Brazil’s austerity affects all Brazilians — but not its leaders

The latest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) results placed Brazil in its deepest economic level everaccording to Reuters. In 2016, Brazilian economy shrunk 3.6%, following a 3.5% fall in 2015.

The economic downturn is, allegedly, being remediated by president Michel Temer — a centre-right partisan, and his Congress through harsh austerity. The greatest measure has been imposing a federal spending cap for the next twenty years. The cap is extremely harmful for the younger generation, who is already suffering from high rates of unemployment and inflation. Professor Phillip Alston, from the United Nations, called the spending cap “socially regressive”.

The spending cap looks even more absurd when it is taken as the only measure to find austerity. The New York Times reports that Temer’s government is still refusing to apply taxes on wealth, another traditional measure in austerity rulings. In Brazil, shareholders are exempt from paying taxes on dividends — and still remain so, despite the current conditions.

When discussing the issue on the State not being able to afford food for the poor class, Legislator Pedro Fernandes actually suggested in session that the population could eat every other day”

UN Charter Article 25(1) states, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.” Who is this going to affect in the present up to 20 years from now? There has been a 20-year public spending ceiling, basically compromising the educational and health system.

As with most similar examples, and most common sense based on observation of other countries’ social strata, the usual victims of austerity in economic downturns — which worsen the downturn — are women with emphasis on single mothers, the middle and lower classes — or the working classes, and the young who are the basis for the taxation to support the retirements of the older and senior populations in many societies.

It is a easy cascade of conditionals with the catalyst being bad policy, poor implementation, and myopic self-interest among the ruling classes. Women are oppressed. The young are stifled. The poor are poorer.

The working classes are given stagnant or declining wages. If the policy put forth and implemented in the economic downturn is austerity, as it is, and if the austerity affects the usual victims of harsher economic policy, then the standard populations of women, single mothers, the young, and the middle and working class will be the most hurt by it, which will alter the situation for the chance for a decent end of life in retirement for many older people.

This has obvious intergenerational damages too. Men and women still want marriage and kids by the vast majority. Women want marriage more than previous decades as an important life goal. Austerity and economic struggles prevent healthy family formation because finances are probably the single greatest complaint between couples. Kids and marriage need money.

So if someone wants to form a family and be married, as most heterosexual men and women — who are 96.6% of the general population — have those as some of their highest ideals, secular or religious, and if the “unbelievable” devastation, predictable dissolution, of aspects of the healthcare and education system emerge from the actions in the present, then the leaders of the country have been irresponsible for the next a reasonable extrapolation for the next 20 years, so for one whole upcoming and ongoing generation of Brazilians. Of course, there are the perennial ignorant and myopic who do not see life in terms of legacy, but the vast majority want the responsible things in life.

The austerity, however, does not to apply to Brazilian leaders themselves. The economic recession and the precarious conditions of the population do not stop the politicians from enjoying the perks of being part of the government of the biggest country in Latin America; which means having abusive salaries and benefits such as monthly housing allowance, limitless medical and dental aid, extra payroll expenses and return air tickets to the capital, Brasilia.

A Brazilian MP made the suggestion that poor Brazilians might want to eat every other day rather than like normal people that prefer not be starving every day. One might assume this is akin to the gaffe of Republican politician Paul Ryan. Ryan suggested, ‘You don’t need healthcare because you have an iPhone.’ It was a recent unconscientious statement by the American politician. There’s salary increases of the leaders too.

Employees of Brazil’s Judicial branch are seeing a 41% increase in their salary. And in São Paulo, the most populous Brazilian state, Legislators voted to raise their own salary by more than 26%. To worsen the situation, the same Congress who is preparing to impose a major cut in the Brazilian pension scheme, is now offering lifelong pensions for its members after only two years in office. Real people are being affected by poor governance.

Original Publication in Humanist Voices.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen and Pamela Machado

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