is the blank check, starting with the ECB printing trillions in euros to buy up sovereign debt. This might crush bond yields, at least for a while, but the minute those yields fall the pressure for economic reform will also ease.

Meanwhile, the ECB will have sacrificed its independence under political duress, while gambling that printing trillions of euros won't lead to inflation down the road. This would be a short-term palliative to get the French and Americans past the next election.

The third option, and the one the Germans seem to prefer, is a closer fiscal union across the euro zone with stricter rules on debt and deficits. This is the essence of the tentative Franco-German plan leaked over the weekend. In return for issuing euro bonds or perhaps granting countries access to ECB bond purchases, Germany would require those nations to live by German-approved fiscal rules. This has the virtue of distinguishing between countries that follow the rules and those that don't, enforcing good behavior with carrots and bad with sticks.

This is better than the other options, but it too is no panacea. Germany isn't about to send the Wehrmacht to Rome or Athens to enforce fiscal policy. So enforcement would still largely depend on the political will of the countries themselves. Such debt and deficit rules could also be counterproductive if they led to growth-killing tax increases instead of spending cuts and entitlement reforms.

It's no accident that Ireland, with its 12.5% corporate tax rate that has attracted export businesses, is climbing out of its debt hole faster than are Portugal, Spain or Greece. Any new fiscal rules need to allow for tax and labor-policy competition.

***
The tragedy is that the euro-zone countries failed to abide by their original fiscal rules, a failure that has brought them to this unhappy pass. The Brussels-Washington bailout caucus now wants to extend the damage to monetary policy by printing more euros and worrying about the consequences later.

In opposing that option, the Germans are said to be imposing their Prussian morality on everyone else. But without reforms, the countries of southern Europe will never pull out of their downward debt spiral. The Germans are at least telling the truth.

terça-feira, novembro 29, 2011

Ricos e infantis

JOÃO PEREIRA COUTINHO, Folha de SP

UMA DAS vantagens de viver na Europa é que existem dias em que não sabemos se estamos a sonhar ou acordados.
Aconteceu hoje, com o café da manhã: passando os olhos pela imprensa espanhola, descubro que a Direção Geral de Tráfego do país impôs uma multa pesada (30 mil euros) sobre a produtora cinematográfica Tripictures. Motivo da sanção?
É difícil explicá-lo sem correr o risco de o leitor pensar que eu enlouqueci de vez. Mas avanço na mesma: a produtora, responsável pelo filme "Larry Crowne" (uma comédia romântica e medíocre com os insuportáveis Tom Hanks e Julia Roberts), faz a publicidade do filme com uma foto dos dois protagonistas em cima de uma moto. E, horror dos horrores, sem capacete!
A imagem é intolerável para as autoridades espanholas, e o código de trânsito é claríssimo em seu artigo 52: toda a publicidade fílmica que promova "comportamentos de risco" na estrada deve ser banida.
E o desprezo pelo uso de capacete é um desses comportamentos. Segundo as estatísticas apresentadas pelo jornal "El Mundo", não usar capacete faz com que três em cada quatro pessoas morram em acidentes com motos. As lesões cerebrais multiplicam-se por três.
A conclusão é evidente e inquestionável: quem usa capacete aumenta em 20% as hipóteses de sair vivo de um acidente.
Se o leitor está abismado com a notícia, peço-lhe que não esteja. Anos atrás, quando a Europa foi caminhando para essa utopia securitária que regula hoje todos os comportamentos dos seus súditos, eu ainda cometia a imprudência de dizer duas ou três coisas a respeito.
Os meus argumentos começavam e acabavam na liberdade individual de cada um assumir a sua vida -e os seus riscos, porque a vida tem riscos- sem a mão paternalista de um poder político central. Avisos sobre as vantagens de usar capacete podem ser importantes, admito; mas a escolha de usar capacete é minha e só minha.
Os meus interlocutores, que me escutavam com caridosa paciência, concordavam comigo, ou fingiam concordar.
Mas depois acrescentavam que as medidas securitárias que se multiplicavam pela Europa -o uso de cinto de segurança nos automóveis ou de capacete nas motos; a proibição de níveis elevados de sal no pão; a proibição de fumo em bares ou restaurantes; impostos adicionais sobre comidas calóricas etc. etc. -tudo isso era em nome do bem comum, e não apenas uma questão de liberdade individual.
E perguntavam, retoricamente: por que motivo os hospitais públicos devem tratar indivíduos que escolhem vidas de risco? Os recursos são escassos, diziam eles; e, entre um fumante e um não fumante, devemos tratar primeiro quem teve mais cuidado com o próprio corpo.
Por essa altura, eu já não dizia nada. Nem sequer o contra-argumento óbvio de que fumantes ou não fumantes; motoristas sem capacete ou com capacete; gordos ou magros; enfim, doentes ou saudáveis -todos eles pagam impostos e, consequentemente, esperam tratamento pelos serviços que sustentam.
Eu só poderia aceitar que o Estado recusasse tratar dos meus pulmões, do meu fígado ou do meu colesterol se ele recusasse também o meu dinheiro. Mas contra-argumentar para quê?
O pensamento paternalista e securitário não perde tempo com a lógica. Ele é um subproduto de uma sociedade que enriqueceu e atingiu patamares de conforto que convidam ao tédio.
E, com o tédio, vem a irritabilidade própria de quem procura sair dele com novas formas de incomodar a liberdade do vizinho.
Aliás, se dúvidas houvesse sobre o processo, bastaria olhar para o Brasil. Com uma economia pujante e a integração de milhões de brasileiros nos confortos da classe média, leio nesta Folha que a Assembleia de São Paulo aprovou recentemente uma lei que proíbe a garupa em motos em dias da semana.
Mas não apenas a garupa; capacetes ou coletes com o número da placa da motocicleta pretendem-se igualmente obrigatórios.
Não sei o que irá decidir Geraldo Alckmin sobre essas importantíssimas matérias.
Mas, aqui da Europa, deixo uma mensagem ao senhor governador: por incrível que pareça, é possível enriquecer, sim, sem infantilizar a população ao mesmo tempo. Na Europa já é tarde para isso, mas o Brasil ainda vai a tempo.

Você é liberal?


Rodrigo Constantino, O GLOBO

Rótulos servem para simplificar o mundo, mas também podem gerar confusão. É o caso de direita e esquerda no debate político. Como saber exatamente onde se encaixar? Um liberal seria de esquerda ou de direita? O termo “neoliberal”, aliás, passou a ser sinônimo dos piores adjetivos imagináveis, após décadas de propaganda socialista que buscou monopolizar as virtudes. Mas será que os liberais realmente são insensíveis diante da miséria alheia? O que defende um liberal, afinal?
Em primeiro lugar, o liberal coloca seu foco sempre no indivíduo, que é visto como um fim em si mesmo, e não um meio sacrificável para algum bem maior. O liberalismo é contrário ao coletivismo, seja de raça, classe ou nação. O racialismo, o socialismo ou o nacionalismo, portanto, são opostos ao liberalismo, que busca defender as liberdades individuais acima de tudo.
Como conseqüência, o liberal preza muito o direito de propriedade privada. O homem só pode ser livre se for dono do seu próprio corpo e for capaz de preservar aquilo que produz com seu esforço. O liberal respeita o conceito de meritocracia, ou seja, ele reconhece que os resultados serão desiguais em uma sociedade livre, pois os indivíduos são sempre diferentes em suas habilidades, objetivos ou mesmo sorte. O sucesso, se honesto, não é pecado algum. Muito pelo contrário.
Isso não quer dizer que o governo não possa exercer importantes tarefas na melhoria das oportunidades gerais. Uma melhor educação básica e uma infraestrutura decente, por exemplo, podem ajudar a equilibrar o ponto de partida. Mas o liberal rejeita a noção de igualdade de resultados, pois ele entende que homens não são insetos gregários. A única igualdade que o liberal deseja é aquela perante as leis. Para um liberal, ninguém deve ter privilégios ou ser tratado como um “homem incomum”, acima das leis.
Além disso, o liberal sabe que quando o governo concentra muito poder em nome da “justiça social” ele acaba produzindo maiores desigualdades ainda. Brasília, não custa lembrar, possui a maior renda per capita do país, produzindo basicamente leis absurdas e muita corrupção. Os países socialistas sempre foram os mais desiguais de todos: quase toda a população igualmente miserável, e uma pequena casta usufruindo de todas as regalias.
A democracia é extremamente valorizada pelos liberais, não por ser infalível, e sim por ser o modelo mais pacífico para eliminar erros políticos sem derramamento de sangue. Mas o liberal compreende que a democracia jamais deve se tornar uma simples ditadura da maioria, e por isso defende limites constitucionais claros ao poder estatal. O liberal também abomina a tutela paternalista. Cada um deve ser livre e assumir a responsabilidade por seus atos.
Para um liberal, a economia deve funcionar livremente, sem tanta intervenção estatal. O liberal é cético quando se trata das boas intenções dos políticos ou dos empresários, e entende que o melhor mecanismo de incentivos está na livre concorrência da economia de mercado. Em busca do lucro, as empresas precisam atender à demanda dos consumidores da melhor maneira possível, o que acaba favorecendo a maioria. A Apple de Steve Jobs é prova disso.
O que o liberal condena é justamente a socialização dos prejuízos, ou seja, o governo não deve usar recursos públicos para salvar empresas falidas ou para subsidiar grupos ineficientes. Quando o governo se arroga esta tarefa, temos o capitalismo de compadrio, contrário ao modelo liberal. Um Estado produtor é ainda pior. Basta pensar na ineficiência da maioria das estatais, muitas vezes transformadas em cabide de emprego, palco de corrupção ou moeda de troca política. O liberal aplaude as privatizações, e não sente saudade alguma da antiga Telebrás.
De forma bastante resumida, temos acima as principais bandeiras liberais. Diante disso, fica fácil constatar que o Brasil nunca chegou perto do modelo liberal, apesar dos mitos que culpam o “neoliberalismo” por nossos males. Nosso estado é um monstro gigantesco que ainda concentra poder demais, intromete-se em demasia na economia e em nossas vidas. Um Leviatã assistencialista, mercantilista e paternalista.
Por fim, não temos nada parecido com a igualdade perante as leis que os liberais pregam. Somos o país dos privilégios concedidos pelo governo para grupos organizados, a começar pelos próprios políticos. Nada menos liberal que isso!
Gostaria de aproveitar para convidá-los ao lançamento do meu novo livro, “Liberal com orgulho”, hoje às 19h na Livraria da Travessa do Shopping Leblon.

