terça-feira, 24 de maio de 2011

Portugal needs a Liberal Left - Part I

Less than thirty years after the last IMF intervention, Portugal finds itself again in the hands of international institutions, this time with the European Commission and the European Central Bank joining IMF. The years in which the IMF was here seem to be the last years in which some reasonable budgetary policy was followed in the country, with a large coalition of the two main parties, PS (Social Democrats) and PSD (at the time, Liberals by international affiliation, though Conservative at heart).

After that, we had ten years of PSD governments, the ones in which the weight of the State grew the most.
We had six years of PS governments, in which the deficit was reduced, but no reforms were introduced, in some cases pursuing the PSD reality-detached policies, such as regarding pensions. We got to 2001/2002 amid a political, social, budgetary and economic crisis that allowed a victory for a coalition between the two Conservative parties, PSD and CDS.
After less than three years, the country was angry. The Right had promised a "Liberal Revolution" and instead no real changes came, those which came were less than understandable and the government supported an unfair war that had the opposition of over 75% of the population. The Prime Minister, Barroso, fled the country and left it with all its budgetary and economic crisis to be solved, and got the dream job at Berlaymont, and left at his place a man that became a practical joke (and a very sad one) and that had the honour of being the first Portuguese Prime Minister to be fired by the President for outright incompetence.
At the 2005 elections the two Conservative parties had the worst result for the Right in the democratic period of Portugal. Not even in 1974/75, when the country was on the verge of Socialism, did the two Right-wing parties got such a bad result; on the contrary, PS had its best result ever.
And so, we could think (I certainly did) that with an absolute majority and five years of economic crisis the situation would change. Until 2008 it seemed so. It was not perfect, but the Socialists did more and did better than the Right. Right - but wrong. As soon as the financial crisis broke down the old Keynesian monsters were unleashed and PS, that had managed to drop the 6% budget deficit inherited from the Right to a 2,8%, soon brought us to unimaginable deficits of over 9%, while persisting with megalomaniac plans for a new airport and a high speed train.

The rest of the story is more or less known: the deficit is still not under control, the markets and rating agencies dragged the country to its knees, the government tried to resist receiving the international aid, but finally had to accept it, while the now (after the 2009 elections) minority Socialist government and the opposition were unable or unwilling to find a compromise, leading to the upcoming elections in the beginning of June.

How could we summarize Portugal's last years?
- Persistent economic crisis;
- Persistent unbalanced budgets;
- No real differences, in economic and financial policies, between Centre-Left and the Right;
- An irrelevant Left, barricaded in an unwillingness to compromise, though they represent about 20% of the electorate;
- Persistent marks of unequal development, with education results and the most unequal society in Europe and with one of the lowest levels of social mobility, only to be equalled by the United States;
- Crisis is not used as a moment of reflection and reform, but ends up in another wave of migration towards Europe or Africa, such as now is happening with many skilled young Portuguese;
- While changes, cuts and reforms that affect poorer citizens may be done, it is impossible to introduce changes affecting professional corporations, such as judges, doctors or teachers.

How can we move from this? What do we need to move from this?

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