Unger’s Odd Couplings: Brazilian Biz on the Minister of the Future


The intellectual heir of Deweyan constructivism with President Squid at a campaign rally in Campina Grande, October 2006. Less than a year before, Mangabeira was screaming for the impeachment of Lula, head of “the most corrupt government in Brazilian history,” as he said at the time. He has blasted other government officials over alleged conflicts of interest but asked the Presidential ethics commission if he could continue to advise private clients while serving in the government, according to the Estadão.

Cargo de Mangabeira, para “pensar” 2022, é mais bugiganga entre os 36 ou 37 ministérios (Cidade Biz): “Mangabeira’s mandate to “think” 2002 is more gizmoism among the 36 or 37 cabinet departments.”

This is the most interesting — and coherent — analysis of the “tropical freak show” around the Once and Future Minister of the Future, Harvard professor Roberto Mangabeira Unger, that I have seen.

Bugiganga is a nice word. The cartoon character Inspector Gadget, for example, is known as Inspetor Bugiganga in Brazil.

Vencida a oposição do PT e de figurões dos fundos de pensão, que nunca absorveram os serviços prestados ao banqueiro Daniel Dantas no affaire envolvendo o controle da Brasil Telecom, o professor da Escola de Direito de Harvard, Roberto Mangabeira Unger, está com a área livre para tomar posse como 36º ministro, ou seria o 37°? – são tantos que dá para confundir – de um governo, esquisitamente, enxuto. Não mais que seis deles tocam a administração para valer.

Having overcome opposition from the PT and the big wheels at the pension funds, who never could quite stomach the services he rendered to banker [and criminal defendant, for illegal wiretapping and industrial espionage] Daniel Dantas, Roberto Mangabeira Unger has been cleared to land as the 36th cabinet minister — or is it the 37th? There are so many you get confused — of a government that is, weirdly, already stuffed with ministers. No more than six of them can run things worth a damn.

O resto faz figuração, e é nesse bloco que Mangabeira chega para ocupar uma tal de Secretaria de Ações de Longo Prazo, apelidada de Sealopra, e que parece já mudou de nome, sem sequer ter existido, para Secretaria Especial de Planejamento Estratégico. Isso quando já há, de direito, o Ministério do Planejamento para planejar.

The rest are just movie extras, and it is this contingent that Mangabeira joins as he becomes the Secretary of Long-Term Activities, Sealopra — which, it seems, has already been redubbed, before it even comes into existence, as the Special Secretary for Strategic Planning. This,when the government already has a Ministry of Planning to do the planning.

Brazil’s state bureaucracy is known the world over as the post-Soviet champion for bloatedness and corruption — losing out only to the Ivory Coast, in one study I saw. See also Look, Here’s The Scoop on the Brazilian Bureaucracy Wars.

Oficialmente, ela surge para conceber ações de longo prazo para o país, com foco no distante Bicentenário da Independência, em 2022, como se já estivesse tudo resolvido no país até, que seja, 2010.

Officially, it will come into being to conceive of long-term activities for Brazil, with a focus on the distant bicentential of [the independent slavocratic republic] in 2022 — as if everything to be done in Brazil by, say, 2010, were already worked out.

Na vida real, é o resgate de uma fatura do presidente Lula com os líderes do Partido da República, o PR, associação dos mensaleiros do PL, do deputado Valdemar Costa Santos, com a Igreja Universal, do bispo Edir Macedo e seu sobrinho, senador Marcelo Crivella.

In real ife, it is a ransom payment in a deal Lula has with the leaders of the Party of the Republic, the PR, with its ties to the PL [“slush funders”], with Costa Santos, with the Universal Church, with Bishop Edir Macedo [owns TV Record] and his cousin, Sen. Marcelo Crivella.

Na teoria, atribuiu-se a nomeação como uma homenagem de Lula ao vice-presidente José Alencar, também filiado ao PR, o que confere mais nobreza à escolha de um intelectual de currículo impecável e idéias confusas, além de uma fixação: aninhar-se ao poder.

In theory, this is Lula nominating someone out of respect for his Vice President, Alencar, also affiliated with the PR, which lends a little more nobility to the choice of an intellectual with an impeccable CV and confused ideas, along with a certain fixation: To get cozy with power.