The Great Global Warming Fizzle

By BRET STEPHENS, WSJ

The climate religion fades in spasms of anger and twitches of boredom

How do religions die? Generally they don't, which probably explains why there's so little literature on the subject. Zoroastrianism, for instance, lost many of its sacred texts when Alexander sacked Persepolis in 330 B.C., and most Zoroastrians converted to Islam over 1,000 years ago. Yet today old Zoroaster still counts as many as 210,000 followers, including 11,000 in the U.S. Christopher Hitchens might say you can't kill what wasn't there to begin with.

Still, Zeus and Apollo are no longer with us, and neither are Odin and Thor. Among the secular gods, Marx is mostly dead and Freud is totally so. Something did away with them, and it's worth asking what.

Consider the case of global warming, another system of doomsaying prophecy and faith in things unseen.

As with religion, it is presided over by a caste of spectacularly unattractive people pretending to an obscure form of knowledge that promises to make the seas retreat and the winds abate. As with religion, it comes with an elaborate list of virtues, vices and indulgences. As with religion, its claims are often non-falsifiable, hence the convenience of the term "climate change" when thermometers don't oblige the expected trend lines. As with religion, it is harsh toward skeptics, heretics and other "deniers." And as with religion, it is susceptible to the earthly temptations of money, power, politics, arrogance and deceit.

This week, the conclave of global warming's cardinals are meeting in Durban, South Africa, for their 17th conference in as many years. The idea is to come up with a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which is set to expire next year, and to require rich countries to pony up $100 billion a year to help poor countries cope with the alleged effects of climate change. This is said to be essential because in 2017 global warming becomes "catastrophic and irreversible," according to a recent report by the International Energy Agency.

Yet a funny thing happened on the way to the climate apocalypse. Namely, the financial apocalypse.

The U.S., Russia, Japan, Canada and the EU have all but confirmed they won't be signing on to a new Kyoto. The Chinese and Indians won't make a move unless the West does. The notion that rich (or formerly rich) countries are going to ship $100 billion every year to the Micronesias of the world is risible, especially after they've spent it all on Greece.

Cap and trade is a dead letter in the U.S. Even Europe is having second thoughts about carbon-reduction targets that are decimating the continent's heavy industries and cost an estimated $67 billion a year. "Green" technologies have all proved expensive, environmentally hazardous and wildly unpopular duds.

All this has been enough to put the Durban political agenda on hold for the time being. But religions don't die, and often thrive, when put to the political sidelines. A religion, when not physically extinguished, only dies when it loses faith in itself.

That's where the Climategate emails come in. First released on the eve of the Copenhagen climate summit two years ago and recently updated by a fresh batch, the "hide the decline" emails were an endless source of fun and lurid fascination for those of us who had never been convinced by the global-warming thesis in the first place.

But the real reason they mattered is that they introduced a note of caution into an enterprise whose motivating appeal resided in its increasingly frantic forecasts of catastrophe. Papers were withdrawn; source material re-examined. The Himalayan glaciers, it turned out, weren't going to melt in 30 years. Nobody can say for sure how high the seas are likely to rise—if much at all. Greenland isn't turning green. Florida isn't going anywhere.

The reply global warming alarmists have made to these dislosures is that they did nothing to change the underlying science, and only improved it in particulars. So what to make of the U.N.'s latest supposedly authoritative report on extreme weather events, which is tinged with admissions of doubt and uncertainty? Oddly, the report has left climate activists stuttering with rage at what they call its "watered down" predictions. If nothing else, they understand that any belief system, particularly ones as young as global warming, cannot easily survive more than a few ounces of self-doubt.

Meanwhile, the world marches on. On Sunday, 2,232 days will have elapsed since a category 3 hurricane made landfall in the U.S., the longest period in more than a century that the U.S. has been spared a devastating storm. Great religions are wise enough to avoid marking down the exact date when the world comes to an end. Not so for the foolish religions. Expect Mayan cosmology to take a hit to its reputation when the world doesn't end on Dec. 21, 2012. Expect likewise when global warming turns out to be neither catastrophic nor irreversible come 2017.

And there is this: Religions are sustained in the long run by the consolations of their teachings and the charisma of their leaders. With global warming, we have a religion whose leaders are prone to spasms of anger and whose followers are beginning to twitch with boredom. Perhaps that's another way religions die.

sexta-feira, novembro 25, 2011

Vamos dar ao liberalismo uma chance!


Rodrigo Constantino

[Esta é a Introdução do meu novo livro, Liberal com orgulho, cujo lançamento será terça-feira que vem, dia 29, na Livraria da Travessa do Shopping Leblon às 19h]

Poucas pessoas assumem ser liberais no Brasil. Com uma hegemonia da esquerda no ambiente intelectual do país, as virtudes e os fins nobres foram se tornando monopólio dos pensadores socialistas ou social-democratas, e qualquer ponto de vista liberal passou a ser automaticamente descartado como coisa de “elite” insensível ou oportunismo de grupos de interesse. Nada poderia estar mais longe da verdade.
Os países liberais foram justamente aqueles que tiveram mais progresso material, associado sempre a uma ampla liberdade individual, incompatível com modelos que concentram demasiado poder no estado. Por que, então, ter vergonha de usar o termo liberal? Os fatos históricos e também o embasamento teórico estão do lado dos liberais. Por que fugir do rótulo?
Sim, os rótulos podem ser simplistas e gerar confusão. Mas não acredito que a saída para os liberais seja recusar tal denominação. Fazer isso é fazer o jogo da esquerda, aceitar que o monopólio da virtude está do lado de lá. Não está! E, por isso mesmo, faz-se necessário debater com foco nos argumentos, defendendo sem medo as posturas liberais. A timidez no debate, com os liberais sequer assumindo abertamente aquilo que pregam, representa um tiro no pé do liberalismo como opção de modelo ao país.
E que fique claro o ponto já levantado por Roberto Campos: o liberalismo nunca nos deu o ar de sua graça. Se o Brasil é um país com muita miséria e desigualdade social, isto não é culpa do liberalismo, pois este jamais existiu por aqui. O Brasil é um país patrimonialista e clientelista, que nos últimos 20 anos experimentou uma social-democracia com governo inchado, e que antes, nos tempos da ditadura, tampouco teve algo que se assemelhasse ao liberalismo, mesmo restrito à economia.
Dirigismo estatal não combina com livre mercado. Concentração de poder no estado também não é uma bandeira liberal. Portanto, os males que assolam nosso país não foram plantados por políticas liberais ou “neoliberais”, ao contrário do que reza a lenda esquerdista. O Brasil está na rabeira dos rankings que medem o grau de liberdade econômica dos países. O liberalismo simplesmente nunca foi testado na terra brasilis.
Infelizmente, nenhum partido organizado ostenta a cartilha liberal. A maior evidência disso foi o PFL, que ao menos carregava liberal no nome, alterar sua sigla para DEM, de democratas. Isso explica, em parte, a apatia da oposição durante o governo do PT. Os tucanos e democratas não sabem fazer oposição contra um governo que, em linhas gerais, utiliza o mesmo ideário social-democrata, com forte crença na capacidade do governo como locomotiva do progresso. Falta-lhes a convicção necessária para oferecer, de fato, um modelo alternativo, ou seja, o liberalismo.
Meu livro tenta justamente estimular este debate, mostrando porque os liberais merecem uma oportunidade política para posicionar o país em uma trajetória diferente, com mais liberdade econômica e individual. Os artigos aqui presentes falam de diversos temas distintos, mas invariavelmente retornam a este ponto central: a defesa da liberdade individual. E nada representa ameaça maior a esta liberdade do que um governo inchado, obeso, que concentra poder demais.
Cotas raciais, empréstimos subsidiados, privilégios, política inflacionária, corrupção fora de controle, leis arbitrárias, impunidade, burocracia asfixiante, tudo isso tem ligação, em última instância, com o modelo de sociedade que temos no Brasil, e que passa longe do liberalismo aqui defendido. Os principais pilares deste modelo liberal seriam o estado democrático de direito, o império das leis, igualmente válidas para todos, e uma economia de mercado, com preços livres, propriedade privada protegida e limitada intervenção estatal, mesmo que por meio de regulamentações.
O Brasil está muito longe deste modelo. É meu objetivo contribuir para que isto possa ser mudado. O quanto antes, pois custa muito caro, tanto em termos materiais quanto de liberdade individual e até vidas, insistir no erro do coletivismo estatizante atual. Vamos dar ao liberalismo uma chance!

Agência Nacionalista de Petróleo


Rodrigo Constantino, para o Instituto Liberal

A postura do governo de forma geral e da Agência Nacional de Petróleo (ANP) em particular, merece duras críticas no trato do vazamento de óleo no Campo de Frade. Há um forte cheiro de nacionalismo xenófobo no ar, somado ao típico sensacionalismo do governo. Acidentes neste setor acontecem, e não pretendo eximir a Chevron de responsabilidade ou mesmo de reações condenáveis após o vazamento. Mas é fundamental ter regras claras e, principalmente, isonômicas no setor.

