Brazil Elections

US vs. Brazil: A Tale of Two Elections

Next week the Western Hemisphere will see a tale of two elections: two elections that have a number of key features in common, and some key points of divergence. In common: the incumbent center-left faces a challenge from the Right. The head of state, the incumbent leader of the center-left, will not be on the ballot, but the election is widely viewed as a referendum on his policies.


Election Day is "the poll that matters," but the key divergence is that on Sunday in Brazil, the center-left is forecast to coast to victory, while on Tuesday in the U.S., the Right is widely forecast to make big gains, with better than even odds of taking the House.

What explains this divergence?

There are many factors, of course, but there is one key cause: in Brazil, Lula brought home the bacon, in economic indicators of the quality of life, for the Workers Party's electoral base: working people. Measured unemployment in Brazil is now at a record low of 6.2 percent.

When the majority of voters in Brazil ask themselves, "are we better off now than we were before the Workers Party came to power," this is the reality that they reflect on: the Brazilian economy has performed much better for working people during the Lula years than during the eight years of opposition candidate Jose Serra's party. Per capita income grew by 23 percent from 2002-2010, as opposed to just 3.5 percent for 1994-2002. The minimum wage, in real terms, grew by 65 percent during Lula's presidency. This is more than three time the increase during the prior eight years.

In Brazil, as in the U.S., a significant rise in the real value of the minimum wage lifts not just the workers who are at the very bottom of the wage distribution, but the much larger group of workers whose wages are near the bottom.

Brazil Should Lead on Access to Essential Medicines

By the greater use of compulsory licenses, Brazil could lower drug costs not only in Brazil, but in developing countries overall. At a time when the New York Times is reporting that "the global battle against AIDS is falling apart for lack of money," it is absolutely essential that the price of lifesaving medicines in developing countries be driven down to the absolute minimum possible.


With this in mind, I gave the following presentation on October 11 at a conference of doctors and health care workers in Sao Paulo.

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I want to begin by establishing some context that I think is important for understanding what it is that I am trying to communicate today and what it is that I am urging you to do.

If you ask yourself, how did it come to pass that important social reforms were won, an important part of the story is that groups of people banded together to pursue what they perceived to be a collective self-interest. You can't explain social change if the only possible actor in your head is an individual who is either individually self-interested or individually altruistic. Around the world, human slavery used to be commonplace, now it is not, how did that come to pass? You can't tell a story that makes sense without collective action based on perceived collective self-interest.

If you look at the anti-slavery movement in the United States, important leaders were themselves former slaves. You might say: that's no surprise, they knew what they were talking about. But if they were only acting on the basis of their individual self-interest, why bother? They were already free. Why not simply enrich themselves and tend their gardens?