On Unger’s impeccable CV, see “Mangabeira Rewrites History!”

Com tal meta e propostas tão estranhas quanto seu português, que lembra o de embaixador americano depois de seis meses de Brasil, Mangabeira já foi brizolista ferrenho. Esteve ao lado do deputado Ciro Gomes na campanha presidencial de 2002.

With that end in view, and with ideas as weird as his Portuguese, which reminds one of the American ambassador’s after six months in Brazil, Mangabeira was once a staunch Brizolist (PDT) and was at the side of the PDT candidate Ciro Gomes in the 2002 campaign.

Em 2005, acusou o governo Lula de “o mais corrupto da história”, numa coluna periódica no jornal Folha de S. Paulo. E aí? Aí, nada. Mangabeira pôs a culpa na imprensa, sempre ela. Alegou que morava nos EUA e se informava sobre Brasil pelos jornais.

In 2005, he accused the Lula government of being “the most corrupt in history” in a column in the Folha de S. Paulo. And then what? And then nothing. Mangabeira blamed the press, always the press. He alleged that he lived in the USA and kept up on Brazilian affairs only through reading the newspapers.

Em 2005, sonhou candidatar-se à Presidência pelo Partido Humanista, e foi à TV com sotaque de gringo tentar explicar-se num dos horários eleitorais – com apoio de Caetano Veloso, seja lá o que isto podia significar. Em 2006, adotado pela Universal e o PR, subiu ao palanque de Lula.

In 2005, he dreamed of running for president on the Humanist Party ticket and went on TV with his gringo accent to try to explain himself during a segment of free campaign TV time — supported by pop star Caetano Veloso, whatever the hell that was supposed to mean. In 2006, adopted by the Universal Church and the PR, he got on board with the Lula campaign.

Terapia de grupo

Group therapy

Mangabeira é daqueles intelectuais que gostam de discorrer sobre um “projeto de nação”, servindo-se de imagens e símbolos que são fortes na apresentação e vazios no conteúdo.

Mangabeira is one of those intellectuals who like to speechify about a “national project,” using images and symbols that are powerful in the presentation but devoid of content.

That has been my observation, too.

Não deverá fazer mal ao governo, se respeitar a hierarquia e entender que a formulação econômica sai do próprio Lula, depois de uma espécie de terapia de grupo entre as equipes da Fazenda e do Banco Central, com algum molho da ministra da Casa Civil, Dilma Rousseff, e, aos poucos, do presidente do BNDES, Luciano Coutinho.

He shouldn’t do the government any harm if he respects hierarchy and realizes that Lula is in charge of economic policy, after undergoing a process of group therapy of sorts with the teams from the Treasury and Central Bank, with some help from Casa Civil minister Dilma Rousseff and, little by little, from the president of the national social and economic development bank, Luciano Coutinho.

São todos de confiança de Lula e seus antigos interlocutores. Os mais jovens, como Dilma e o presidente do BC, Henrique Meirelles, aprenderam o fio da meada.

These are all trusted partners and longtime interlocutors of President Squid. The younger ones, such as Dilma and central bank president Meirelles, have already learned how the deal is supposed to go down.

Intruso na corte

A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court

Nesse ambiente, Mangabeira será um intruso, se quiser antecipar o calendário que recebeu de Lula e trazer 2022 para agora. Nele, é o próprio PT que se ressente de já não mais fazer parte da “corte”, embora seja petista a maioria dos conselheiros de Lula.

In this environment, Unger will be an outsider, if he tries to jump the gun on Lula’s timetable and move 2022 up to the present day. In the current scenario, Lula’s own Workers’ Party (PT) is the most resentful about no longer playing a role at “court,” even though most of Lula’s aides are PTers.

É ninguém menos que o presidente que terá de impor seus limites, isso se não se encantar com os devaneios futuristas de “Brasil potência” que o professor de Harvard costuma desenvolver.

The president himself is going to have to impose limits on Unger, unless he gets bedazzled with the futuristic nonsense about “Brazil the superpower” that is the Harvard professor’s stock in trade.

É um risco, assim como o destino do tradicional Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada, IPEA, vinculado ao Ministério do Planejamento, que passará para a órbita da secretaria de Mangabeira. Deveria continuar onde está.