O encontro entre o presidente para a América Latina da empresa americana, que opera no país há décadas, e o ministro de Minas e Energia, Edison Lobão, teria sido tensa, segundo fontes. O presidente teria reclamado que soube da suspensão da autorização para novas perfurações por meio da imprensa, antes de ser notificado oficialmente. "A manchete da CNN foi: Chevron não pode mais operar no Brasil. Uma empresa do nosso porte não pode ser tratada dessa forma", disse o presidente. O executivo teria reclamado ainda das acusações da Polícia Federal de que a companhia tinha empregados no país sem visto de permanência.

Lobão teria dito que a empresa tem o direito de se defender, mas que o governo “tem que dar uma resposta à opinião pública”. Esta é uma rota perigosa, que costuma levar ao linchamento em praça pública de algum bode expiatório para acalmar as massas. O governo tem é que aplicar as leis de forma objetiva, procurar meios de conter o problema e depois adotar medidas para prevenir novas ocorrências do tipo. Sem sensacionalismo ou irresponsabilidade.

A Chevron é uma empresa que atua em vários países, com um valor de mercado de quase US$ 200 bilhões, milhares de acionistas e tinha inclusive a Petrobras como sócia minoritária no Campo de Frade, onde ocorreu o desastre. A notícia de que a empresa não poderia mais operar no Brasil fez suas ações despencarem. O que o governo pretende com este tipo de “vingança” infantil? Acabar de vez com a segurança dos negócios no setor, para a Petrobras reinar absoluta e monopolista novamente? Ou será que a ANP reagiria da mesma forma se o poço vazado fosse operado pela própria Petrobras?

O setor de petróleo é bastante estratégico. Esta costuma ser a desculpa utilizada para se defender maciça intervenção estatal em todas as etapas do negócio (incluindo financiamento multimilionário do BNDES para a Lupatech, prestes a falir). Penso justamente o contrário: o setor é estratégico demais para ficar tanto em mãos estatais!

quinta-feira, novembro 24, 2011

The Euro Zone: Is this really the end?


The Economist

Unless Germany and the ECB move quickly, the single currency’s collapse is looming

EVEN as the euro zone hurtles towards a crash, most people are assuming that, in the end, European leaders will do whatever it takes to save the single currency. That is because the consequences of the euro’s destruction are so catastrophic that no sensible policymaker could stand by and let it happen.

A euro break-up would cause a global bust worse even than the one in 2008-09. The world’s most financially integrated region would be ripped apart by defaults, bank failures and the imposition of capital controls (see article). The euro zone could shatter into different pieces, or a large block in the north and a fragmented south. Amid the recriminations and broken treaties after the failure of the European Union’s biggest economic project, wild currency swings between those in the core and those in the periphery would almost certainly bring the single market to a shuddering halt. The survival of the EU itself would be in doubt.

Markets, manias and panics

Investors’ growing fears of a euro break-up have fed a run from the assets of weaker economies, a stampede that even strong actions by their governments cannot seem to stop. The latest example is Spain. Despite a sweeping election victory on November 20th for the People’s Party, committed to reform and austerity, the country’s borrowing costs have surged again. The government has just had to pay a 5.1% yield on three-month paper, more than twice as much as a month ago. Yields on ten-year bonds are above 6.5%. Italy’s new technocratic government under Mario Monti has not seen any relief either: ten-year yields remain well above 6%. Belgian and French borrowing costs are rising. And this week, an auction of German government Bunds flopped.

The panic engulfing Europe’s banks is no less alarming. Their access to wholesale funding markets has dried up, and the interbank market is increasingly stressed, as banks refuse to lend to each other. Firms are pulling deposits from peripheral countries’ banks. This backdoor run is forcing banks to sell assets and squeeze lending; the credit crunch could be deeper than the one Europe suffered after Lehman Brothers collapsed.

Add the ever greater fiscal austerity being imposed across Europe and a collapse in business and consumer confidence, and there is little doubt that the euro zone will see a deep recession in 2012—with a fall in output of perhaps as much as 2%. That will lead to a vicious feedback loop in which recession widens budget deficits, swells government debts and feeds popular opposition to austerity and reform. Fear of the consequences will then drive investors even faster towards the exits.

Past financial crises show that this downward spiral can be arrested only by bold policies to regain market confidence. But Europe’s policymakers seem unable or unwilling to be bold enough. The much-ballyhooed leveraging of the euro-zone rescue fund agreed on in October is going nowhere. Euro-zone leaders have become adept at talking up grand long-term plans to safeguard their currency—more intrusive fiscal supervision, new treaties to advance political integration. But they offer almost no ideas for containing today’s conflagration.

Germany’s cautious chancellor, Angela Merkel, can be ruthlessly efficient in politics: witness the way she helped to pull the rug from under Silvio Berlusconi. A credit crunch is harder to manipulate. Along with leaders of other creditor countries, she refuses to acknowledge the extent of the markets’ panic (see article). The European Central Bank (ECB) rejects the idea of acting as a lender of last resort to embattled, but solvent, governments. The fear of creating moral hazard, under which the offer of help eases the pressure on debtor countries to embrace reform, is seemingly enough to stop all rescue plans in their tracks. Yet that only reinforces investors’ nervousness about all euro-zone bonds, even Germany’s, and makes an eventual collapse of the currency more likely.

This cannot go on for much longer. Without a dramatic change of heart by the ECB and by European leaders, the single currency could break up within weeks. Any number of events, from the failure of a big bank to the collapse of a government to more dud bond auctions, could cause its demise. In the last week of January, Italy must refinance more than €30 billion ($40 billion) of bonds. If the markets balk, and the ECB refuses to blink, the world’s third-biggest sovereign borrower could be pushed into default.

The perils of brinkmanship

Can anything be done to avert disaster? The answer is still yes, but the scale of action needed is growing even as the time to act is running out. The only institution that can provide immediate relief is the ECB. As the lender of last resort, it must do more to save the banks by offering unlimited liquidity for longer duration against a broader range of collateral. Even if the ECB rejects this logic for governments—wrongly, in our view—large-scale bond-buying is surely now justified by the ECB’s own narrow interpretation of prudent central banking. That is because much looser monetary policy is necessary to stave off recession and deflation in the euro zone. If the ECB is to fulfil its mandate of price stability, it must prevent prices falling. That means cutting short-term rates and embarking on “quantitative easing” (buying government bonds) on a large scale. And since conditions are tightest in the peripheral economies, the ECB will have to buy their bonds disproportionately.

Vast monetary loosening should cushion the recession and buy time. Yet reviving confidence and luring investors back into sovereign bonds now needs more than ECB support, restructuring Greece’s debt and reforming Italy and Spain—ambitious though all this is. It also means creating a debt instrument that investors can believe in. And that requires a political bargain: financial support that peripheral countries need in exchange for rule changes that Germany and others demand.

This instrument must involve some joint liability for government debts. Unlimited Eurobonds have been ruled out by Mrs Merkel; they would probably fall foul of Germany’s constitutional court. But compromises exist, as suggested this week by the European Commission (see Charlemagne). One promising idea, from Germany’s Council of Economic Experts, is to mutualise all euro-zone debt above 60% of each country’s GDP, and to set aside a tranche of tax revenue to pay it off over the next 25 years. Yet Germany, still fretful about turning a currency union into a transfer union in which it forever supports the weaker members, has dismissed the idea.

This attitude has to change, or the euro will break up. Fears of moral hazard mean less now that all peripheral-country governments are committed to austerity and reform. Debt mutualisation can be devised to stop short of a permanent transfer union. Mrs Merkel and the ECB cannot continue to threaten feckless economies with exclusion from the euro in one breath and reassure markets by promising the euro’s salvation with the next. Unless she chooses soon, Germany’s chancellor will find that the choice has been made for her.

É proibido fumar


Rodrigo Constantino, para a revista VOTO

O Senado aprovou um projeto de lei que acabará com os “fumódromos” em locais fechados, mesmo em ambientes privados. O texto, que segue agora para a sanção da presidente Dilma Rousseff, também prevê o aumento na carga tributária dos cigarros, cuja alíquota de IPI será de 300%, além de deixar a cargo do Executivo a tarefa de fixar o preço mínimo para a venda do produto no varejo (o contrabando agradece).

O projeto também torna obrigatório o aumento de avisos sobre os malefícios do fumo no maço de cigarros (como se alguém ainda não soubesse). O Ministério da Saúde acredita que o preço do cigarro subirá cerca de 20% já em 2012 e poderá ficar 55% mais caro em 2015. Estas medidas devem contribuir para reduzir o consumo de cigarros no país. O ministro da Saúde, Alexandre Padilha, comemorou a aprovação por seu Twitter: “Estamos avançando na restrição do tabagismo!”.

A cruzada antitabagista está alcançando patamares alarmantes. Se antes a suposta preocupação era com o impacto da fumaça nos não-fumantes, agora a meta está escancarada: querem abolir o cigarro do mundo! Enquanto os fumantes não forem vistos como párias da sociedade, como doentes que precisam urgentemente de ajuda, os cruzados não vão sossegar. Eles são os portadores da Boa Nova, repletos de boas intenções, que vão impor um estilo de vida mais saudável aos ímpios e fracos.

Em recente artigo na Folha de São Paulo, um dos mais atuantes antitabagistas, Dráuzio Varella, afirmou que o cigarro é um dos piores crimes do capitalismo, pior até que a escravidão! Não obstante o verdadeiro absurdo de inverter tudo e culpar o capitalismo pela escravidão – ou será que quase todas as civilizações antigas eram capitalistas? – chama a atenção o grau de abuso da retórica em que chegam os missionários da saúde total. A nicotina passou a ser o inimigo público número um para essa gente. Varrer o tabaco da face da Terra é a razão da vida destas pessoas.

Não sou psicanalista para procurar motivos inconscientes que movem os adeptos desta cruzada. Talvez muitos tenham sido fumantes inveterados, incapazes de controlar minimamente o consumo do cigarro, e agora querem se vingar dos produtores. Ou quem sabe são apenas almas autoritárias dando vazão ao desejo de controlar vidas alheias. Pode ser ainda o caso de órfãos religiosos que buscam na cruzada da higiene plena um novo sentido para suas vidas após a “morte” de Deus. Realmente não sei dizer o que leva essas pessoas a abraçar esta causa com tanta determinação. Procuro apenas mostrar como estas bandeiras podem ser perigosas no longo prazo.

