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In a Bizarre Twist, Global Bankers Love Lula and Despair of Bush
Published on Wednesday, January 29, 2003 by the Guardian/UK
American Presidents All Mixed Up
In a Bizarre Twist, Global Bankers Love Lula and Despair of Bush
by Richard Adams
 

It's surprising that no one has noticed this, but it looks as if there has been a terrible mix-up involving American presidents.

For some time there have been suggestions that US president George Bush doesn't know what's he is doing. The answer is simple: he's supposed to be the president of Brazil.

Meanwhile, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva - or Lula, as the new president of Brazil is known - should be president of the United States. The mix-up is obvious, when you consider the facts.

Wealthy oligarchs, who reach high office through nepotism, promoting friends of their family into government while presiding over corporate sleaze, and running up vast debts by making tax giveaways to their rich, rightwing supporters - that's the sort of behavior that South American presidents are renowned for.

Meanwhile, policies of stern fiscal prudence, applauded by the international financial markets, coupled with tough welfare reform, is what is expected from leaders of the United States.

But in a bizarre geo-political twist, these stereotypes have been turned on their heads. While the president of South America's most important country couldn't be more different as a person than the president of North America's most important country, it's hard not to think the world would be a better place if the two men swapped jobs.

The irony is that during the 2000 US presidential election, the difference between Bush and Democrat candidate Al Gore was so slim that the pair were mocked as "Gush and Bore".

Coming from a conservative background and party, Bush was supposed to stick to the status quo of balanced budgets and a strong US currency inherited from the Clinton administration. Few analysts - if any - thought Bush's narrow victory would make any difference to the way the US economy was run.

Lula's election was far less auspicious, preceded by dire warnings of economic meltdown - although no one accused the populist former union leader as being indistinguishable from Jose Sera, his technocrat opponent.

A one-time trade union radical from Brazil's huge working class, who had run for the Brazilian presidency four times, Lula's election was treated with dismay. He was said to be a firebrand leftwinger who would destroy the stability that Brazil has enjoyed since the pragmatismo policies of the previous administration, headed by Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

Yet since his election, Lula's policies have met with praise from the bankers that rule the financial markets. Brazil was dragged down by Argentina's economic implosion last year, but since Lula's victory, Brazil's currency, the real, has made a remarkable recovery on world markets. At the same time, the interest rate on Brazilian government debt has halved since before Lula's election in November, as bankers have started regarding the country as a lower risk.

While Bush talked a good game about "leaving no child behind" as president, Lula has made social welfare reform his centerpiece, to help balance his government's budget and lower interest rates.

Policy is moving in the opposite direction under Bush. The US dollar has sunk to its weakest levels since his election, while the economy continues to splutter along - despite the US central bank pumping out cheap money at a rapid rate.

Bush's answer to the weak economy has been to reach back to the discredited "trickle down" supply-side policies of Ronald Reagan, and hand out huge tax cuts to the wealthy - exactly the sort of policies that his own father, George Bush the elder, memorably described as "voodoo economics".

Throughout his election campaign in 2000, Bush regularly pledged to balance the government's budget. Instead, in the words of economist Paul Krugman, the US government "faces the prospect of large deficits as far as the eye can see".

Bush is offering tax cuts that will cost over $600bn (£380bn), with more than half the benefits going to the wealthy, those making more than $200,000 (£125,000) a year. Of that sum, $150bn is to go to the very wealthy - those making more than $1m a year.

But the most obvious reason that George Bush should swap Washington for Brasilia is that it suits him better. Bush spends so much time trying to deny his blue-blood, Ivy League-educated background, by posing as a man of the people - slipping off to work on his Texas ranch, wearing cowboy hats, driving a pick-up.

Lula, on the other hand, grew up in abject poverty near Sao Paulo, selling peanuts and working as a shoeshine boy. He is a real man of the people - and in an ideal world would be in the White House.

Of course it also means Brazil ends up with George Bush. But then Jorge Arbusto, as he would be known, might quite enjoy life up the rugged Amazon. Whether the people of Brazil want him is another matter.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003

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