Brazil's One-sided Discussion on the Economy

Without dissonant voices, the reader tends to accept the inevitability of an agenda

It was a busy week in the world of economics. The novel coronavirus is reeling in the world economy, and the government revealed that Brazil's 2019 economic growth fell short of what the market forecast shortly after the 2018 elections.

In economic coverage, Folha stumbled at the beginning but managed to get the pace right.

On Tuesday (3), the newspaper's headline read, "Coronavirus could spark a new global recession, says OECD," the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Instead, the report predicted a slowdown in the growth of the leading economies, and not a contraction, a recession. The newspaper corrected the error.

The following day, the 2019 GDP (Gross Domestic Product) performance was released.

Faced with a rise of just 1.1% (in mid-2018, analysts flirted with a 3% expansion) and the initial decision by President Jair Bolsonaro not to comment on the figures for his first year in office, Folha's headline delivered a good summary of events.

On Thursday(5), the newspaper summarized the facts of the previous day: "Investment sinks, GDP brakes, Bolsonaro makes a joke."

Bolsonaro repeated the tactic of throwing a smoke bomb to disperse attention when the subject does not favor him. In the morning, in front of the Palácio da Alvorada, he said nothing about the weak growth. He brought with him a comedian who, among other embarrassing attitudes, distributed bananas to journalists.

The president continued to show his disrespect of the journalism professionals. But this time, the disrespect extended to regular Brazilians, to whom Bolsonaro owes his satisfaction.

Folha, in its economic coverage, can take advantage of the moment to offer a broader picture to the reader.

Since the country recorded two consecutive periods of decline of more than 3% of GDP in the last years of the Dilma administration, economists committed themselves to the so-called fiscal austerity—the control of public spending.

However, after the third consecutive year of low growth in 2019, it is natural for the reader to question why this has not worked.

Why did the pension reform not stimulate growth, and the labor reform did not generate jobs?

Legitimate doubts and criticisms open space for the possibilities of dialogue between divergent currents in the economic debate to take place again.

After all, many of the economists who play the economic debate today stood out precisely because of the criticisms they made of policies developed during PT governments - such as subsidies given to companies or loans offered by public banks.

This criticism was acute, especially after the economic collapse of the Dilma government and the Car Wash operation. Much of economic journalism itself seems to have taken as its own a discourse that cuts spending as a single revenue, sees the state as the source of all problems, and understands politics as a broth of corruption.

However, the press that claims to be diverse should act as a promoter of the debate, gathering information from those who understand the subject, questioning fanciful data and lies, and guaranteeing the plurality of opinions.

Public policy includes maintaining an adequate level of knowledge, different views —which go beyond that of financial market operators.

It is not a matter of handing the ball to flat-earthers. Among inspectors and anti-reformists, there are different tones, the characteristics of which must first be understood by the reporters themselves.
Quarterly GDP is released approximately 60 days after the end of the period and presents the supply and demand perspectives. The result of the 4th quarter brings preliminary data for the year. The definitive annual GDP is presented almost 24 months after the end of the year (2019 will be known in November 2021).

The error of specialists, whether theoretical, conceptual, or in the defense and implementation of a policy, is part of the game. Those who make mistakes need to be charged with errors, democratically, with space to explain themselves and to reformulate.
Folha defines itself as a vehicle of liberal and reformist inspiration, which is clear in its editorials - the most recent, this Saturday (7th) - and it does not differ much, in this aspect, from the mainstream press in general.

In its reporting on the economy, however, Folha needs to present counterpoints, which are crucial to the debate and part of the role of journalism.

In economics, an arid topic, it is natural for the public to rely heavily on what they read in the newspapers. Therefore, not listening to the dissonant voice is taking away from the reader the ability to choose, leading him or her to accept the inevitability of a plan and an opinion.

Dedicated to journalist Celso Pinto.

Flavia Lima

A Reporter specializing in economics, she graduated in social sciences from USP and in law from Mackenzie. She has been the ombudsman for Folha since May 2019.