O regime que foi mais enfático no combate ao fumo e na luta pela saúde perfeita foi o nazismo. Hitler, que aparentemente era um fumante compulsivo na juventude, tornou-se um fervoroso antitabagista que desejava nada menos que a “pureza” do corpo. Detalhe importante: não a de seu corpo apenas, mas sim a de todos os arianos. A propaganda estatal contra o tabaco foi enorme durante o nazismo. Uma revista da época chegou a conclamar os “irmãos nacional-socialistas” a deixar de fumar e beber, pois cada alemão era responsável pela saúde de todos, e nenhum indivíduo tinha o direito de prejudicar seu corpo com drogas. Hitler não fumava, não bebia e era vegetariano. Todos deveriam seguir seu exemplo. Largar o hábito de fumar era um “dever” dos nazistas, e Hitler chegou a dar relógios de presente para associados próximos que tiveram sucesso na empreitada.

Se um indivíduo obsessivo deseja viver em busca de sua “saúde perfeita”, pensando que assim chegará perto de alguma imortalidade qualquer, o problema é dele. Eu, particularmente, acredito que há outros objetivos mais louváveis na vida do que apenas postergar a morte. Mas isso deve ser uma escolha individual. O que parece totalmente absurdo é o desejo de controlar as vidas alheias. Quando o sujeito quer impor o seu estilo de vida aos demais, aí é que mora o perigo. Autoritários que não suportam as preferências dos outros ameaçam a liberdade geral, especialmente quando tais preferências dizem respeito somente às suas próprias vidas. Antes os antitabagistas, mais tímidos, alegavam lutar pela saúde das vítimas passivas do fumo. Agora a máscara caiu: é preciso extirpar o tabaco do mundo.

O Prêmio Nobel de economia, Hayek, foi direto ao ponto quando disse: “É verdade que ser livre pode significar a liberdade de passar fome, cometer custosos erros, ou correr riscos mortais”. Liberdade individual pressupõe direito de escolha, incluindo, naturalmente, as escolhas “erradas”. Ninguém deve me obrigar a ser “feliz” à sua maneira. Até porque se hoje deixamos o governo nos dizer o que podemos fazer com nosso próprio corpo, amanhã ele poderá nos dizer o que fazer com a mente, ou seja, o que “pensar”. Parte da liberdade é escolher ir para o “inferno” do seu próprio jeito. Recusar como meta na vida a busca por uma “saúde plena”, preferindo fazer concessões ao prazer do momento, é uma escolha legítima que cabe a cada um. Abrir mão deste direito é abrir mão da própria liberdade.

segunda-feira, novembro 21, 2011

A Path to Victory in the Drug War

By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, WSJ

Brazil's Fernando Henrique Cardoso on why legalization of marijuana will reduce the cartels' threat to Latin democracies

The classical argument in favor of marijuana legalization rests on personal liberty. Why, proponents ask, should the federal government tell free citizens what they may consume? It is also one reason why many conservatives fear it. They worry that legalization will mean more pot heads, an increase in the consumption of hard drugs, and a decrease in the quality of life for the sober and for society at large.

Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso believes the opposite would occur. In an interview here last week he told me that his embrace of global marijuana decriminalization is aimed at reducing all drug use, bringing down violence, and diminishing what he sees as a serious and growing threat to democracy in Latin America.

Out of politics since 2003, when he finished his second four-year term as one of Brazil's most successful presidents, Mr. Cardoso is now a high-profile international advocate for ending the war on drugs. But he once held the opposite view.

Mr. Cardoso explains that as president he used traditional methods of "repression and prevention" to fight the drug problem. He is quick to add that neither worked. "Eradication was a failure," he says. Even though marijuana plants were destroyed—the government proudly took pictures of its handiwork—"later on, again, the crops were there." Meanwhile, the state made an "insufficient" effort toward prevention, in part because Brazil's drug problem "was not that bad at the time."

Mr. Cardoso says that after he left office and began to spend time in countries around the region, notably Colombia and Mexico, he recognized the depth and breadth of the problem. "I realized, my God, what is at stake now is much more than just the criminality. [It is] the institutions, the democracy, being jeopardized by cartels and even by repression [in] the way human rights are being violated."

Of course, the state's violation of civil liberties in the "drug war" was predictable since the narcotics business involves private transactions between voluntary parties. Policing such transactions requires informants, and it necessarily implies the broadening of state powers beyond what most liberal democracies view as legitimate.

But the cartels, made rich and powerful under prohibition and robust demand, also threaten democracy. Mr. Cardoso says "they corrupt institutions with money," but they also usurp the elected government's authority over what they see as their turf.

This is what happened in Colombia, he says, where the government had to "fight cartels and guerrillas together, plus paramilitary and militia groups." Now the same thing is happening in Rio, where armed groups "have corrupt relationships with the police and with politicians" and need to "occupy areas [in order] to produce . . . and to distribute drugs." In these areas the population loses its democratic rights. "As long as [traffickers] are occupying one area, the state is out of that area. They have their own rules, their own law, and very often it is very harsh." When the government rightly tries to reassert its authority in these areas, violence increases.

Mr. Cardoso says that the overwhelming evidence in drug-abuse research shows that a "war" such as the U.S. envisions, "aiming for zero consumption and no production of drugs," is the wrong approach. Yet it is the global status quo "being enforced by all nations because the U.N. today assumes that this is how to deal with drugs."

Mr. Cardoso maintains that it is time for change. He points to the successful experience of some European states where marijuana has been decriminalized so that the recreational use of pot is permitted and addicts are treated.

Portugal is one example, he says. There, spiraling rates of marijuana consumption prior to decriminalization have been reversed. His own interviews—and the broader data—show that a combination of education, treatment and decriminalization, which makes marijuana no longer a forbidden temptation among the young, explains why use is no longer going up.

There are other benefits to decriminalization. By eliminating the need to chase marijuana consumers, Mr. Cardoso says, the state can focus on fighting organized crime. And those gangsters are likely to have fewer customers.

As it stands now "the young people have to enter into contact with drug traffickers to buy marijuana and the traffickers will induce the young people to jump from marijuana to hard drugs because they are more profitable. So you have to break the contact," he argues. There is also the problem that Brazilian prisons are brimming with inmates serving time for trafficking because they were caught with amounts of pot above the legal limit. Decriminalization would reduce rates of incarceration and the large number of lives ruined by prison systems that teach people how to become criminals.

Mr. Cardoso accepts that "the question is a political question." But he doesn't expect politicians in Washington or Brasilia to provide the answer. "To my mind what is important is civil society being involved in this discussion. I don't view the state being even capable of change without strong pressure from civil society."

Bailout of First Resort

Editorial do WSJ

Europe's central bank can't save spendthrift governments

Mario Draghi must wonder what he's signed up for. Only weeks into his new job as president of the European Central Bank, the Italian is being portrayed along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the main—the only—obstacle to saving the euro zone. If only the ECB would print a few trillion euros to buy the debt of spendthrift European countries, all will be well.

Hang in there, Mr. Draghi, and you too, Chancellor. Don't let the French, the British and the Yanks, the euro-pundits and the other blabbering bullies for bailouts get you down. Someone needs to defend the principle of central bank independence and price stability. The ECB has been by far the most effective part of the euro system since its founding. It shouldn't squander that legacy now by taking on the debts of spendthrift governments that are the real cause of this crisis.

It's true that the ECB has already become a little bit pregnant in buying sovereign bonds, first taking on Greek, Irish and Portuguese debt, and this summer Spanish and Italian bonds. A week ago Friday, the ECB held €187 billion worth of country bonds.

Jean-Claude Trichet, Mr. Draghi's predecessor, made this concession amid earlier rounds of political brow-beating. This was supposed to scare the sovereign-bond vigilantes and reduce soaring national bond yields. But how well has that worked? Greece is still a wreck and Italian bond yields reached 7% last week.

The ECB bailout brigade now says this is because the bank simply hasn't bought enough bonds. Like Keynesian spending stimulus, if bond-buying doesn't work the buy must have been too small. It can never have been the wrong idea. So the ECB must do like the Federal Reserve, buy four trillion euros or so, and the sheer financial firepower will crush bond spreads and end the crisis.

This assumes that the Fed's experiment has been successful, though it's more accurate to say the verdict is still out. The U.S. housing market still hasn't recovered, despite nearly $1 trillion in Fed mortgage-backed securities purchases, and the economy remains in low gear despite nearly three years of near-zero interest rates. Rather than slowly extricating itself from its crisis programs, the Fed has felt obliged to sustain or expand many of them, including MBS purchases. Whether the Fed emerges from its frantic crisis-management with its monetary credibility intact is an open question.

At least the Fed has statutory power granted by Congress as a lender of last resort, while the ECB has no such legal authority. The ECB was established with a sole mandate of maintaining price stability, not as a fiscal savior. This was done deliberately to shield the bank from political influence and to maintain the credibility of the euro as a currency that would retain its value over time.

So far, the ECB's bond purchases have been limited enough that the central bank has been able to "sterilize" them, meaning they are offset by withdrawing money elsewhere in the banking system and haven't added to the overall supply of money. But a multitrillion euro program would make sterilization impossible and would become a money-printing exercise.

And what if even that doesn't work? The ECB would have squandered its monetary credibility, and shattered its charter, to buy the worst debt in the euro zone at the expense of the countries with the best fiscal policies and the lowest interest rates. It will have abandoned any semblance of market discipline in favor of a panicky rush to defend the ability of spendthrift governments to borrow. Price stability will move from the ECB's sole mandate to its third or fourth priority.

Europe's real problem now, as at the euro's founding, is that the currency zone lacks a mechanism for enforcing fiscal discipline. The Stability and Growth Pact was an attempt, but it lacked teeth and was violated early. All of the fixes in the current crisis lack credibility with markets because they too lack any discipline that would show creditors that Europe's problems of overspending, cradle-to-grave middle-class entitlements and slow growth are being fixed.

