quarta-feira, 13 de maio de 2009

Can We?

Artigo do Washington Post, 5 de Maio de 2009, de Steven Pearlstein

In Portugal, as in America, a 'Third Way' Is Reemerging

You can easily imagine the popular story line that plays out daily in the politics of much of Western Europe. It's the one about bankers and money managers in New York and London who got rich by playing fast and loose with other people's money, under the eyes of regulators so blinded by their faith in markets that they couldn't spot a con game going on right under their noses.

And what makes it all the more galling to Western Europeans is how easily this plague of greed and deregulation so easily crossed the Atlantic, sending their own economies into a recession that is expected to be deeper and longer than it will be where it all began.Sitting in his office last week, José Sócrates, the prime minister of Portugal, joked as he recalled the day last September when he first learned about "this thing they call a subprime loan."

As head of this country's nominally socialist party, Sócrates spent the previous four years reducing the size of Portugal's government, taming its runaway budget deficit, challenging labor unions and deregulating its markets. And what is his reward? An economic crisis that has once again put the country in a fiscal bind and boosted the polling numbers of Portugal's Communist Party.There are similar tales to be told across the continent.


Everywhere, there are calls for higher taxes on the rich, with the British government proposing to raise the top marginal rate to 50 percent from 40 percent."In terms of further market liberalization, I would say the window of opportunity is now closed," Christine Lagarde, France's reform-minded finance minister, told reporters recently in Washington.

Given the circumstances -- unemployment as high as 17 percent in Spain, exports off 20 percent in Germany, house prices off 40 percent in Ireland -- none of this is surprising. But the real story in Europe may be how firmly market liberalization seems to have taken hold. Not only have there been few, if any, calls for re-nationalizations, but some countries are still moving toward privatization and deregulation.


Here in Portugal, for example, huge teacher demonstrations recently shut down the capital but failed to derail Sócrates's plan to require annual evaluations of instructors in a public school system that has some of the highest costs, and lowest test results, in Europe. And Americans would do well to consider Portugal's plan to put its Social Security on a more sustainable footing by linking the retirement age to life expectancy while still giving people the choice to retire at 65 with slightly lower benefits. Perhaps the best example of Portugal's market-based approach to its economic problems is its big push toward renewable energy.


The spinoff of its renewable-energy division was the biggest IPO in Europe last year and is now the world's fourth-largest renewable-energy producer. Back in the days of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, there was a lot of loose talk about a "third way" that would combine the best features of Anglo-American capitalism with the social and economic safety net prevalent in Europe. If Portugal is any indication, Europe has been moving in fits and starts toward market capitalism ever since.


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