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Imaginary, Opportunistic, and Unimportant: Notes on Brazil Today

Imaginary, Opportunistic, and Unimportant: Notes on Brazil Today

Self-deception and delirium are old themes in literature. The protagonist describes fictional events, draws the characters, and reports questionable events. His speech has a system and method, but the reader deduces the latent features of madness. However, the protagonist does not understand the declared disaster until it is too late.

In Shakespeare, there is a little bit of everything. Macbeth’s unbridled ambition leads to heinous acts that lead to feelings of guilt and self-destruction. Hamlet pretends to have lost his reason in an attempt to find out who killed his father – and the result of his antics is havoc. King Lear relinquishes his crown and finds a bleak reality as he imagines there was collusion.

Sometimes ancient authors used the letters “ground wire” as a counterpoint to the insanity. These actors support intuition, and a few abstract ideas, to the tricks of the mind. Sancho Panza, in Don Quixote, is one of them. Another is Polonius, in Hamlet, who distrusts the prince’s delirium: “Though he is madness, there is a way in him.”

Empty of illusions, Don Quixote abandons a hopeless life, much to Sancho’s dismay: “The greatest madness a man can do in this life is to let himself die without more or less, without being killed by anyone, nor by other hands destroying him but be of Melancholy.”

The literature illustrates the dangers of lack of control leading to self-destruction, closer to us than we would like to believe. In some cases, science protocols help identify flaws in arguments. In other cases, institutional protocols reduce the risk of uncontrolled group decisions.

It was worse. Until modernity, theses that were easily refuted by experiment, such as “heavy objects fall faster” or “the earth is flat”, have survived.

In the third century BC, Eratosthenes of Cyrene noted that on the same day of the year the sun could be observed at the bottom of wells in one city at noon, but not in another city farther north. Conclude that the Earth will be spherical. Using simple geometry, he calculated his circumference, missing the correct value by about 2%. However, many still believe that the Earth will be flat.

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Science protocols contribute to the rejection of false narratives. Theses around the world must be accurate and include mechanisms that allow checking whether they are contradictory by available empirical tests.

This happened in medicine. There have been anecdotes about the causes of diseases and the measures to be taken, but there are no scientific protocols to test hypotheses and verify the success of treatments.

In the 19th century in Vienna, female students gave birth after working on corpses, without washing their hands, and many women died after childbirth. Ignaz Semmelweis suggested, based on the evidence, that hand hygiene would reduce the mortality rate. His thesis was briefly ignored. Evidence was of little use in those days when medicine preferred narratives.

Gradually, the protocols of science in medicine spread. Treatments need to undergo randomized controlled trials to verify their efficacy. Some Covid vaccines have survived these tests, unlike chloroquine.

In recent decades, science protocols have been adopted in the design of other public policies, such as management of education or income transfer programmes. This happened in many countries.

However, in Brazil, governments still intervene in many areas based on narratives and desires, and it is not always a republic.

Success here is measured by the amount of resources expended or businesses launched, not by its results. Public policies are implemented without accurate assessment of their impact or analysis of their adoption in other countries. Little opportunity cost is estimated. Critics of chloroquine advocates sometimes fail to realize that they are defending programs that suffer from the same lack of evidence.

The lack of scientific protocols allows ineffective public policies to survive, often benefiting interest groups at the expense of the majority. An example is the inefficient allocation of productive resources due to public intervention. (There is a tremendous amount of research on this topic, such as the research organized by Diego Restuccia and Richard Rogerson’s article, Causes and costs of misallocationPublished in the Journal of Economic Perspective. the book don’t forgetcoordinated by Marcos Mendes, orchestrates the failure of several public interventions in Brazil).

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Rich nations don’t just enjoy science protocols. They also benefit from institutions that curb the madness of rulers. The executive branch can act within the rules set by the legislature. It is up to the judiciary to ensure compliance with the laws, but not for deliberation.

Self-restraint and respect for institutional protocols prevent overstepping one’s authority in the domain of others and reduce the risk of hastily taking measures, due to undue interests.

However, science protocols fail to address many issues. Sometimes the evidence is not conclusive. In other cases, this points to dilemmas that must be resolved through democratic deliberation, balancing the costs and benefits of various possible public sector interventions.

The development of rule of law institutions, with their checks and balances, seeks to balance the process of collective selection. Public administration makes decisions that can lead to unexpected side effects. Its unequal effects on different social groups must also be evaluated.

The overall governance of the public sector in developed countries, balanced between various independent authorities of limited scope, is much more complex than was the practice in Brazil. One example of this is respect for the independence of regulators. Except in exceptional cases, the judiciary in those countries does not interfere in the decisions of the bodies responsible for implementing a large part of public policy.

In the United States, the Supreme Court held, in 1984, that the judiciary must follow the interpretation of laws proposed by the agencies, as long as they are “reasonable,” giving them substantial autonomy in practice.

Currently, some argue that in certain circumstances this autonomy has become excessive, and the judiciary has restricted it, as TW Merrill analyzes in The Chevron Doctrine. The accuracy of the arguments used in this debate reveals our incompatibility with developed countries.

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The public policy debate in Brazil is characterized by voluntary proposals, with little analysis of empirical evidence to assess their potential side effects. We have long lost our restraint and moderation in cross-checks. The rules guiding regulators and SOEs are weak, and sometimes technically ill-defined. Their decisions are nullified by opportunistic and narrow interests.

Full contracts are legally broken between the public sector and private companies arbitrarily by the executive branch, with the support of the judiciary. Recognized public sector debt payments have been deferred, breaking the creditors’ right to make parish expenses viable. The bill, which will be lifted, has been opportunistically left to whoever comes next.

Judges and oversight bodies often interfere in public administration because they disagree about the merits of measures that respect the legislation. Sometimes, they disagree with what the law says and impose what they think is most appropriate.

The interpretation of tax rules is opportunistically changed, on a frequent basis, to increase revenue, spread insecurity in the private sector and discourage investment.

The lack of control has been generalized by the current government, which has been getting worse for two decades. The occupant of the palace appears to believe in the unbridled and opportunistic propositions of those who visit him. The bullshit about an electronic voting machine should come as no surprise.

Faced with a weak plateau, the legislature appropriated an enormous amount of public resources to use as it pleased. Complaints of wrongdoing became common. Constitutional reforms were underestimated. The rites of treatment in Congress are being ignored. Gone are the institutional calm.

Madness affects people and countries. Venezuela is self-destructive. Argentina is heading towards decline. We follow this fast-moving line.

Marcos Lisbon