The voices now pleading for greater "fiscal union" are really pleading for the Germans and the ECB to write their governments blank checks. But if they want them to pay this bill, then the French, Italians and the others should be prepared to let the Germans and the central bank approve their budgets, their pension systems and other fiscal policies. We don't recommend such a grant of extra-national democratic authority—it would lead to all kinds of intra-Europe feuding—but at least it would be a form of financial discipline.

If the Germans and ECB do write a blank check, then the balance of power within the euro zone will shift markedly, and perhaps irreversibly, in favor of the spenders. Even if this prevented short-term panic, it would merely postpone the day of reckoning and leave Europe worse off in the medium and long term. Without a system that can enforce spending restraint, borrowing discipline and economic reform, all the ECB bond-buying in the world won't save the euro, and the independence of the ECB itself will become another casualty of the crisis.

O erro de Foucault

LUIZ FELIPE PONDE, Folha de SP

Você sabia que o pensador da nova esquerda Michel Foucault foi um forte simpatizante da revolução fanática iraniana de 1979? Sim, foi sim, apesar de seu séquito na academia gostar de esconder esse "erro de Foucault" a sete chaves.
Fico impressionado quando intelectuais defendem o Irã dizendo que o Estado xiita não é um horror.
O guru Foucault ainda teve a desculpa de que, quando teve seu "orgasmo xiita", após suas visitas ao Irã por duas vezes em 1978, e ao aiatolá Khomeini exilado em Paris também em 1978, ainda não dava tempo para ver no que ia dar aquilo.
Desculpa esfarrapada de qualquer jeito. Como o "gênio" contra os "aparelhos da repressão" não sentiu o cheiro de carne queimada no Irã de então? Acho que ele errou porque no fundo amava o "Eros xiita".
Mas como bem disse meu colega J. P. Coutinho em sua coluna alguns dias atrás nesta Folha, citando por sua vez um colunista de língua inglesa, às vezes é melhor dar o destino de um país na mão do primeiro nome que acharmos na lista telefônica do que nas mãos do corpo docente de algum departamento de ciências humanas. E por quê?
Porque muitos dos nossos colegas acadêmicos são uns irresponsáveis que ficam fazendo a cabeça de seus alunos no sentido de acreditarem cegamente nas bobagens que autores (como Foucault) escrevem em suas alcovas.
No recente caso da USP, como em tantos outros, o fenômeno se repete. O modo como muito desses "estudantes" (muitos deles nem são estudantes de fato, são profissionais de bagunçar o cotidiano da universidade e mais nada) agem, nos faz pensar no tipo de fé "foucaultiana" numa "espiritualidade política contra as tecnologias da repressão".
E onde Foucault encontrou sua inspiração para esse nome chique para fanatismo chamado "espiritualidade política"?
Leiam o excelente volume "Foucault e a Revolução Iraniana", de Janet Afary e Kevin B. Anderson, publicado pela É Realizações, e vocês verão como a revolução xiita do Irã e seu fascínio pelo martírio e pela irracionalidade foram importantes no "último Foucault".
As ciências humanas (das quais faço parte) se caracterizam por sua quase inutilidade prática e, portanto, quase impossibilidade de verificação de resultados.
Esse vazio de critérios de aplicação garante outro tipo de vazio: o vazio de responsabilidade pelo que é passado aos alunos.
Muitos docentes simplesmente "lavam o cérebro" dos alunos usando os "dois caras" que leram no doutorado e que assumem ter descoberto o que é o homem, o mundo, e como reformá-los. Duvide de todo professor que quer reformar o mundo a partir de seu doutorado.
Não é por acaso que alunos e docentes de ciências humanas aderem tão facilmente a manifestações vazias, como a recente da USP, ou a quaisquer outras, como a dos desocupados de Wall Street ou de São Paulo.
Essa crítica ao vazio prático das ciências humanas já foi feita mesmo por sociólogos peso pesado, em momentos distintos, como Edmund Burke, Robert Nisbet e Norbert Elias.
Essa crítica não quer dizer que devemos acabar com as ciências humanas, mas sim que devemos ficar atentos a equívocos causados por essa sua peculiar carência: sua inutilidade prática e, por isso mesmo, como decorrência dessa, um tipo específico de cegueira teórica. Nesse caso, refiro-me ao seu constante equívoco quanto à realidade.
Trocando em miúdos: as ciências humanas e seus "atores sociais" viajam na maionese em meio a seus delírios em sala de aula, tecendo julgamentos (que julgam científicos e racionais) sem nenhuma responsabilidade.
Proponho que da próxima vez que "os indignados sem causa" ocuparem a faculdade de filosofia da USP (ou "FeFeLeCHe", nome horrível!) que sejam trancados lá até que descubram que não são donos do mundo e que a USP (sou um egresso da faculdade de filosofia da USP) não é o quintal de seus delírios.
Agem com a USP não muito diferente da falsa aristocracia política de Brasília: "sequestram" o público a serviço de seus pequenos interesses.
No caso desses "xiitas das ciências humanas", seus pequenos delírios de grande "espiritualidade política".

sexta-feira, novembro 18, 2011

Voters versus creditors


Buttonwood, The Economist

ANGELA MERKEL, the German chancellor, spoke for many Europeans when she said last year that “We must re-establish the primacy of politics over the markets.” The Europeans created the euro to prevent the crises caused by currency speculators, only to find themselves pushed around by bond investors.

Politicians have often cursed the markets. Harold Wilson, a British prime minister, used to fulminate against the “gnomes of Zurich” who speculated against the pound. In the mythology of the British Labour Party, a “bankers’ ramp” pushed the party out of office in 1931. James Carville, a political adviser to Bill Clinton, wanted to be reincarnated as the bond market so he could “intimidate everybody”.

In theory, there is an easy answer. If you don’t want to be bothered about the bond markets, don’t borrow from them. The finance ministers of Norway and Saudi Arabia have no cause to worry about their borrowing costs because they are net creditors.

Not all nations can be creditors, of course. But John Maynard Keynes’s plans for the post-1945 monetary system were aimed at limiting the imbalances that arose in the interwar system, and have popped up again in the past 20 years. Since this involved restricting the rights of surplus nations, his plans were circumscribed by Washington, a nice irony now that America is a debtor nation.

After the Bretton Woods system collapsed in 1971, trade imbalances ceased to be much of a constraint on the developed world. Financial markets seemed happy to provide the money to allow countries to run deficits on both the fiscal and trade accounts. This may have led to a fatal complacency on the part of governments, which assumed that their credit was limitless. But rather like Northern Rock, the British bank that became too dependent on the wholesale markets for funding and collapsed in 2007, countries such as Greece and Italy have discovered that investors can suddenly withdraw their favours.

Is the latest run the action of speculators, as Silvio Berlusconi mused in his farewell statement? On the contrary, the sell-off is probably down to caution. The Greek debt deal required private-sector investors to take a 50% hit, while official investors would be repaid in full. This made private-sector investors worry about potential losses elsewhere. They have shifted their assets into the perceived safety of Germany and Britain. In addition, it seems that banks are selling off bonds in an attempt to shrink their balance-sheets and meet new rules designed to make them safer.

Countries can escape from the tyranny of the markets by turning to official lenders: other countries, the International Monetary Fund or the European Financial Stability Facility. But such creditors are just as keen on extracting their pound of flesh (in terms of economic reform) as the private sector.

Vague plans for a fiscal union seem to depend on a bargain in which Germany agrees to transfer money to debtor countries but the debtors agree to limits on their ability to run a deficit. This implies that someone in Brussels (or Frankfurt) will have a veto over a debtor country’s budget.

In short, having lost their ability to control their monetary policy, voters may have to lose control over their fiscal policies as well. National politics will be reduced to dealing with social issues, such as smoking bans.

Perhaps this is inevitable. Just as voters cannot repeal the laws of gravity, they cannot insist that foreign creditors lend them money. Domestic wealth, alternatively, can be taxed or confiscated, although this is a strategy that is likely to be successful only in the short term or during national emergencies such as the second world war. Capital controls worked under the Bretton Woods system but it is not clear whether they can be enforced in an age where money can be transferred through the click of a mouse.

The prospect of financial ruin was one reason why many people feared the introduction of democracy. “The ignorant majority, when unrestrained by a superior class, always sought to tamper with sound money,” said Thomas Hutchinson, a lieutenant governor of Massachusetts in 1753. Alexander Hamilton described the progressive accumulation of debt as “perhaps the natural disease of all governments.” Over the centuries, countries have tried various rules—the gold standard, balanced-budget requirements, independent central banks—in an attempt to limit government profligacy. But when those rules fail, the markets assert their own grim discipline.

O sábio profeta


Q: Thank you very much. Before we sign off, could I just take the opportunity to ask you what you think the prospects are for the attempts in Europe to create a common currency area? Are you optimistic about their success?

A: I think it's a big gamble and I'm not optimistic. Unfortunately, the Common Market does not have the features that are required for a common currency area. A common currency area is a very good thing under some circumstances, but not necessarily under others. The United States is a common currency area. Australia is also a common currency area. The characteristics that make Australia and the United States favourable for a common currency are that the populations all speak the same language or some approximation to it; there's free movement of people from one part of the country to the other part, so there's considerable mobility; and there's a good deal of flexibility in prices and to some extent in wages. Finally, there's a central government which is large relative to the local state governments so that if some special circumstances affect one part of the country adversely, there will be flows of funds from the centre which will tend to offset that.

If you look at the situation in the Common Market, it has none of those features. You have countries with people all of whom speak different languages. There's very little mobility of people from one part of the Common Market to another. The local governments are very large compared to the central government in Brussels. Prices and wages are subject to all sorts of restrictions and control.

