The Corner


The Power of National Pride

Jair Bolsonaro, now the president of Brazil, campaigning in October 2018 (Ricardo Moraes / Reuters)

Reading about Brazil and Europe, I had a memory that goes back ten years. The article I have read is an Associated Press report from Porto Velho, about the Amazon fires and the spurning of European aid by Brazil’s new president, Bolsonaro. It was a proud spurning. And it put me in mind of Putin.

In 2009, he gave a speech at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Then he entertained some questions, including from Michael Dell, the American computer entrepreneur. Dell asked what the world at large could do to help Russians get online. This especially applied to students. Putin’s response was essentially as follows:

“We don’t need any help. We are a strong country. Invalids need help, small children need help, developing countries need help. Our computer experts are as good as anybody’s . . .”

The Russian journalists around me whooped in delight. National pride is a powerful, powerful thing.

Incidentally, Putin’s formal speech on that occasion was a piece of work. I smile to revisit it today. (I wrote about these matters here.) Speaking in the wake of the global financial crisis, Putin said,

In the 20th century, the Soviet Union made the state’s role absolute. In the long run, this made the Soviet economy totally uncompetitive. This lesson cost us dearly. I am sure nobody wants to see it repeated.

Nor should we turn a blind eye to the fact that the spirit of free enterprise, including the principle of personal responsibility of businesspeople, investors, and shareholders for their decisions, is being eroded in the last few months. There is no reason to believe that we can achieve better results by shifting responsibility onto the state.

And one more point: Anti-crisis measures should not escalate into financial populism and a refusal to implement responsible macroeconomic policies. The unjustified swelling of the budgetary deficit and the accumulation of public debts are just as destructive as adventurous stock-jobbing.



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