It’s a risk, as is the fate of the traditional Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA), part of the Ministry of Planning, which will now pass into Mangabeira’s sphere of influence. It ought to stay just where it is.

Futuro improvisado

Improvising the future

O país precisa de projetos ambiciosos, não de obras metafísicas nem quimeras, como as de Mangabeira, que se equivalem ao ignorar procedimentos da economia de mercado e o interesse empresarial. Ainda agora, para ajudar setores industriais prejudicados pelo real valorizado, o governo anunciou linhas de crédito do BNDES e prometeu condições melhores para os créditos do PIS/Cofins.

Brazil needs ambitious projects, not metaphyiscal public works and castles in the sky, like those of Mangabeira, which ignore the way the market economy works and the interests of the business class. Just recently, to help sectors affected by the falling dollar, the government has announced lines of credit from BNDES and promised to improve conditions for PIS/Cofins credits.

Tax breaks, essentially, those last. Brazil: So many, many different little piddly taxes you cannot possibly memorize them all.

É a velha mania de legislar no varejo. O momento pede decisões ousadas, como a isenção completa de todos os investimentos que ampliem a oferta, a liberação gradual dos depósitos compulsórios, racionalização e produtividade da gestão pública, grandes projetos estruturantes. Isso constrói o futuro. O resto o improvisa.

It’s the old Brazilian mania for legislating as though you were haggling with the greengrocer. The moment calls for daring decisions, with a complete exemption for all investments that augment supply, the phasing out of compulsory deposits, the rationalization and performance-based assessment of public administration, big restructuring projects. That is how to build the future. The rest is just making it up as you go along.

Quinze minutos de conversa com qualquer ministro produtivo ou um dirigente de alguma grande instituição estatal é o suficiente para se constatar que a carência do governo é de gestores de qualidade, não de políticos, filósofos, burocratas ou aquele tipo mais comum: o pau para toda obra, que faz tudo e não entende nada.

Fifteen minutes of conversation with any cabinet minister who actually makes themselves useful, or  with the director of some big state-owned institution, is enough to make you realize that what the government lacks is good managers. It already has plenty of politicians, philosophers, bureaucrats and that most common of creatures: the cheerleaders every project, who does everything and understands nothing.

O Estado é como uma imensa empresa, com atividades em variados setores, mas sem noção de noção de conjunto e incapaz de extrair valor do todo.

The State is like a giant business, with its finger in various pies, but without any notion of the whole and incapable of creating value from the whole.

Eletrobrás é ouro puro, se…

Electrobras would be pure gold, if only ..

Pegue-se o setor de energia: é ouro puro, se a Eletrobrás fosse de fato uma empresa holding e operacional, com todos os ativos sob seu controle e não pulverizados em empresas autônomas, geridas por facções políticas, como Furnas, Eletronorte e Chesf. O mercado de capitais sozinho pagaria todo o programa de ampliação de energia, se existisse esta Eletrobrás, com ativos reavaliados e governança administrativa liberta da mão grande de políticos.

Take the energy sector: It could be pure gold, if Eletrobrás was really a combined holding and operations company, controlling all its own shares and not hacked up into autonomous companies generated by failed policies, like Furnas, Eletronorte and Chesf. The capital markets alone could pay for the entire energy expansion program if that version of Eletrobrás actually existed, with its shares revalued and its governance shielded from political interference.

A estabilidade da macroeconomia é crítica para o desenvolvimento econômico com justiça social, mas gestão de qualidade também é tão ou mais necessária. É mais BNDES, coisas assim, e menos blábláblá.

The stability of the macroeconomy is critical for economic development with social justice, but high-quality management is just as critical, if not more so. More BNDES, and things like that, and less yada yada yada.

I have nothing smartass to say about that. I slept through Econ 101 and wound up dropping it for “field classification of flowering plants,” after all — a great course, mind you, but ever since I have been playing catch-up on the “dismal science.”

I’m starting to get to know some of these BOVESPA types, though, and they are not a banana-republican bunch at all, generally speaking.

Smart people.

Seem to know what they want and how to get it without getting mired in “for our friends, anything; for our enemies, the law.”

The Mercado Modelo program for motivating higher corporate governance standards, for example, is damned interesting. And Lula has stayed out of their way, for the most part.

See

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