The exchange rates between different currencies provided a mechanism for adjusting to shocks and economic events which affected different countries differently. In establishing the common currency area, the Euro, the separate countries are essentially throwing away this adjustment mechanism. What will substitute for it?

Perhaps they will be lucky. It may be that events, as they turn out in the next 10 or 20 years, will be common to all the countries; there will be no shocks, no economic developments that affect the different parts of the Euro area asymmetrically. In that case, they'll get along fine and perhaps the separate countries will gradually loosen up their arrangements, get rid of some of their restrictions and open up so that they're more adaptable, more flexible.

On the other hand, the more likely possibility is that there will be asymmetric shocks hitting the different countries. That will mean that the only adjustment mechanism they have to meet that with is fiscal and unemployment: pressure on wages, pressure on prices. They have no way out. With a currency board, there is always the ultimate alternative that you can break the currency board. Hong Kong can dismantle its currency board tomorrow if it wants to. It doesn't want to and I don't think it will. But it could. But with the Euro, there is no escape mechanism.

Suppose things go badly and Italy is in trouble, how does Italy get out of the Euro system? It no longer has a lira after whatever it is - 2000 or 2001 - so it's a very big gamble. I wish the Euro area well; it will be in the self-interest of Australia and the United States that the Euro area be successful. But I'm very much concerned that there's a lot of uncertainty in prospect.


* * *

Milton Friedman, em 17/Jul/1998

Resistam, alemães!


Rodrigo Constantino, para o Instituto Liberal

A pressão internacional para que o Banco Central Europeu (BCE) abra suas comportas e imprima desenfreadamente papel-moeda para “salvar” o mundo tem se intensificado sobremaneira com o agravamento da crise. Todos voltam suas esperanças na direção daquele capaz de produzir dinheiro sem custo imediato. Esta sempre foi a saída mais fácil para governantes em tempos de crise. Mas os alemães, que conheceram de perto as agruras da hiperinflação, rejeitam esta “solução” mágica.

O problema é que o BCE não é mais o Bundesbank. Surge automaticamente a pergunta: até quando os alemães vão resistir às pressões do mundo todo? Até agora, o BCE tem adotado medidas heterodoxas, mas com algumas reservas. É verdade que ele aceitou como colaterais para empréstimos muitos ativos podres. Até mariola mordida deve ter em seu balanço! Só que sua resistência a bancar um resgate ilimitado tem colocado o mercado tenso. Isso puxa as taxas de juros dos países mais problemáticos para cima, impondo a necessidade urgente de reformas de austeridade e competitividade.

Em outras palavras, o “jogo duro” do BCE impõe, por meio dos mercados, a obrigação das reformas estruturais que a região tanto precisa. Somente isso fez com que Berlusconi e Papandreou caíssem, e tecnocratas assumissem o governo com a promessa de reformas. O povo vai às ruas reclamar das dolorosas, porém necessárias medidas. As cigarras se acostumaram com a “dolce vita”, e apenas a seriedade do BCE pode forçar os ajustes necessários. Mas a tentação pela fuga inflacionária não será fácil de ser evitada.

As autoridades francesas também querem isso, e só os alemães, bravamente, ainda resistem. Angela Merkel e seu ministro das Finanças afirmaram, uma vez mais, que a saída deve ser pela política, não pelo BCE. Em seu primeiro discurso como novo presidente do BCE, Mario Draghi não deu sinais de que vai ceder facilmente. Mas ainda é cedo para dizer. O BCE já fez importantes concessões, jogando fora sua “pureza” ortodoxa. Dar um passo extra pode ser questão de tempo. Algo como uma menina de família que já aceitou até entrar no motel “apenas para conversar”, prometendo que não vai até os limites. Está trocando carícias, mas jura que sexo não rola. É possível acreditar?

Para quem defende a ortodoxia dos bancos centrais e as reformas estruturais como única saída de longo prazo, resta torcer que sim. Sabemos que todas as promessas sérias se perdem depois que a conquista é efetivada. Se o BCE “abrir as pernas”, acabam-se as reformas de austeridade e a crise posterior será ainda pior. Portanto, só nos resta rezar: resistam, alemães!

PS: A cena da primeira batalha no começo do filme “Gladiador” ilustra bem a expectativa de muitos italianos hoje. Os romanos mandaram seu diplomata avisar que os germânicos deveriam se render, mas estes mandam de volta o diplomata, sem cabeça (Berlusconi degolado?). Um dos generais afirma: “As pessoas deveriam saber quando já foram conquistadas”. E depois, em uma batalha épica, os germânicos são massacrados. O que está em jogo hoje, na Europa, é justamente qual modelo vai predominar: o romano ou o germânico. Pelo bem das próximas gerações, espera-se que desta vez os romanos sejam derrotados. Mas é duro contar com isso, ainda mais quando se tem um Papa alemão e um presidente de banco central italiano...

quinta-feira, novembro 17, 2011

The Culture War Over Europe's Money


The Germans are richer and more stubborn.The French are flashier and faster on their feet.

By WALTER RUSSELL MEAD, WSJ

The European crisis repeats the same pattern endlessly. Bad news sinks markets, ultimately accelerating into a panicky wave of liquidation. European leaders convene, deliberate and emerge with what they say is a "fix." Markets leap in joy, until investors gradually read the small print and discover that the fix is a fudge and the core problems remain. Then the bad news starts up again and the markets sink. Repeat. Endlessly.

That seems to be Europe's core strategy for coping with the greatest challenge since World War II. This week we see the cycle at work again. The latest miracle fix—a handover to technocratic governments in Italy and Greece—is looking shopworn and shoddy already. Meanwhile, there's bad news from Spain and Portugal, where despite the most-solemn promises to undertake the most-sweeping reforms, and the blessings of Brussels, the economies are somehow failing to grow. Add disappointing news on Italian bond yields, and Europe has resumed its grim slide.

Enlarge Image

CloseChad Crowe
.The underlying problem remains: Germany and France are locked into their most bitter struggle since the panzers exploded out of the Ardennes Forest in 1940. Money is one big component of the fight. The French bottom line is that Germany must help raise the carcass of the French banking system from the dead. Clueless European regulators (who accomplished the not insignificant feat of making America's dysfunctional regulatory system look Solomonic) pushed many banks to invest in soon-to-be-worthless sovereign debt from soft euro countries like Spain, Italy and Greece. So French banks in particular are loaded to the gunwales with bonds that won't float.

Worse, the French corporate elite decided in its sleek official way that this was the right time to go long on Italy, buying banks, companies, stocks and bonds in the most disastrous French intervention on the peninsula since King Francis I lost the battle of Pavia in 1545.

Obviously, argue the French, Germany must pay for this. With immaculate Gallic logic they can demonstrate that if France is stuck with the costs of its folly, it will lose its AAA credit rating. That in turn will make the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF) a dead instrument, exposing Europe and Germany to the full unmitigated force of the financial storm.

The French position seems to be to wait patiently for their slow-witted Teutonic neighbors to puzzle their way to an understanding of the clarity of French reason. At that point, the Germans are supposed to capitulate, authorize the European Central Bank (ECB) either directly or indirectly to print masses of money, and the proceeds will go to save the French banking system and national elite—without anything so humiliating as a bailout ever being mentioned.

If that were all, perhaps the matter could be adjusted. But this is about power: It is about who rules Europe, or rather whose rules will rule Europe in the decades ahead.

France is basically a Club Med country with some northern features (historically often found among the Huguenots and Jews, out of which communities many of its most successful business leaders have come). It wants a "political" economic system for Europe, one in which political pressures can ensure the kind of steady devaluation of the euro that Italy, Spain, France, Greece and Portugal used to enjoy with their national currencies in the good old pre-euro days. The only problem with this old system was that it gave too many advantages to the Germans, Dutch and others (in the form of lower interest rates). France wants to stick the Germans with a Latin currency and Latin rules for running it.

Germany, on the other hand, wants the Latin countries to live by northern rules: Keep the currency sound, the budgets balanced and let the chips fall where they may. There is zero, repeat, zero consensus in Germany to go Latin and give the euro into the hands of slick French and Italian politicians. Technocrats bound by rules, the Germans can accept: That is why an Italian technocrat is following a Frenchman at the head of the ECB. But that is also why the Germans are being such sticklers about ECB rules against bailouts and unlimited ECB purchases of sovereign bonds.

If there is a way to bridge the gulf between these two positions, nobody so far has found it. Neither side is willing to surrender, and no compromise can be found. This is why European summits end in one disappointing fudge after another. Neither side wants a meltdown, so both work together to produce some facsimile of an agreement that looks plausible but only papers over the irreconcilable differences between them.

Whose Europe will it be? In the past, nations have gone to war over exactly this kind of balance-of-power dispute. This time the issue happens to be currency. The EU is an attempt to develop a post-historical structure that can accommodate these controversies without bloodshed, but the hidden assumption has always been that there are no truly irreconcilable gaps between the interests of France and Germany.

There weren't, until the euro included both countries in a single currency zone that ultimately would have to be run by one set of rules. The question now is whether France will give the laws to Germany, as it did in the Napoleonic period and 1918, or whether Germany will dictate to France as it did in 1870 and 1940. The Germans are richer and more stubborn; the French are flashier and faster on their feet.

We shall see.

Mr. Mead is a professor of foreign affairs and humanities at Bard College and editor-at-large of the American Interest.

terça-feira, novembro 15, 2011

Save the date!

