Room for Debate features about the protests, and I read my way through the whole thing. What a torrent of vague rhetoric. People say things like this:
Certainly the protests indicate an important change -- from an attitude of passivity and alienation to a demand for participation. There is a diversity of groups and claims in the streets, but with one common goal: a demand to be heard and to participate in decision-making processes.Great. What does that mean? How about this:
After many years of passivity, Brazilians are occupying the streets in a quest for justice and meaning. Traditional actors, like unions and students organizations, coopted by 10 years of a left-wing government, remain unseen. The street warriors are others. As we say in Brazil: all “tribes” are there. “The people have awakened” is their song.Ok we're all awake. Now what?
Of course, the “movement” as such does not exist, or does not yet exist. It is in the making, and it comprises distinct agendas and projects. This week, after the government retreated on the bus fare increase, the immediate response on social networks was that the protests must go on. Now that the 20-cent battle has been won, larger political disputes will find room to unfold. In which direction and to what end, we have yet to find out.And if that was too specific for you, try this:
What all have in common: they heard the call to fight for a better and fairer society and express a dissatisfaction with government. From political parties to parliament, from mayors to state governors and the president – all are held responsible for the awful public services provided to Brazilians, the growing corruption, the inequalities and privileges.I understand that Brazilians have grievances. Government corruption is rife, especially at the local level; The police are thuggish; many schools in poor areas are awful; same for public health care. Instead of focusing on these bread and butter issues, the government is trying to raise Brazil's international profile by hosting the World Cup in 2014 and then the Olympics, at a cost that approaches $30 billion. But in the bigger picture, Brazil has improved as quickly over the past 30 years as any country has ever improved. Demanding that the government make things even better, faster, feels to me like an act of hubris. Sure, we would all like a better, fairer society, but that's a hard thing to legislate. One of the biggest complaints is over the traffic in the big cities, and there just isn't much the government can do about that at all.
The only Room for Debate contributor who even mentioned the underlying economics of this is Jerry Dávila, who said,
The demonstrations in Brazil echo the student strikes in Chile. In the decades since these countries emerged from military rule, center-left coalitions have come into national office on pledges to both fight poverty and continue the free market reforms of their predecessors. Protesters in Brazil and Chile alike pose a question: Can these commitments really be balanced?Right. The free market reforms in both countries created surges of growth that allowed subsequent center-left governments to enact welfare state reforms, which have made both societies more equitable without slowing growth. Now the free lunch created by that very rapid growth is ending, and Brazil faces the sort of balancing act familiar in Europe and the U.S. Further welfare state action to improve the lot of the poor can only be financed by raising taxes on the rich, who of course don't like that idea, and more regulation to protect workers or the environment poses a threat to the industrial growth that made all this possible in the first place.
But all that economic calculus is tedious compared to making cool signs and marching to protest injustice.