República das Bananas

Rodrigo Constantino, O GLOBO

Neste feriado, que celebra mais um aniversário de nossa República, vem ao caso refletirmos sobre os rumos de nosso país. Até que ponto vivemos sob um regime que podemos chamar, efetivamente, de republicano?
Todos dizem defender a “res pública”, até mesmo os regimes socialistas totalitários. Mas a essência do modelo republicano está na questão da representatividade. Sem um modelo eficiente de representação política, com claros limites constitucionais ao poder do Estado, não é adequado chamar de República o regime.
Sob esta ótica, o Brasil não está nada bem na foto. Feudalismo, patrimonialismo ou mercantilismo: esses são os termos mais adequados para descrever nosso modelo. Há extrema concentração de poder no governo central, dominado por uma patota que transformou a coisa pública em “cosa nostra”. O Estado foi privatizado. A pilhagem é sistemática.
Um “Ogro filantrópico” (Octavio Paz). Um “Dinossauro” (Meira Penna). Estas são as imagens mais fiéis ao Estado brasileiro, uma máquina que distribui privilégios aos “amigos do rei”, enquanto espalha os custos, especialmente sobre a classe média, esmagada pelos impostos e sem representação política adequada. Ou o leitor se sente representado em Brasília?
Nossa República nasceu sem participação popular. Entre os principais motivos de descontentamento com a monarquia, estavam os altos índices de analfabetismo e de miséria. Pergunto: como estamos após 122 anos? Malgrado algumas conquistas, parece evidente que o modelo tem fracassado, e muito. Temos elevado índice de analfabetismo funcional, péssima qualidade de ensino público, e muita miséria ainda.
Inúmeros parasitas são sustentados pelas benesses estatais, restando aos hospedeiros uma fatura que já chega a um trilhão de reais! Se as instituições republicanas já eram frágeis, foram enfraquecidas ainda mais durante a gestão petista. O ex-presidente Lula muito contribuiu para esgarçar de vez os valores republicanos, ao escancarar, com escárnio, suas alianças espúrias em nome da “governabilidade”.
O “mensalão”, com sua completa impunidade até agora, foi a pá de cal nas esperanças daqueles que sonham com um modelo mais justo e ético. Levaremos anos, quiçá décadas, até recuperarmos os estragos causados pelos abusos de poder do lulopetismo. O Estado foi transmutado em um gigantesco instrumento de compra de votos, possível graças ao crescimento chinês, que inundou o Brasil com divisas para a compra de recursos naturais. A expansão de crédito fez o restante.
O governo criou bolsas para diversas classes, desde as esmolas para os mais pobres, até a “Bolsa Empresário” do BNDES. Os sindicatos foram comprados, assim como a UNE, que aderiu a um constrangedor silêncio frente aos infindáveis escândalos de corrupção. As ONGs, agora em evidência, ignoraram a letra N e se tornaram braços governamentais envoltos em esquemas de desvio de recursos públicos. As exceções comprovam a regra.
Alguns podem alegar que a elevada popularidade justifica isso tudo. Os que assim fazem apenas demonstram não compreender o conceito de República. Até Mussolini foi popular na Itália fascista! Como Cícero explica nos diálogos sobre a República Romana, "não creio que corresponda mais o nome de República ao despotismo da multidão”. Tirania popular ainda é tirania.
O Brasil não chega a tanto, é verdade. Não estamos no mesmo estágio da Venezuela de Chávez, a despeito do desejo de muitos petistas. Mas ainda vivemos no Antigo Regime, das castas e capitanias hereditárias, tributário do autoritarismo da Era Vargas e do positivismo. Estamos muito distantes da Grande Sociedade Aberta e do império da lei isonômica.
O alerta feito por Ayn Rand mostra a precária situação brasileira: "Quando você perceber que, para produzir, precisa obter a autorização de quem não produz nada; quando comprovar que o dinheiro flui para quem negocia não com bens, mas com favores; quando perceber que muitos ficam ricos pelo suborno e por influência, mais que pelo trabalho, e que as leis não nos protegem deles, mas, pelo contrário, são eles que estão protegidos de você; quando perceber que a corrupção é recompensada, e a honestidade se converte em auto-sacrifício; então poderá afirmar, sem temor de errar, que sua sociedade está condenada”.
Vamos deixar isso acontecer passivamente? Republicanos legítimos, uni-vos! Está na hora de romper com os grilhões do patrimonialismo e instaurar uma República de fato em nosso país.

sábado, novembro 12, 2011

Whose Economy Has It Worst?

By IAN BREMMER and NOURIEL ROUBINI, WSJ

With Europe, China and the U.S. in crisis, the real question is which of them will stumble first

It's no wonder that global markets are so jittery. The world's three largest economies can't continue along their current paths, and everybody knows it. Investors watch nervously for signs that China is headed toward a hard landing, that America will sink back into recession, and that the euro zone will simply implode.

In all three cases, kicking the can down the road has staved off disaster so far, but the cans are getting bigger and heavier. Which economy will be the first to stumble on its problems?

In Europe, the tough decisions have been put off because the principal players don't agree on how or why the trouble began. Germany and the other better-off countries blame the profligacy of Greece, Portugal and Italy and fear that an early bailout would relieve pressure on them to mend their ways. For their part, the debtor nations believe that the entire euro zone is out of balance and that more prosperous countries like Germany should export less and consume more to set things right.

Other Europeans say that a shared currency cannot survive indefinitely when monetary policy is centrally managed but each government decides how much to tax and spend. Still others warn that access to market capital requires a form of collective insurance, preferably in the form of a euro bond. Not surprisingly, Germany resists this solution because it implies a gradual transfer of wealth from the core economies to the periphery, a "transfer union" from rich to poorer states.

Yet another European view holds that the austerity plans now envisioned by Germany and the European Central Bank are worse than the disease. The Continent needs growth, not just reform and belt-tightening, they argue, and only a surge of stimulus across the entire euro area can achieve it.

The 17 countries and four European institutions now entangled in the euro zone crisis will continue trying to muddle through, but their dawdling can't be sustained. Markets are already losing confidence in piecemeal reform. Doubts about Italy, an economy too big to bail, will only add to the volatility.

Europe will be the first to drop out of the game of kick the can: Expect a disorderly debt default in Greece, more trouble for European banks and a sharp recession across the continent.

In China, the need for economic reform also has become obvious. It has been four years since Premier Wen Jiabao first warned that the country's economic model is "unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated and ultimately unsustainable" and three years since the financial crisis made clear that China's growth remains dangerously dependent on exports to Europe, America and Japan.

To ensure long-term economic expansion (and political stability), Beijing must figure out a way to encourage Chinese consumers to buy more of the products that local manufacturers make. This will demand a massive transfer of wealth from the state and China's state-owned companies to Chinese households.

But Beijing is moving in the opposite direction. The leadership responded to Western market turmoil not by boosting consumption but by increasing state and private spending on fixed investment, which now accounts for nearly half of China's growth. The result has been an explosion in residential and commercial real estate, more state spending on infrastructure and more cheap loans from state-owned banks to state-owned enterprises.

Indeed, a key obstacle to reform is that China remains so heavily invested in its state-managed model of capitalism. Of the 42 Chinese companies listed in the 2010 edition of the Fortune 500, 39 were state-owned enterprises, and three quarters of China's 100 largest publicly traded companies are government controlled. Party officials with a stake in the success of state-owned enterprises have amassed considerable power within the leadership, and they ferociously resist efforts to transfer away their wealth to private enterprises and ordinary citizens.

China has the cash and foreign reserves to postpone a crisis. But growth is slowing, financial stresses are rising, and there is good reason to fear that China's days of can-kicking are numbered as well.

Which leaves the U.S. No one can restore confidence in America's long-term fiscal health without a credible plan to cut spending on entitlements and defense while raising revenues, which are now at a 60-year low as a share of GDP. But don't expect any immediate solutions from Washington. The campaign season will only exacerbate petty partisanship and political gridlock, which means that the structural problems of the U.S. economy are likely to persist.

But the longer-term future appears much brighter for the U.S. than for either Europe or China. America is still the leader in the kind of cutting-edge technology that expands a nation's long-term economic potential, from renewable energy and medical devices to nanotechnology and cloud computing. Over time, these advantages will yield more robust economic growth.

The U.S. also has a demographic advantage. In Europe, declining birthrates and rising sentiment against immigration point toward a population that will shrink by as much as 100 million people by 2050. In China, thanks in part to its one-child policy, the working population has already begun to contract. By 2030, nearly 250 million Chinese will have passed the age of 65, and providing them with pensions and health care will be very costly.

Despite debate over illegal immigration, the U.S. population will likely rise from 310 million to about 420 million by midcentury. Between 2000 and 2050, according to Mark Schill of Praxis Strategy Group, the U.S. workforce is expected to grow by 37%. China's will shrink by 10%. Europe's will contract by 21%.

Finally, despite the rising exasperation of the American public, the U.S. is significantly more likely than Europe or China to quit kicking the can down the road. Nothing much will change during the election year, but 2013 offers a chance for real fiscal reform.

Next November, Republicans are likely to win both houses of Congress. If a Republican is elected president, the GOP will face enormous public pressure to deliver on its reform promises. Even if President Obama is re-elected, the outlook for a grand bargain is bright. He would be free of the most immediate demands of electoral politics, and like other second-term presidents, he could begin to consider his legacy.

Make no mistake: The challenges that the U.S. faces are formidable, and persistent political gridlock could delay badly needed fiscal and structural reforms. But everything is relative, and the best can to be kicking down the road just now is undoubtedly the one made in America.

—Mr. Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group and the author of "The End of the Free Market." Mr. Roubini is the chairman of Roubini Global Economics and a professor at New York University's Stern School of Business.

Why China Is Unhappy

Editorial do WSJ

Rising discontent is challenging Communist Party rule.

If economic growth is supposed to enhance people's welfare and therefore satisfaction, China in 2011 is a conundrum. The economy is on track to grow more than 9%, yet this has been a year of rising discontent.

On the Chinese equivalents of Twitter, criticism of the government is exploding, despite fierce censorship. A recent poll by Tsinghua University and the magazine Xiaokang found that 40% of Chinese are unhappy with their lives, while another survey by the magazine Outlook and Peoples University found 70% of farmers dissatisfied, mainly because of land seizures. Some 60% of the rich are emigrating or considering doing so, according to a survey by the Hurun Report and the Bank of China. Even the People's Daily warned last week that there is a "crisis of confidence" in government.

***
The crisis is real, but the Communist Party mouthpiece didn't quite get it right. Chinese lost faith in local-level officials a long time ago, but until recently they continued to believe in their national leaders. They also largely accepted the post-1989 social contract in which the Party provided rising living standards in return for not questioning its monopoly on power.

This is changing as a result of two trends. The first is a growing awareness among the bottom strata of society that it is policy made at higher levels, not merely the incompetence or corruption of local officials, that is responsible for their woes. The second is the interest of the wealthy and the intellectuals in reform after two decades of being bought off by the Communist Party.

The first trend is typified by the willingness of about 100 people across the country to risk their freedom and put themselves forward as independent candidates in elections for local People's Congresses. Some are professionals, but most seem to be ordinary workers. These government bodies have traditionally rubber-stamped Party decisions, but their members theoretically have the power to supervise officials.

Most Chinese won't to be so bold unless they are mobilized from above, which is why new activism among the educated minority is so significant. Beijing intellectuals are making pilgrimages to the remote Shandong town of Linyi where blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng is under house arrest. Since the tax authorities last week presented the dissident artist Ai Weiwei with a $2.4 million bill for fines and back taxes, a movement has sprung up to donate money, both electronically and in paper airplanes delivered to his house, to keep him out of prison. Anger over the government's concealment of air pollution levels, even as the leaders in Beijing install air purifiers to protect their own health, has spawned another ad hoc campaign.

What seems to be turning the tide toward political activism is a realization that unless one is a member of the Party elite, upward mobility is limited and hard-won advancement can be taken away without due process. Since universities expanded enrollments in the early 2000s, many families have borrowed heavily to pay tuition for their children. But graduates without political connections have trouble getting on the career ladder, ending up joining the "ant tribe," slang for educated young people living in slums. Meanwhile, the children of elites can street-race their Ferraris without fear of arrest.

Faith in the competence of the central government is also declining because of a lack of accountability. After the July crash of two trains in Wenzhou, the media exposed problems in the trophy high-speed rail program. Yet the Railways Ministry continues to receive massive amounts of new capital to finance rail lines that probably can't recoup the investment. New parents are obsessed with obtaining imported baby formula because they don't trust domestic brands.

State-owned industries increasingly prosper at the expense of private companies and households. In order to tackle high inflation the central bank tightened credit, but state companies continue to get bank loans while entrepreneurs are going bankrupt. Property developers are forced to sell inventory to stay afloat, so the price of real estate, one of the main stores of savings for the rich, is falling nationally, destroying wealth.

That has important knock-on effects. Local governments, which borrowed heavily to build public works and depend on land sales for much of their budgets, now are scrambling to raise tax revenue, which is growing at almost three times the rate of GDP. These taxes further increase discontent, as shown by the riots two weeks ago in the city of Huzhou in Zhejiang province, where capitalists and proletarians went to the barricades arm-in-arm to protest Communist Party exploitation.

So it's hardly surprising that for the first time in years, capital is starting to flow out of China. This reflects the judgment of many Chinese that opportunities to invest are scarce and the economy faces tougher times. Some also worry about political upheaval and so are keeping part of their nest eggs abroad.

***
The government response to all this unhappiness has been to increase the resources and power of the domestic security apparatus. This year the budget for security surpassed that of the military for the first time, and disappearances of dissidents have become commonplace. Instead of cowing the population, this is only creating more instances of official abuse that are publicized on the Internet, leading to greater anger and defiance.

Alarm bells should be ringing. The virtuous cycle of social stability and material progress that has persisted for two decades is going into reverse. This need not lead to disaster, as long as the Communist Party recognizes its mistakes and responds to the public desire for the rule of law and curbs on the power of the state. Otherwise there is more unhappiness ahead.

sexta-feira, novembro 11, 2011

Os vagabundos da USP


Rodrigo Constantino, para o Instituto Liberal

Muito já foi dito sobre os vagabundos da USP. Uma rebelião de mimados, uma juventude fascista, rebeldes sem causa ou oportunistas com uma agenda política. Não tenho muito que acrescentar, mas ainda assim gostaria de deixar registrada a minha opinião sobre o assunto.

O estopim da crise foi a “repressão” policial no campus da faculdade, impedindo o consumo deliberado de maconha. Uma coisa é defender a legalização das drogas, bandeira de muitos liberais, eu incluso (com ressalvas). Outra, bem diferente, é pensar que os alunos têm direito de ignorar a lei e praticar o crime abertamente, em praça pública. Não! A legalização da maconha, se ocorrer, deverá ser pelas vias legais, pelo debate de idéias, e jamais na marra, afrontando-se as leis.

O que aqueles jovens chamam de “opressão” policial é o império das leis, fundamental em qualquer país civilizado. A ausência da PM no campus da USP levou ao aumento da criminalidade, incluindo estupros e até um caso de assassinato. As favelas cariocas, sob o governo de Brizola, transformaram-se em fortalezas do crime justamente porque a polícia foi afastada dos locais. Somente agora estamos recuperando parte do terreno perdido, e a prisão do traficante Nem ontem foi mais um passo importante nesta direção. Para os rebeldes da USP, teria sido um ato de “repressão” policial...

Devemos abandonar os eufemismos. Aqueles jovens não são “meninos rebeldes”, mas marginais. Protesto é o nome politicamente correto para baderna, vandalismo e criminalidade no campus. A estes jovens, que talvez não tenham aprendido os limites da autoridade em suas próprias casas, devemos aplicar a lei. E para alunos que entram em “greve”, a solução é muito simples: reprovação por falta.

Tudo isso tem cheiro de naftalina. Remete-nos a Maio de 68, quando os “revolucionários” sacudiram o mundo – e muitos carros – sem saber o que exatamente desejavam. Segundo os psicanalistas, um Pai, ou seja, alguma autoridade para lhes nomear o desejo e fornecer um sentido para suas vidas niilistas.

O editorial do Globo foi no ponto: “A impressão que se tem é de que continua no ar – com 50 anos de atraso – um clima ‘anos 60’ em que era bonita a ‘revolta pela revolta’”. Hoje, felizmente, à exceção de alguns colunistas jurássicos, a maioria acordou para o ridículo desses “protestos”. Aos jovens “rebeldes”, imbuídos do espírito “revolucionário”, fica o conselho rodrigueano: cresçam!

quarta-feira, novembro 09, 2011

Europe's Entitlement Reckoning


Editorial do WSJ

From Greece to Italy to France, the welfare state is in crisis.

In the European economic crisis, all roads lead through Rome. The markets have raised the price of financing Italy's mammoth debt to new highs, and on Tuesday Silvio Berlusconi became the second euro-zone prime minister, after Greece's George Papandreou, to resign this week. His departure may keep the world's eighth largest economy solvent for the time being, but it hardly addresses the root of the problem.

In Italy, as in Greece, Spain and Portugal and eventually France, the welfare-entitlement state has hit a wall. Successive governments on the Continent, right and left, have financed generous entitlements with high taxes and towering piles of debt. Their economies have failed to grow fast enough to keep up, and last year the money started to run out. The reckoning has arrived.

If the first step in curing an addiction is to acknowledge it, there is little sign of that in Europe. The solutions on offer are to spend still more money, to have the Germans bail out everybody else, or to ditch the euro so bankrupt countries can again devalue their own currencies. France's latest debt solution includes raising corporate, capitals gains and sales taxes.

Yet Europe's problem isn't the euro. If it were, Hungary, Iceland and Latvia—none of which use the euro—would have been spared their painful days of reckoning. The same applies for Britain. Europe is in a debt spiral brought about by spendthrift, overweening and inefficient governments.

This is a crisis of the welfare state, and Italy is a model basket case. Mario Monti, who is tipped to lead a new government of technocrats, once described the Italian economy as a case of "self-inflicted strangulation." Government debt is 120% of GDP, making Italy the world's third largest borrower after the U.S. and Japan. Its economy last grew at more than 2% a year in 2000.

An aging and shrinking population is a symptom, but not a leading cause, of the eurosclerosis. A fifth of Italy's 60 million people are 65 or older and make increasingly expensive claims on state-paid pensions and other benefits. In fast-growing Turkey, only 6.3% fit that demographic. Italian women have on average 1.2 children, putting the country's birth rate at 207th out of 221 countries.

But the bulk of the responsibility lies with politicians. Mr. Berlusconi, Italy's richest man, promised a shake up each time he ran for office (in 1994, 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2008). He was the longest serving premier in post-war Italy, from 2001 to 2006, controlled parliament and could have pushed through reforms. He didn't. Promises to lower taxes and hack away at regulations and protections for Italy's powerful guilds—from taxi drivers to pharmacists to journalists—were broken.

"It is not difficult to rule Italy," Benito Mussolini once said, "it is useless." The so-called concertazione, or concert, of Italian coalition politics that brings together numerous parties in the Parliament makes for unstable and indecisive governments. So does the fear prominent in many European countries that any serious reform will provoke street protests. An unhappy byproduct of a welfare state is that it creates powerful interests that will fight to the last to preserve their free lunch, no matter the cost to the country.

But now hard choices can no longer be postponed. And the solution to Europe's debt crisis must begin with reforming, if not dismantling, the welfare state. Europe rose from the economic grave in the 1960s, it rode the Reagan-Thatcher reform wave to more modest growth in the 1980s-'90s, and it can grow again. A decade ago, Germany was called the "sick man of Europe," bedeviled by Italian-like economic problems. But a center-left coalition, supported by trade unions and German society, overhauled labor and welfare codes and set the stage for the current (if still modest) export-led revival in Germany.

The road from Rome may now lead to Paris, Madrid and other debt-ridden European countries. But this is no cause for U.S. chortling, because that same road also leads to Sacramento, Albany and Washington. America's federal debt was 35.7% of GDP in 2007, but it was 61.3% last year and is rising on an Italian trajectory. The lesson of Italy, and most of the rest of Europe, is never to become a high-tax, slow-growth entitlement state, because the inevitable reckoning is nasty, brutish and not short.